A Woman's Discovery
The Other Side of the Mountain, Erendiz Atasü's first novel published
in 1996 and winner of Orhan Kemal literary prize, is a very rich text that can
be approached in different ways. To illustrate, it can be called a historical
novel which is "a powerful evocation not only of Turkish history through the
twentieth century, but also of world history " as Margaret Drabble states on
the backcover of the book. Also, as Oya Menteþe points out, the novel depicts
both the transition period in which the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the Republic
was founded, and the first ten years of the Republic (301). On the other hand,
the novel can also be analysed as a political novel because as Yýldýz Ecevit
argues, it has an ideological content. She states that it is the novel of the
Kemalist ideology and so a "Roman à thèse"(291). Thus, Atasü not only portrays
the history of the Republic, but also adds an ideological dimension to its history.
In the novel she attempts to show why the Kemalists who had an endless idealism
and love for Kemalism and the Republic "retreat[ed] into themselves " since
"'the grand amour' of [their] lives, the Republic, started to slip down the
incline "(Atasü 211). The reason why Atasü does this is that she attempts to
remind the readers of what the ideals of those people, who dedicated themselves
freely to the principles of Kemalism, were and how much Turkey has deviated
from these ideals. In other words, she tries to show the gap between the Turkey
of the Kemalist ideology and Turkey today. However, defining the novel as a
historical or a political novel would be inadequate, for there is another important
aspect that cannot be overlooked: the autobiographical aspect of the novel.
The Other Side of the Mountain is not an autobiography in a real sense
because the author-narrator does not tell her life story to the reader. On the
contrary, the author-narrator, inspired by the author herself, tells her mother's
past, so in that sense it seems to be the biography of her mother, Vicdan Hayreddin,
who is based on the author's mother as she acknowledges in her "Letter to the
Reader"(Atasü 278). Moreover, in a private interview with Atasü, she stated
that the novel was born of the pain of loss. She said that the image of her
mother rising between the mountains like a sun appeared in her mind the night
when her mother died, and she added that this image was the inspiration of the
novel. Therefore, both the author-narrator's telling her mother's past and the
image which "is the seed of creation of this novel" (Atasü 291) make one think
that the novel is a biography.
On the other hand, although the novel seems to be the biography of Vicdan,
the reason why the author-narrator makes a journey to her mother's past shows
that it has an autobiographical aspect because she makes a journey to her mother's
past not only to know her mother and her mother's past, but also to understand
herself and the present. In other words, she wants to know her mother because
only when she manages to do this, only then can she know herself. Therefore,
while on the surface her concern seems to be her mother, her real concern is
herself. At the end of her journey she hopes to find out who she is, so it can
be said that although the novel is not an autobiography in a real sense, it
has an autobiographical aspect because of the attempt for self-discovery.
When the author-narrator's way of self-discovery is examined, it is seen that
relationships play the primary role in her self-discovery because she does not
try to discover herself by delving into her own past but into her mother's past.
On the other hand, when the author-narrator's way of self-discovery is compared
with the way of self-discovery in conventional autobiography, it is observed
that they are remarkably different because in conventional autobiography
the pursuit of selfhood develops in two directions. The self
may move consecutively through stages of growth, expanding the horizons of self
and boundries of experience through acceleration, but always carrying forward
through new growth that globe of an irreducable, unified care… Or the self may
… delve downward into itself to find the irreducale core, stripping away mask
after mask of false selves in search of… unique or true self (Smith 18).
Thus, while self-discovery takes place in individualistic spheres in conventional
autobiography, the self-discovery of the author-narrator takes place in the
spheres of relationships. Then, according to the premise of the conventional
autobiography, the author-narrator's way of self discovery would be called a
flaw; however, that the premises of the conventional autobiography have been
constituted by the patriarchal point of view is an important fact that should
be taken into consideration.
As Smith and Watson state, George Gusdorf, one of the most prominent theorists
of autobiography, "configured autobiography as unquestionably white, male, and
Western" (8), so those who are not white, male and Western have been excluded
from this literary genre. It can be argued, then, that women are among those
to whom the rules of the conventional autobiography are inapplicable.Therefore,
the way the author-narrator adopts for self-discovery cannot be called a flaw
since she is a woman. Thus, in this paper while the author-narrator's way of
self-discovery is examined, it will be shown that the reason why she adopts
a different way of self-discovery is that she is a woman. However, it is first
necessary to distinguish between the concept of self in conventional autobiography
and the concept of female selfhood because the reason why the author-narrator
takes up such a way of self-discovery is directly related to the difference
between the two.
