The Other Side of the Mountain
AS AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL
needs two hearts
one to root
and one to flower
One to sustain
in time of drouth
and hold fast
against winds of pain
the fragile bloom
that in the glory
of its hour
affirms a heart
Marilau Awiakta, Abiding Appalachia
Early feminist literary critics focused on the intersection of women's lives
and their writing in order to form a women's literary tradition. They pointed
out that women's literary tradition had existed for centuries in memoirs, diaries,
and journals, which were the basic modes of autobiographical writing. According
to these critics, these unpublished autobiographical narratives were the records
of women's histories. In fact, this is the reason why autobiographical writings
are so significant in female literary tradition.
Erendiz Atasü's The Other Side of the Mountain is also an autobiographical
novel which talks about female experience. In this sense, with its structure
and content, it has contributed a lot to the Turkish women writers' literary
This novel is not an autobiography in traditional terms, in that it does not
embody the life story of its author. It can be claimed that The Other Side
of the Mountain is a biography encapsulated in an autobiography. The first
two chapters "Towards Freedom: The Last Decade of Innocence" and "Towards
the Open Sea... Memories and Illusions: The Wave" and the last chapter
"On Another Shore: Journal For My Daughter" are completely autobiographical
sections which present crucial scenes from Erendiz Atasü's life. Between these
chapters lies the biography of her mother. The biographical part that is presented
under the title of "Islands of the Past.. .Photographs and Letters of Bygone
Days" helps the author to overcome her identity crisis which has put her
at the threshold of committing suicide at the very beginning of the novel. Thus,
having a journey to the past with her mother's story, the author is able to
solve her identity crisis and reconstruct her self again on her own. Since the
author identifies with her mother during this journey, the mother's biography
turns into the author's autobiography. In other words, the author finds her
story in her mother's story that makes The Other Side of the Mountain
the autobiography of its author, Erendiz Atasü, who is at the same time the
narrator of the novel.
As it is briefly introduced above, the bridge that connects autobiography and
biography in The Other Side of the Mountain is the author's questioning
and rejection of her former identity which has been constructed by society and
her quest for forming her new identity during the writing process of this novel.
According to Elaine Showalter, "'self-discovery', or 'a search for identity',
is the main theme of women's literature since 1920" (qtd. in Gardiner,
177). It can be claimed that, published in 1996, The Other Side of the Mountain
is also about its author's search for identity by means of her mother's history.
It is crucial to examine identity theory first then, since 'search for identity'
is one of the main issues in this novel.
Basically, feminist critics approach the writings by women by asking what makes
women's writing different from men's. They believe that some significant differences
really exist and the most commonly identified one is the difference between
a female's and a male's way of experiencing life. Thus, this difference determines
whether a text is written by a woman or not. It was Nancy Chodorow who first
claimed that female experience was different from male experience due to the
fact that female identity formation was not identical with male identity formation.
Before going into Chodorow's female identity theory, it will be beneficial to
discuss Erik Erikson's identity theory. As Judith Kegan Gardiner points out
in "On Female Identity and Writing By Women", "In order to reach
a theory of female identity, however, we must first adapt identity theory as
it is now constituted by male theorists who assume a male paradigm for human
experience" (Gardiner, 178).
According to Erikson, identity is both formed and manifested through social
relationships as well as being biological. The female has a specialized role
as childbearer in society. "Her biological structure, her unique 'inner
space', is congruent with this role and she seeks to fill and to protect this
inner space rather than forge into outward accomplishments. Therefore, a young
woman spends adolescence looking for the man through whom she will fulfil herself
(Gardiner, 180). That is what Erendiz Atasü complains about in the first chapter
of the novel. Addressing her former self, who has lived according to the rules
of a patriarchal society up to this point in her life, Atasü talks in a critical
"You refused to admit that you were buried up to your
neck in the common fate of woman. You closed your eyes tight; saw neither mud,
nor marsh. You had to marry, had to become a faithful wife and mother that is
what you thought. You were scared to death of losing your innocence" (Atasü,
As it is seen in this quotation, Atasü is aware of the fact that every woman
has the same fate. Women are expected to perform the common roles in society
such as being a good wife, and being a good mother. That is why Atasü is going
through an identity crisis at the very beginning. She is aware that she is one
of those women who have this "specialized role as childbearer". Besides,
she also realizes that for both society and herself rejecting those prescribed
roles will mean losing her innocence. Thus, having the will to carry this burden
on her back no longer, she revolts against the common fate of women. At this
stage, she should constitute her identity right from the start as if she was
born again. Since she is aware of the fact that she has formed her identity
according to patriarchal society's demands before, she is now ready to form
her identity according to her own experience, that is female experience.
It has been pointed out before that Nancy Chodorow emphasizes the distinction
between female and male experience, which plays an important role in identity
formation process. Thus, if Chodorow's identity theory is applied to the narrator's
situation, it will be clearly observed how the mother's/protagonist's biography
turns into the daughter's/author's autobiography.