To begin with, in conventional autobiography, the concept of self is based
on the idea of individualism.Thus, the model of separate and unique selfhood
is pervasive in traditional autobiography and in Smith's terms this individualized
"I" is the "phallic 'I'"(98). Friedman quotes from Georges Gusdorf to explain
the individualistic concept of self in traditional autobiography. She says that
"the cultural precondition for autobiography, Gusdorf argues, is a pervasive
concept individualism, a 'concious awareness of the singularity of each individual
life'"(72). According to Gusdorf, autobiography is a literary genre that is
the literary consequence of the rise of individualism. For him, autobiography
does not develop in cultures where "the individual does not oppose himself to
all others," so the individual should "feel himself to exist outside of others"
because when he feels "very much with others in an independent existence that
asserts its rhythms everywhere in the community," it is not possible for him
to write autobiography.(Gusdorf quoted in Friedman 73).
However, the individualistc models of the self are inapplicable to women since
the self is profoundly different for them as a result of "the differences in
socialization in the construction of male and female identity"(Friedman 72).
Therefore, from a psychological perpective an individualistic concept of the
self overlook "the role of … relational identities in the individuation process
of women"(Friedman 72).
As Gardiner points out, recently feminist theorists such as Nancy Chodorow
have developed psychoanalytic explanations of gender difference (181), which
can be useful for the study of women's autobiographical writings. Thus, the
application of Chodorow's theory of female selfhood to women's autobiographical
texts has enabled critics to revise the dominant and biased canons of autobiography.
Firstly, Chodorow argues that the mother-child relationships are the determining
factors that lead to different sense of self for women and men since the two
sexes experience these relationships differently. However, it is important to
say that Chodorow's analysis is not biological but social. As Gardiner states,
Chodorow "believes that her analysis focuses on 'social structurally induced
psychological processes' rather than on biology"(Gardiner 181-182).
According to Chodorow, "a boy defines himself as a male negatively - by differentiation
from his first caretaker, the mother"(Gardiner 182). During the Oedipal stage,
a boy seperates himself from his mother and identifies himself with his father,
so as Chodorow points out, "a boy has engaged, and been required to engage,
in a more emphatic individuation and a more defensive firming of experienced
ego boundaries"(quoted in Friedman 77). As a result, a boy defines himself as
separate and distinct from others since "the basic masculine sense of self is
separate"(Chodorow quoted in Friedman 77), so it is a natural consequence for
men to see themselves as unique and separate individuals.
On the other hand, the process of female individuation is remarkably different
from that of male individuation because "a girl forms her gender identity positively,
in becoming like the mother with whom she begins life in a symbiotic merger"(Gardiner
182), so a girl keeps a primary attachment to her mother even in the Oedipal
stage. Therefore, there is a continuous influence of the mother-daughter relationship
on the process of female individuation. Since girls do not separate themselves
from their mothers but identify with them, they "come to define themselves as
continuous with others; their experience of self contains more flexible ego
boundaries"(Chodorow quoted in Friedman 77). Therefore, unlike "the basic masculine
sense of self," "the basic feminine sense of self is connected to the world"(Chodorow
quoted in Friedman 77). As a result of this, for a woman the distinction between
self and other is not as firm as it is for a man.
When this relational model of female selfhood is applied to women's autobiographical
texts, it is observed that in women's texts "the individual does not oppose
herself to all others, nor feel herself to exist outside of others, but very
much with others in an independent existence"(Friedman 77). Therefore, in women's
autobiographical writings there is a deep awareness of others.
After distinguishing between the male sense of selfhood and the female sense
of selfhood, it can be understood now why the author-narrator in The Other Side
of the Mountain prefers to make a journey into her mother's past instead of
her own past. Then, when Chodorow's relational model of selfhood is applied
to The Other Side of the Mountain, the way the author-narrator takes up for
self-discovery becomes meaningful. She searches for herself in her mother's
past because there is an ongoing identification of the author-narrator as a
daughter with her mother. That is why the author-narrator tries to find out
who she is and understand the present by means of her mother's past. It is observed
that in the first chapter entitled "The Wave" there is a great urge of the author-narrator
to know her mother. She is in a Mediterranian town for the ceremony held as
a tribute to her mother because of her invaluable contribution to the foundation
of an institute whose name she does not reveal. After the ceremony, she realizes
that she does not know her mother at all, which gives her pain: "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 I have never known…Where are you, mother?" (Atasü 23).
Before the ceremony, she thought that she was a whole "like a drop ready to
fall"(Atasü 23); however, after she realizes that she does not know her mother,
she feels that she is not a whole, for a part of her self, which is her mother,
is missing, so "now a curiosity that almost hurts is puncturing the perfect
surface of that drop"(Atasü 23). Thus, only when she knows her mother and satisfies
her curiosity, only then will she feel a whole. What does she know about her
She was the daughter of a well-to-do family which was impoverished
during the Balkan and First World Wars. Her life began in Salonica. The early
stages were spent in schools for orphans in foreign lands. She was one the first
university students the young Turkish Republic sent to Europe on scholarships.
She studied Western literature, returned home, helped to found the _____ institution;
and then moved to Ankara where her husband lived. She thought English for years.
She had a daughter. She lost her husband… and died. (Atasü 22-23).
However, this information is not enough for her to be able to know her mother
and satisfy her curiosity. She needs to know more so that she will be able to
understand what made her mother lose her joy of living:
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? (Atasü 23-24).
It is also observed that the author-narrator is very hopeless at the beginning
and she reflects her hopelessness by writing about suicide:
I was in a north European city, when I thought of commiting
suicide.The winds of the 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).
So, the reader understands that she is again on the shore of hopelessness and
suicide. The reason for her hopelessness is revealed in the last chapter entitled
"Journal to My Daughter". In this chapter, the author-narrator gives a panaroma
of the present situation of Turkey. After many years of travelling abroad, she
returns to her country and is terrified with what she sees. Everything has changed
so dramatically and in such a terrible way that she feels like a stranger in
her own country. For instance, when she sees Antalya, she cannot recognize it
Is this place Antalya? The huge excrescence by the sea, moulded
out of white cement. Where has the little harbour gone, round the corner from
the modest little mosque? … What had become of the wooden houses, whose kitchens
were filled with the smell of red cabbage, where tobacco leaves would be left
to dry in semi-darkness? (Atasü 256).
She cannot recognize Istanbul either, for it has changed a lot, which horrifies
her: "Is this Istanbul, the imperial throne of Byzantium and of the Ottoman?
Her blue enamelling has become suspicion's colour, the grey shade of lead, the
colour of air pollution and dirty banknotes"(Atasü 256). The Aegean towns have
also had their share from all this degeneration:
The Aegean towns spread from the shore towards the interior.
Whitewashed houses with colorful shutters. The sea towns where the cobbled streets
used to smell of olive oil and jujube, where songs in Greek hung in air - and
those sullen, conservative towns further away from the sea (Atasü 256).
The author-narrator also mentions Sivas, where a bloody and shameful event
took place in which people were burned by fanatic religious groups in 1993.
She is so much full of disgust and anger that she says:
Look at her, tearing her troubadour sons from her shrivelled
breasts empty of milk, hurling them to the ground, and torching them with her
own hands, reducing them to ashes along with her sense of justice. No, I shall
not utter her name, let it scorch my tongue. I reject this treacherous, cruel,
and stupid town! I want nothing of the steppe, I repudiate it! (Atasü 257)
This is the present situation of the country. Then, how can she keep her hope
and joy of living in a country which "degenerate[d] into a bloodsoaked fire
festival"(Atasü 257). In a country where everything has degenerated, she feels
alienated and does not know who she is and where she belongs to.
At the beginning, she does not know that first she should understand the past
in order to find out who she is and where she belongs to, but then she begins
to read a letter written by her mother to her father and feels that she can
find the answers she is in search of in her mother's past, so she feels perfectly
happy, for she knows where she should go: She should make a journey to her mother's
past, for she might "enter [her] innermost self, into a domain of [her] own
being of which [she has] not been aware." (Atasü 277). In such a state she writes:
Now I am on another shore. Am I a waterdrop in this universe,
that ends up on the spot where it started to form? Do I have to fall and mingle
with the earth?…
Am I a spiral moving unceasingly away from its starting point?