Chodorow differentiates the process of ego development between man and woman
before the oedipal stage. In fact, at an early point in the infant's development,
there is no clear distinction between subject and object, itself and the external
world. Lacan calls this stage the .imaginary because the infant lacks any defined
centre of self; the "self" the infant has seems to pass into objects,
and objects into it. Thus, in the pre-oedipal state, "the child lives a
symbiotic relation with its mother's body which blurs any sharp boundary between
the two" (Eagleton, 142). In this stage, there are two concepts existent
for the child: the child itself and the (m)other's body. The mother represents
the external reality for the child. However, this "dyadic" relationship
is to turn into a "triadic" one with the entrance of the father into
this harmonious scene. Thus, the appearance of the father divides both the boy
child and the girl child from the mother's body.
According to Chodorow, the boy child who is separated from the mother and who
has to identify with the father forms his gender negatively. Since the boy turns
away from the mother to identify with his father, he experiences an emotional
break. At that point, his desire for the mother, for that blissful stage will
be buried in the unconscious. With the entry of the father, the child also becomes
aware of sexual difference. He learns to define himself as "that which
is not feminine or involved with women...by repressing whatever he takes to
be feminine inside himself, and importantly, by denigrating and devaluing whatever
he considers to be feminine in the outside world" (qtd in Smith, 17). Therefore,
with the adoption of the role of the father, the boy perceives himself as "active,
independent, individual, and valued by his family and by society" (Gardiner,
On the contrary, the girl child, who has been living a symbiotic relationship
with the mother, does not have to separate from the mother. She does not have
to resist her early identification with the mother or undergo a rupture. Therefore,
she forms her gender identity positively. She can pleasurably re-create the
mother-infant symbiosis when she herself becomes a mother. As a result, "women
develop capacities for nurturance, dependence, and empathy more easily than
men do and are less threatened by these qualities, whereas independence and
autonomy are typically harder for women to attain" (Gardiner, 182). Since
the girl is not separated from the mother, issues of fusion and merger of the
self with others are important. Her body and ego boundaries remain flexible.
As a result, Chodorow portrays female personality as relational and fluidly
defined, starting with infancy and continuing through womanhood. Since autobiography,
as the attempt to write the self, is deeply bound up with the questions of identity,
this notion of "relationality" plays an important role in theorizing
Gardiner sums up the female identity theory by stating that the achievement
of female identity is a process which emphasizes the fluid and flexible aspects
of women's selves. She claims that one reflection of this fluidity can be observed
in women's writings because women do not conform to the generic prescriptions
of the male canon. In order to give an example, she reports that the autobiographies
by women tend to be less linear, unified and chronological than men's autobiographies.
In a woman's autobiography there is always the continual crossing of the border
between self and other. Moreover, women represent the self by representing others
because that is how women know and experience identity. Besides, the reason
why women's novels are often called autobiographical is that they "develop
a view of the world characterized by relationships (with priority frequently
given to the mother-daughter bond), and therefore represent the self in relation
to 'others'. According to Mary Mason this 'other' or 'others' may be represented
as husband, children, even God, but in all cases the female self is depicted
as profoundly influenced by the 'other' and this primary relationship structures
the autobiography" (Gilmore, xiii).
Thus, being an autobiographical novel, The Other Side of the Mountain
has these characteristics in it. First, Erendiz Atasü gives clues in "Letter
to the Reader" how much of the novel that the reader is holding in his
or her hands is derived directly from her own life story: "The heroine
of this book, Vicdan, is based on my mother, the character Raik on my father,
and Vicdan's mother, Fitnat Hanim, on my grandmother" (Atasü, 278). And
she confesses that the letters she has found that belong to her mother, her
father, her uncles, her mother's friends "unlocked a door for my own insights,
intensified by the pain of loss. Crossing this threshold, I seemed to enter
into my innermost self, into a domain of my own being of which I had not been
aware" (Atasü, 277). This shows that all the letters she has used and all
the characters she has created in order to write her novel lead the way to her
innermost self. Thus, because the narrator is a woman and her ego boundaries
remain flexible, she presents her self in relation to these "others".
As Susan Stanford Friedman states in her essay, "Women's Autobiographical
Selves: Theory and Practice": "Basing an examination of women's autobiography
on the relational model of female selfhood in Chodorow's work, we can anticipate
finding in women's texts a consciousness of self in which 'the individual does
not oppose herself to all others', nor 'feel herself to exist outside of others',
'but very much with others in an interdependent existence'" (Friedman,
77). Thus, employing a woman's search for her identity as its basic theme, The
Other Side of the Mountain has these many "others". This is an
opportunity which enables the woman characters of the novel to identify with
at least one of these "others".
For instance, at the very beginning, the narrator, by identifying with the
famous tragic heroines of literature who have rejected so-called womanly roles
that society imposes upon them, leaves behind "her identity" that
has been constructed by society. "I slammed the door and walked straight
ahead like Nora; fell in love like Anna Karenina -reunited with my missing body-
but did not sacrifice my life like her. I got up -like Anne Dubreilh- from where
I had collapsed. I survived. I made journeys, and lost my innocence completely...Now
I am free, for the first time" (Atasü, 14-5). Thus, at the end of the first
chapter of the novel titled "Towards Freedom", Atasü declares her
freedom by losing her innocence as it is implied in the subtitle of this chapter,
"The Last Decade of Innocence".
Then, there comes the second chapter titled "Towards the Open Sea...Memories
and Illusions" which implies that after declaring her freedom, Atasü starts
to swim towards the open sea, in a sense, to the unknown. She has got rid of
her roles imposed by society and now she does not know what to do. In this chapter,
the reader finds the narrator on a shore:
"Who dares to call this place 'Mediterranean' ... this
seaside town where sea and sky dissolve into each other? A damp, grey breath...