If so, completion means…what? Or am I perhaps the interplay of countless spirals,
moving unceasingly away from their starting points? But then circle, sphere,
water-drop...They are all nothing more than illusions…'Perfection' does not
exist…If that is so, the fourth dimension which is curiosity is always there
to turn the water-drop we imagine is ready to fall, into a wave…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).
However, before she sets off, she makes her final preparation. She wears her
mother's blue satin evening gown, arranges her hair the way her mother did in
the photograph and looks in the mirror. What she sees in the mirror is her mother:
"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). Now, she is identical with her mother,
which is the key to her self-discovery because as Chodorow argues, women "tend
to remain part of the dyadic primary mother-child relation itself" since "the
mother-daughter relationship remains central to the ongoing process of female
individuation"(quoted in Friedman 77). Therefore, she gives her hand to her
mother and they set off together.
In "the Kemalists" section, which consists of the stories of the characters
in the novel, the author-narrator tells her mother's past. Now, she is a narrator
and her mother is a character, so there should be a narrator and character relationship
between them because this is what conventional narration requires. However,
it is seen that there is an ongoing influence of the mother-daughter relationship
on the narrator, which is also a sign of its influence on her self. Although
the author-narrator tries to objectify her mother as a character, there are
instances when she cannot do this. In conventional narration this would be called
a technical flaw; however, this is not a flaw for there is an actual mother-daughter
relationship between the author-narrator and the character, which cannot be
overlooked. She is a woman trying to find out who she is and she can reach her
goal by means of her mother. Moreover, as told before, because of the continuous
influence of the mother-daughter relationship on the female sense of the selfhood,
the distinction between self and other is not clear but flexible for women.
In conventional narration the character should be the other for the narrator,
but the line between the author-narrator and Vicdan is not clear since she sometimes
exists on the same plane with the character, which shows that the line between
self and other is blurred since the author-narrator is a woman.
That the line between the self (the author-narrator) and the other (Vicdan)
is blurred can be observed in the shifts in narrative perspective. In order
to distance herself from her mother and objectify her as a character, the author-narrator
adopts third-person narrative perspective and talks about Vicdan in terms of
third person pronoun. However, sometimes she exists on the same plane with Vicdan.
For instance, when she reports a dialogue between Nefise, Vicdan's best friend,
and Vicdan to show Vicdan's great idealism and love for the Republic, suddenly
she addresses Vicdan in terms of "you": "Is this you, Vicdan, calm, considerate,
always courteous? You can't recognize 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). Also, when she reports one
of the biggest catastrophes in Vicdan's life, which is Nefise's death, again
she begins to talk to her to remind her that Nefise's death is not the first
catastrophe in her life:
(It is not your first experience of this, Vicdan. Ever since
you were a child, the world has ended, again and again…Remember your father's
death, Vicdan, remember the invasion, remember the men hanging from the rope,
remember the treachery of your fellow Muslims,remember your uncle's mansion,
brilliant with jewels and dark with hidden intrigue, remember the day Mustafa
Kemal died, remember September the first, 1939) (Atasü 80).
Here, she not only exists on the same plane with Vicdan but also symphatizes
with her, so she is emotionally involved in the process of narration, which
is something unusual in traditional narration. Sometimes, the author-narrator
also criticises Vicdan. To illustrate, she criticises Vicdan because of her
being too much self-controlled. Even when she dances with Raik, her husband,
she does not give up controlling herself: "(Vicdan, you are in the arms of the
man you love, wipe from your mind all perverse thoughts, forget about your surroundings,
just enjoy the present moment!)" (Atasü 179). However, as usual Vicdan goes
on controlling herself and repressing her body, but at night she wakes up suddenly
and at this point the author-narrator criticises her once more: "What woke you,
Vicdan? Was it something to do with your body? The sexual energy your body didn't
use up in the swift movements of the dance?" (Atasü 182). Moreover, sometimes
she is so emotionally involved in what she is doing that she talks to Vicdan
as if they are actually having a dialogue: "This is not dancing, it is devoid
of grace or skill, just a game for naughty adults (So what's wrong with that,
Vicdan?) I don't know…"(Atasü 172). Then, she adopts third person narrative
perspective, but again she cannot prevent herself from interacting with Vicdan:
"Everything the body does is serious and significant to her (Perhaps you have
never been a true child, Vicdan)."(Atasü 172). Then, Vicdan's answer, which
reflects her disappointment with and her anger against Burhan, her brother,
who is the symbol of the betrayal of Kemalism and the degeneration, follows:
Does any individual have the right to behave irresponsibly,
regressing as it were to childhood? My brother is an irresponsible father and
husband!…He goes in for free enterprise, blinded by his greed and ambition.