I love it... It brings back memories of the unending seas of the North, grey
and rough with no skyline at all... grieving but free... So be it, who needs
joy anyhow?" (Atasü, 19).
It is obvious that the narrator, standing on a Mediterranean coast, is thinking
about her memories. The colour of the sea, which is grey at that moment, reminds
her of the seas of the North.
"I was in a north European city, when I thought of
committing suicide. The winds of freedom of the late sixties were blowing round
me without touching me. Twenty years have passed...I said, 'Let me jump into
the cold grey water and let everything be over.' The river attracted me like
a magnet. I changed my mind, and walked away, the instinct for life had prevailed.
Now, once again, I am on the same shore." (Atasü, 19)
The quotation above is written in italics in the book. The sentence following
this paragraph, "No, she was not satisfied with her work, she could not
concentrate" (Atasü, 19), implies that the narrator is a writer and she
is creating a narrative at that time. The question immediately comes to mind
about what causes her to write like this in a sorrowful mood. Looking for the
answer to this question, the reader returns to the very beginning of this chapter.
The narrator states that "The joy of living will never be as tangible as
the thick blue satin I used to handle as a child. From now on, it will be like
the surviving remains of a cloth which has been torn apart" (Atasü, 19).
After reading this chapter, the reader learns that the blue satin that the narrator
refers to is her mother's blue satin evening gown. Since her mother is dead
and she has been invited to a ceremony in memory of her mother, she feels this
sorrow. The narrator feels like she is on the same shore in the North where
the river has attracted her like a magnet once. She did not commit suicide there
and she will not on that Mediterranean shore, either, because her mother's death
makes her notice the fact which she has ignored for a long time, namely her
wish to learn and to know more about her mother.
Since female identity formation is dependent on the mother-daughter bond, knowing
her mother will establish the true identity of the narrator. The reader knows
that the moment she throws her prescribed roles away in "Towards Freedom",
she loses her innocence. Now, she has to construct a real identity for herself
which will justify who she is. However, as Gardiner states, female identity
is a process. It is not an initial identity; it is achieved. Therefore, the
urge to know her mother better, which has emerged with the mother's death, will
enable the narrator to take the first step towards the formation of her identity.
In The Voice of the Mother, Jo Malin states that "Every woman autobiographer
is a daughter who writes and establishes her identity through her autobiographical
narrative. Many twentieth-century autobiographical texts by women contain an
intertext, an embedded narrative, which is a biography of the writer/daughter's
mother" (Malin, l). Obviously, The Other Side of the Mountain is
one of the best examples that fits Malin's model. As it is emphasized before,
Atasü's autobiographical text contains an embedded narrative, her mother's biography,
which takes her to a journey of self-discovery. In her "Letter to the Reader",
Atasü says "If, after my mother's death, I had failed to find whole piles
of letters in her room which she and my father had exchanged throughout the
thirties and forties, this book would never have been written" (Atasü,
277). As this quotation reveals, Atasü's story begins in the acknowledgment
of and grief for her mother's death and her mother's death becomes the shore
that she sails from in order to find who she is.
The narrator's mother, Vicdan, was among the eminent founders of an institution
which invited the narrator for their fiftieth anniversary to give a salver to
honour her mother's memory. When a speech is delivered about the narrator's
mother, the narrator has already started questioning her mother's character.
" -She was so smooth-tempered. Her temper was as smooth
as her silky brown hair. She had a childlike joy about her which she always
-I have no idea why- tried to stifle but never really managed to suppress.
(Wasn't she usually exaggeratedly solemn?)
-She had strong principles and never compromised.
(I am sure she had.)
-What a great effort she made, during the founding of this
She was so dynamic.
(Wasn't she rather reserved?)" (Atasü, 22)
The parenthetical expressions reflect the narrator's suspicious inner voice.
She has a mother figure in her mind and she is comparing her notions about this
figure with the speaker's. She is curious to learn about her mother. When the
ceremony is over, she goes through her file which contains her own writings.
"She was gentle... She was tough...
She was merry... She was morose...
She was full of the joy of living... She was sad..." (Atasü,
Comparing her thoughts and the speaker's thoughts and seeing the contradiction,
she becomes aware of the fact that she does not know much about her mother.
Thus, she asks "Oh mother, why do you hide yourself from me? Why? Isn't
it unfair to me? I want to get to know you, the mother whom I have never known...Where
are you, mother?" (Atasü, 23). At this point, the reader sees her curious
state and realizes that the narrator is about to have a journey to the past
to learn her mother's story:
"Why did you change so much, mother? Did you? Was it because
of my father, whose remembered image has been kept incorruptible by the uncritical
memories associated with early deaths? ... Or was it the steppe that withered
you? Why was your strong, healthy, beautiful body left quivering for the lost
joy of living? Why did you destroy yourself? What wrecked you, was it me? Did
I frustrate you? Am I the one who is guilty? Tell me... "(Atasü, 24)
After writing this paragraph of questions in her mind, she presents a letter
to the reader of her mother written to her father. With this she gives her readers
a clue that she will trace her mother's history by using her letters. In this
letter to the narrator's father, her mother talks about Virginia Woolf s suicide.
Vicdan informs her husband, Raik, about the newspapers which report that although
Virginia Woolf has been very optimistic and cheerful while working on her last
book, she has killed herself probably due to the war that has broken out at
that time. Vicdan feels that "some change must have taken place in this
highly sensitive woman's state of mind, and then she was unable to cope with
the agonies of war" (Atasü, 26). Vicdan adores this author and Woolf s
suicide causes great pain in her. After writing about the author's tragic end,
she turns to herself. She starts to talk about her own feelings:
"I sometimes have such violent mood swings. Waves of misery
give way to the waves of joy. Isn't life itself made up of these essential ingredients?
What is worrying is that these extremes of mood come without warning and the
conflict between them is considerable. Like a cross-current, a wave! One minute
you are on the crest of a wave, feeling perfectly happy, and the next you find
yourself in deep water!" (Atasü, 26)
The immediate transition from the news that Woolf has committed suicide to
Vicdan's inner thoughts shows how much Vicdan can understand this great author's
situation. Vicdan identifies with Woolf and reveals that she too experiences
such mood swings between misery and joy. The following paragraph emphasizes
Vicdan's identification with Woolf more clearly: "What causes these feelings
of sadness? Is it our childhood, as the great analyst Freud would have us believe?
Virginia Woolf s parents died when she was very young... Oh, those fearful experiences
a girl endures in the homes of relatives! How can she possibly ever be merry
again?..." (Atasü, 27). Soon, the reader is to learn how Vicdan has lost
her father very young, and has to live with her mother and brothers in her uncle's
house which is airy and full of light with lofty ceilings and elegant halls,
but for the child Vicdan these characteristics of the house are like dark, stinking
ghosts. "Why does this graceful house make her think of gasping for breath
in foul nooks and crannies, and of fumbled gropings in the dark?" (Atasü,
49). It is obvious that Vicdan has been sexually abused in her uncle's house
and has buried this terrible memory in the past. She must have tried to forget
it when she was a child. That is why at that moment, she has difficulty in remembering
what she has experienced in that house, as her thoughts reveal: "Was it
reality or illusion? Hard to tell...dreadful, ill-omened and masked..."
The reader becomes aware of the parallels between Vicdan's and Woolf s lives
as the novel continues. Woolf s step brother also sexually abused Virginia Woolf
when she was a little girl. And every careful reader can detect the influence
of this sad event from her writings. Thus, the reader can also notice Vicdan's
empathy with Virginia Woolf in these lines.
Identification with "others" and empathy are considered to be a feeling
peculiar to women in female identity theory. And as it is noticed, Virginia
Woolf is among these "others" of the novel whom a female character,
Vicdan, identifies with. Since a woman experiences her identity by identifying
with an other, Vicdan depends on Virginia Woolf to express her inner self. Vicdan's
reflections on Virginia Woolf s mental and emotional state, and also on her
suicide are important because these reflections will help the narrator to sympathize
with her mother. Thus, this letter is one of the best examples that reveals
the female experience, in that it exposes Vicdan's identification with Virginia
Woolf as well as her daughter/narrator's identification with Vicdan. The following
quotation from Vicdan's letter will prove these two levels of identification:
"(...) the question arises: how can an intelligent and
sensitive soul, after going through such crisis, go on trusting the happiness
experienced on the crest, when aware that it will soon be over? And cannot he
or she find consolation while in the deep water of a wave's trough, knowing
that the curve of the wave will rise again soon? I wonder if the slide towards
the trough fills one with the anxiety that the next wave will break so violently
it will be impossible to survive?" (Atasü, 27)
These lines belong to Vicdan who has started to write about her own feelings
after her identification with Virginia Woolf. However, these lines also reflect
the narrator's feelings the moment when she has stood on the shore thinking
about committing suicide. Probably, as Vicdan mentions in the first sentence
of the quotation above, it was this intelligent and sensitive soul mentioned
by her mother that carried the narrator to the edge of the river in a north
European city telling her to jump because that innate soul did not trust happiness
experienced on the crest knowing that it would be soon over. And as it is gathered
in the second sentence, probably again it was this soul that helped the narrator
to find consolation in hoping the wave would rise again soon and bring happiness,
and that made her give up the idea of committing suicide. In the last sentence,
it is apparent that the mother is anxious. She stresses that there is always
the possibility of a next wave that will break so violently and leave no choice
of surviving. Thus, is not that the same anxiety, which her mother feels waiting
for the next wave that will break so violently, that carries the narrator this
time to the edge of the Mediterranean sea and makes her think about committing
Reading this letter, the narrator sympathizes with her mother who has experienced
the conflict between waves of misery and waves of joy. It is as if Vicdan is
speaking on behalf of her daughter. Therefore, the narrator's empathy with her
mother opens a new path for her to follow. She begins to work on her manuscript:
"This evening, right now, I am leaving the shore I am on. My destination?
I do not know, but I am curious to learn" (Atasü, 28). Then, she puts her
mother's name on the manuscript, and under her own. She also adds a dedication:
"To all women who have committed suicide and to those who have returned
from the brink." (Atasü, 28). Firstly, putting her mother's name on the
manuscript and her own name underneath, the narrator emphasizes the mother-
daughter bond. Secondly, with the dedication, she pays homage to the women who
have committed suicide like Virginia Woolf, Anna Karenina, and the girl who
was sent to Cambridge with Vicdan and Nefise and "had flung her graceful
body off the cliffs at Dover into the icy waters of the Channel" (Atasü,
35), and also to the women who have returned from the brink like Nora, Anne
Dubreuilh, herself and in a sense her mother. Thus, with this dedication the
narrator has emphasized the empathy flowing among women once more.
The narrator ends this second chapter by opening up the case that she is in
the habit of taking with her in those days. She takes her mother's blue satin
evening gown and puts it on. She arranges her hair the way it has been done
in her mother's photo while she is wearing the same gown. "She looked in
the mirror: my mother holding her pen and the notebook she kept secretly was
looking back at me, with a sad smile on her lips and a playful gleam flickering
in her eyes" (Atasü, 28). The narrator looks in the mirror and instead
of seeing her own reflection, she sees her mother's reflection. This scene is
very significant for the development of the novel because with the presentation
of this scene the narrator's identification with her mother is openly declared.
The narrator is now moving from her autobiography to her mother's biography.
Just before this scene the narrator has decided to leave the shore she is on
and with this scene now she swims towards "Islands of the Past...Photographs
and Letters of Bygone Days", the middle chapter. Obviously, islands of
the past represent her mother's and her relations' stories. By traveling towards
the islands, by tracing her mother's history and digging the past, the narrator
is willing to find her roots from which her self will flourish. She will read
her mother's letters and she will write her mother's life story. The attempt
to write the mother's story will create the daughter's story.
In her essay, "The Other Voice: Autobiographies of Women Writers",
Mary G. Mason states that "The self-discovery of female identity seems
to acknowledge the real presence and recognition of another consciousness, and
the disclosure of female self is linked to the identification of some 'other'.
This recognition of another consciousness -and I emphasize recognition rather
than reference- this grounding of identity through relation to the chosen other,
seems to enable women to write openly about themselves" (Mason, 321). That
is what happens in The Other Side of the Mountain. The narrator/daughter
chooses her mother as the protagonist of her novel and while writing her biography,
she identifies with her. The scene, which presents the narrator with her reflection
in the mirror looking the same as her mother, indicates this identification.
Now the narrator is ready to write openly about herself.
However, it is not only the narrator that identifies with the "others"
that she has created in her book. In the biographical part which comes after
the first two autobiographical chapters, the reader also finds "others"
that the heroine identifies with. Virginia Woolf was one of these "others"
whose influence on Vicdan was mentioned before. There is also another woman
whom Vicdan easily identifies with. This woman is Nefise, Vicdan's best friend,
who has probably the most remarkable role in Vicdan's life.
These two friends are like the two faces of a coin. Vicdan is strong, moderate,
distanced and reserved, a woman who is living according to the principles she
has constructed. Whereas, Nefise is passionate, emotional, flirtatious, who
listens to her inner voice and lives, as she wants to. "Vicdan lacks the
spontaneity of her friend. At times she secretly admires Nefise's behaviour,
and at other times finds it improper" (Atasü, 33).
However, their precious friendship gets injured especially because of Nefise's
betrayal. Nefise goes to a ball with an English gentleman, Hugh Eliot, who has
courted Vicdan before and Nefise does not inform Vicdan about this fact. When
Vicdan learns that her best friend has gone to a ball with Hugh, she is hurt.
She cannot understand the reason why Nefise has chosen to act like this. Nefise
confesses that she has an evil soul to act like this. At some times she cannot
think of anyone but herself. She claims that there is a demon inside of her.
"Vicdan understands what constitutes Nefise's demon: the need to take her
place. Hugh was only an excuse. If Nefise had actually been in love with Hugh,
Vicdan would probably not have felt so unhappy and so unsettled in her relationship
with Nefise" (Atasü, 62). Therefore, when they return to Turkey from Cambridge,
Vicdan will find it hard to communicate with her friend. She will not reply
to Nefise's letters. One day she will receive another letter from Nefise informing
Vicdan that her mother is terribly ill.
"Ever since her father's death in 1920, Vicdan fears that
she will lose her mother too; and once again identifies with Nefise as she reads
about her friend's anxiety; the warm tide of love, longing and memories they
share rises in her heart. But just as Vicdan is about to surrender to the waves,
the tide ebbs...Her heart is left high and dry. Vexation pierces it like a red-hot
It is not easy to forgive someone so much loved, with whom
you were once so completely at one." (Atasü, 40)
As it is seen, Vicdan also has experienced that self-other relationship so
much so that she thinks that she has been almost completely at one with Nefise
once. However, this identification with her friend never leaves her. Although
for a long time she feels distanced from a friend who has been so close before,
she will experience this identification again in the future. "And yet again
Vicdan will discover her friend's sensitivity, hidden beneath the calloused
tissue of Nefise's soul, in the superb prose Nefise will produce when translating
works of English literature into Turkish. Vicdan will read them once more ten
years later, and identify once more with her friend's tenderness, after her
death" (Atasü, 40). In short, the basic feminine sense of self is connected
to the world. Women experience themselves as more continuous with and related
to the external object-world as it is seen in the example of Vicdan.
Erendiz Atasü emphasizes this "relationality" in her novel by tracing
the woman's history blossoming from the mother-daughter bond. She has shown
both the daughter's identification with certain tragic heroines who have rebelled
against the roles that society has imposed and also the identification with
her mother, Vicdan. Towards the end of the book Vicdan's identification with
her daughter, and also the narrator's identification with her own daughter will
be presented. As Virginia Woolf points out "a woman writing thinks back
through her mothers" (Woolf, 1977). In other words, one of the characteristics
that makes a text a woman's text is its writer's history that goes back to the
mothers. Thus, as a woman writer, Erendiz Atasü relates the chain of her grandmother,
Fitnat Hanim; her mother, Vicdan; herself, the narrator; and then her own daughter
and the chain which also includes Nefise, Virginia Woolf, Nora, Anna Karenina,
Anne Dubreuilh, Feride from The Wren, Rabia from Sineklibakkal, Zuleyha from
The Ancient Disease, to the mother of the mothers, Cybele, "squatting on
her heavy haunches and suckling, for thousands of years, the child -both husband
and son- pressed to her ample bosom!... Oh, Mother Goddess, Daughter of Anatolia,
called Artemis on the Aegean islands, Demeter where the sea opens into the Mediterranean,
Isis at the Nile delta, Lat in the Arabian desert! Mother Earth, symbol of endless
life and endless death" (Atasü, 83). According to Atasü, Cybele is the
witness of women's history. Thus, by tying all her female characters to each
other, she brings them together in Cybele and shows that in order to find their
selves they must trace their history dating back to Cybele, their first and
Consequently, as it is observed, discussions of female identity inevitably
return to the special nature of the mother-daughter bond. Since women's autobiography
comes alive as a literary tradition of self-creation, the mother-daughter bond
in the novel is emphasized not only by its themes, but also by its structure,
which has been defined as the biography within autobiography at the beginning
of this paper.
It can be claimed that in The Other Side of the Mountain, it is sometimes
impossible to separate the autobiography of the daughter from the biography
of the mother. There are actually two texts, one within the other. "There
can be said to be two heroes (with a single author). The mother becomes a second
hero in the daughter's autobiographical text because her biography, in which
she is the hero, is embedded in the daughter's text" (Malin, 9). Therefore,
it is not unusual to find the narrator's autobiographical intrusions in her
"Vicdan (still indignant): How can you believe promises
made under the spell of wine on a romantic evening? India... What the hell are
you going to do in any part of the British Empire... Ohhhh, those bloody British,
and their damnable Empire!... How long, do you think, can they go on dominating
the earth? (Nefise looks at Vicdan like a wounded gazelle.T (Atasü, 60)
Here, Vicdan is talking to Nefise who has spent an amazing time at the ball
with the flattery of the gentlemen turning around her. At this point, the narrator's
intrusion can be observed presented in a parenthetical expression right after
this paragraph that has been quoted above. "(Is this you, Vicdan, calm,
considerate, always courteous? You can't recognise yourself, can you? How did
you manage to conceal your rage until now? Who is the real target for your indignation
-the British army, or Hugh? Who is it?)" (Atasü, 60). Here the daughter
cannot prevent herself from talking to her mother. Since the daughter starts
to write this biography in order to know her mother better, she wants to reach
the real Vicdan. In a sense, the narrator believes that since Vicdan is a human
being, she must have some weaknesses beneath this practical, strong, and reserved
personality and she is in search of this proof. When Nefise claims that Vicdan
is a reactionary, the narrator opposes: "No...Vicdan is no reactionary.
She is reserved. That's all. But she has a revolutionary's soul. Throughout
her long life, Vicdan will suffer from the torment of being torn between her
eager, energetic spirit and her patina of reserve" (Atasü, 59).
These intrusions of the narrator enable her to question her mother's actions
and emotions. At certain times she looks at the events from a different point
of view and makes comments. On the other hand, she is not writing a person's
biography who is a complete stranger to her.
She is writing her own mother's biography and it is impossible to be impartial
when one writes a biography of someone who is so close. In addition, she traces
her mother's history in order to find her self. Therefore, these intrusions
are inevitable in a narrative like this. These intrusions are sometimes comments
that open new windows for the reader during this journey to the past, providing
more information about the heroine as well as the narrator. Or they are sometimes
the rhetorical questions of the narrator, which demand no replies: "(Where
are your demons, Vicdan? Where have you hidden them? A day will come when your
demons will become your inquisitors. Life and history are not forgiving, and
make us pay even for the concealment of our demons.. .Even virtue comes at a
price.)" (Atasü, 62).
However, these intrusions will be replaced by real dialogues between the mother
and the daughter towards the end of this middle chapter as time moves on. The
reader will find the narrator as an adult and Vicdan in her old age. The narrator
and her mother then will be able to have conversations in these pages. The narrator
will ask her daring questions that demand answers in order to get to know her:
"Mother, did you ever consider divorce? I mean, all married
people do at some time or other.
Were you ever attracted to another man, after you were married?
How about my father? Did he ever chase after another woman?
I don't think so." (Atasü, 201)
The narrator tells her readers at the beginning of the novel that she has got
divorced and "slammed the door and walked straight ahead, like Nora"
(Atasü, 14). Since she has lost her belief in relationships, she even questions
her parents' marriage. She cannot understand how a person can remain loyal and
loving to another all his or her life. Then she continues to ask:
"What was your sex life like?
What a thing to ask!
I remember you two as always sharing a brotherly-sisterly kind
of love.You're too young and inexperienced to realize that what you call 'brotherly-sisterly
love' is the most important bond in life, and the most difficult kind of relationship
to achieve and keep between two people.
It wouldn't be enough for me" (Atasü, 202)
As it is evident in this quotation, the narrator is having a conversation with
her mother, which emphasizes the difference between their personalities. When
the mother believes that a brotherly-sisterly love is essential to make marriages
last long with happiness, her daughter finds this notion absurd because she
believes in a relationship with emotions that have control over one's mind,
obliterate one's will and leave one unable to make any independent move. In
these pages, as it is observed in the quotations, the difference rather than
the identification between the mother and the daughter is apparent. However,
the narrator's purpose is not to emphasize this difference. Moreover, she does
not intend to prove to her mother that all marriages are burdened with pain,
either: "I only wanted to understand her, that was the one and only reason
for my insistence. I felt I did not know her well enough, and thought she did
not really know herself either. Frustrated, controlled passion...! had nothing
to hide from her, and hoped she would have a more tranquil old age if the curtain
of mystery within her were raised" (Atasüu, 206). In short, the difference
between the mother and the daughter is emphasized on purpose, representing the
narrator's longing for learning more about her mother:
"Now I am willing to admit that I really did not know
my mother when she was alive. Probably no daughter (or son) can do so. My mind
is drawing a different portrait of her as I go through her mementoes, her letters,
poems and reminiscences, after the pain of losing her has furnished my insight
with a gentle urgency, helping it to penetrate further. It cannot be proved,
but some intuition stemming from my physical being, tells me that the new portrait
is closer to reality..." (Atasü, 206-7).
Thus, the author's aim of writing this book is openly declared. As it has been
repeated several times before, the narrator's need to know her mother urges
her to write The Other Side of the Mountain. Writing the biography of
her mother within the frame of her autobiography will also enable her to find
her roots to grow from with a new identity.
At the times when Vicdan is ill lying in the bed, her daughter is in charge
of looking after her. During these days the daughter has hard times because
of her relationship with a poet. It is a problematic relationship involving
betrayals, regrets, anger, and sorrow. The mother is in bed observing her daughter:
"She could see all the demons she had confined in the depths of her being
throughout her entire life had gathered in my mind -jealousy, outrage, vengeance,
the pleasure of inflicting pain! I expelled all these demons by turning aggressive.
I was free!" (Atasü, 211). Thus, the narrator puts an end to this painful
"In the days following that incident, I felt her eyes
gazing proudly at me. (...) She was in bed, living that 'present' that once
she had continually postponed, together with that 'future' which had become
impossible for her, by identifying with me. I think she had always done this,
and I had always resented it. I had in my young days vehemently asserted my
separateness from her.
But now, as I drew closer to middle-age and to losing her,
the awareness of continuity as the most essential ingredient in life was dawning
on me. One generation was born from the previous generation and blended into
the following one. 'Separate identity' was nothing but a process of transition,
like a wave, ebbing and flowing between two coalescing points. My mother's existence
was dissolving into mine. And she was content with that. The smile which appeared
from time to time on the mask of anxiety which was her face was an expression
of her satisfaction, and did not only mirror the drop of delight her granddaughter
splashed on her features" (Atasü, 211-2)
This passage above is very crucial in the development of the whole novel. For
the first time Vicdan's identification with her daughter is clearly pointed
out. The fact that female identity is a process and it depends on the identification
with the other because of the characteristic called "relationality"
That a woman has in her nature is revealed in this passage. At first the narrator
resents her mother's identification with her. However, then she comes to realize
at the point of losing her mother that continuity is the most essential ingredient
in life. She emphasizes that her mother's existence dissolves in hers and stresses
this continuity. This continuity, the process of transition has been stressed
before when Cybele is mentioned. The narrator, her mother, and many women have
stemmed from Cybele's, the Mother Goddess' roots. The narrator is right when
she states that every generation dissolves into another one. As it is seen in
the last sentence of the quotation above, another ring joins the chain of "motheroot".
That ring is Vicdan's granddaughter and the last chapter of the novel is dedicated
to her with the subtitle "Journal for My Daughter".
This chapter's main title is "On Another Shore", which indicates
that the narrator has left the islands of the past and she has reached another
shore. As the reader knows, the novel is written after the author's mother's
death with the pain of loss. The writer, by means of her mother's story, wants
to discover herself. She becomes successful at this. Not only does she achieve
the satisfaction of knowing her mother better, and herself with the help of
this knowledge in her journey to the past, but she also solves the mystery of
womanhood. She finds the roots of her sex in Cybele, mother earth. Thus, writing
her mother's story after losing her has healed her grieving soul in a way. It
can be said that the biographical part has worked therapeutically on her. In
the first two autobiographical chapters, the writer's painful, injured, depressing
situation is observed. As she progresses in her mother's life story, especially
towards her mother's old age, the narrator also appears as a character in her
mother's story. The distinctions between the biography and the autobiography
blur. As she finds answers to her questions and slowly starts to feel illuminated,
she becomes more serene, confident and decisive. The last chapter of the book
shows the healed narrator. In a sense, with the last chapter's completion The
Other Side of the Mountain becomes a novel both about a loss and a recovery
Thus, in the last chapter, the reader finds the narrator at the graveyard where
her parents rest in peace. She says:
"I walk beneath willows, poplars, and cypress trees. I
am a writer...Once in a Mediterranean town, where my mother's professional career
had its glorious beginning before her monotonous years of teaching on the steppe,
I looked in the mirror and saw her! She had died a few years before. The oval
shape of my face in the mirror trembled with the translucent vibrations of an
egg about to give birth to a new cell, and the image of my mother slowly appeared,
coming from beyond the grave and reflecting her hidden desires. I am a writer,
a woman whose body has been estranged from men..." (Atasü, 253).
As it can be noticed in this quotation, the narrator is at the graveyard under
the tall trees thinking about the past, especially about the day in a Mediterranean
town when she saw her mother in the mirror as her own reflection. In fact, in
the novel's Turkish edition, before the last sentence, "I am a writer,
a woman whose body has been estranged from men...", there comes a very
important sentence which explains how the narrator's identity formation process
has started. However, this sentence is omitted in its English edition and this
omission causes a huge loss in the novel. In this passage the narrator actually
utters, "I looked in the mirror; I knew myself, but this sentence is not
included in the English version.
In fact, "Know thyself is one of the mottos that lie beneath the Western
patriarchal notion of self. This notion of self is formed by the person's looking
at himself and reflecting on himself. A man can achieve success in knowing himself
only by himself. On the contrary, a woman knows her self by means of "an
other self like Erendiz Atasü does. She looks in the mirror; she sees her mother;
she identifies with her mother, and then she finds her self in this other. In
short, the moment she knows her (m)other, she knows her self. This sentence
puts the last emphasis on the difference between female and male identity formation.
In a sense, by writing her mother's biography, the author gives birth to her
dead mother. She makes her mother live again. A special woman like Vicdan, who
has been sent to Cambridge by Atatrk himself, is given birth again to remind
Turkish women of their strong roots. In this way, they can remember how privileged
they were during Atatrk's time and they can compare their present situation
with those good old days in order to bring back those days of illumination.
Besides that the narrator has found her roots, too. When she slammed the door
to the face of her prescribed identity, she was anxious about her future. Now,
after her journey with Vicdan, she knows who she is: she is a writer; she is
not living at the edge of committing suicide any more. After her mother's death,
the narrator travels around the world. She goes to London, crosses Waterloo
Bridge and remembers: "Once upon a time I had wanted to merge with these
waters, I remembered with a smile, now that I no longer had such a desire, now
that I was calm, no longer perturbed. The suppurating, poisonous currents of
the river drove me away" (Atasü, 256). The narrator feels safe now. Not
only does she give birth to her mother in her narrative, but she herself is
reborn as well. In a sense, her mother gives birth to her daughter once more
and her daughter does not have the urge to commit suicide any more.
While the narrator visits her parents' graves, her daughter waits for her outside.
The narrator sees her daughter and thinks to herself:
"When did she grow up to be a slender valley plant, standing
so gracefully? (...) My child...She is identical with her mother and yet so
Mother, it is getting dark, where have you been?
I am beside you, my daughter, I am within you.
I give my hand, drenched in light, to her." (Atasü, 275)
These are the last sentences of the novel. If all the women characters of the
novel are like the rings of a chain holding each other, the narrator's daughter
is the last ring of this chain until she gives birth to a baby- girl. It has
been emphasized before that female identity is a process which takes the mother-daughter
bond as its base, a relationship that has the identification with the other
in its essence. In this quotation, this notion is presented again with another
mother-daughter relationship. This time the narrator has the role of the mother.
"Specifically, the experience of mothering for a woman
involves a double identification. A woman identifies with her own mother and,
through identification with her child, she (re)experiences herself as a cared-for
child. The particular nature of this double identification for the individual
mother is closely bound up with her relationship to her own mother. As psychoanalyst
Helene Deutsch expresses it, 'In relation to her own child, woman repeats her
own mother-child story'" (Chodorow, 48).
The Other Side of the Mountain inscribes this double identification
of the woman as the self she is and the other she is within her. That is why
the narrator says to her daughter that she is within her. Although the novel
starts in a pessimistic mood, it ends in an optimistic mood. It settles down
all the conflicts that the narrator has and gives hope to her for the future.
In conclusion, with all these characteristics discussed above, The Other
Side of the Mountain is one of the best examples of woman's autobiography
in Turkish literature. In "Autogynography: Is the Subject Different?",
Domna C. Stanton quotes from a book called Break of Day: " 'Man
my friend', I read, 'you willingly make fun of women's writings because they
can't help being autobiographical'" (Stanton, 138). It is true that women
cannot help being autobiographical because they are in search of their own "selves".
Their purpose is to shatter the identities imposed by culture, and construct
new identities. Since relationships between mothers and daughters are central
to the development of women's identities, the women writers have often used
this mother-daughter bond effectively in their narratives. Erendiz Atasü, as
a woman writer, has also created The Other Side of the Mountain in this
way, and this is Erendiz Atasü's major contribution to women's literary
tradition in Turkey. To conclude, it can be said that the words of the traditional
song sung by Vicdan and her brothers at the summit of Uludağ represent
the true sentiments of the writer herself:
"... Vardar plain,
I am the star of Mount Maya
I am my mother's only daughter
I am my mother's only daughter... " (Atasü, 98)
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