Where is Burhan the idealist, with his shining eyes? Now a dangerous fire, stoked
by a single-minded pursuit of material wealth and power, blazes fiercely in
those eyes. He burns, destroys, oppresses, and succeeds! A new type of person
for Turkey!…Years of short commons have given birth to his ruthless ambition.
Or there may be other reasons (Atasü 172).
Those examples illustrating the shifts in narrative perspective also show the
attempts of the author-narrator for self-discovery. The author-narrator does
not avoid breaking the rules of traditional narration and interacting with her
mother because what is really important for her is not to record her mother's
past but to understand herself and to find out who she is by means of her mother's
past, which makes the novel autobiographical.
The chapter entitled "A Happy Marriage" clarifies that point further because
it is seen that while the author-narrator seems to attempt to understand her
mother, in fact she attempts to understand herself in relation to her mother.
This chapter is full of comparisons that the author-narrator makes between herself
and her mother. It is observed that after each comparison, a contrast between
herself and her mother emerges. Therefore, she finds out that she is different
from her mother in many ways. However, this does not mean that she defines herself
in terms of denial of relation and connection like a man does according to Chodorow.
On the contrary, she defines herself in relation to her mother. In other words,
although what she finds is the difference of herself from her mother, her mother
is the reference point.
The main difference between her mother and herself is their relationships
with their bodies.Throughout the chapter, the author-narrator emphasizes the
fact that her mother "belonged to the generation which divided human existence
decisively into 'body' and 'soul'"(Atasü 208) and that the difference between
her mother and herself emerges from this main difference.
First of all, they are different in terms of their attitudes toward their
marriages. The author-narrator ironically says that the marriage of her parents
was a happy one because they always compromised with each other and never quarelled:
"Certainly, theirs was a happy marriage…An egalitarian marriage…No one ever
saw them quarrel, no one ever heard them complain, until death did them part.
Theirs was a happy marriage, for sure"(Atasü 201). Then, the author-narrator
reports a dialogue between herself and her mother about her marriage. During
the dialogue the author-narrator observes that her mother is anxious when she
talks about the sexual issues:
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 inexprienced to realise 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 (Atasü
Thus, it is seen that Vicdan does not consider sex a natural part of love and
marriage. For her, "brotherly-sisterly love" is much more valuable than passionate
love, and she seems to be proud of achieving and keeping such kind of relationship
with her husband. However, the author-narrator does not think so. She says "it
wouldn't be enough for me - I was referring, not to something which is shaped
and preserved, but to something which exists and develops spontaneously, those
sensations that take you over, obliterate your will, your ability to make any
independent move"(Atasü 202). However, when she remembers the photographs of
her parents, she sees that her mother is too far from experiencing such sensations
because as the author-narrator states, "Vicdan had sealed up the fiery essence
of her being in a crystal jar. The flame was reflected in the crystal, a fine
sight, but cool to the touch"(Atasü 79). During their conversation the answer
that her mother gives to her question justifies her in that her mother has always
repressed her desires:
I remember you two, always ailing.What were the first years
You mean the desire or fulfilment?
The desire was wonderful and burning hot. The fulfilment…I
was afraid to let myself go…As if some inner obstacle got in my way (Atasü 203).
On the other hand, the marriage of the author-narrator is about to end. However,
as she implies, she prefers such a marriage to that of her parents. She admits
that it was an unhappy marriage, "but," she says, "it had its interesting aspect,
a peculiar integrity. My marriage did not harbour secrets or hidden longings"(Atasü
206). Thus, this was a marriage of a woman who has not repressed her body. She
says "it was peculiar in this, as people do not usually live so nakedly, and
I was the perpetrator…I was no longer unhappy, and was slowly reaching the satiation
point of solving all the riddles of the labyrinth, of living entirely through
a process, a relationship" (Atasü 206).
Moreover, the author-narrator also discovers the reason why her mother has
become ill. She says "the satisfaction she abstained from were not as essential
to her as I took them to be. She was perfectly sincere on the concious level
when she declared., 'I have no regrets'"(Atasü 208). Not the satisfaction of
her body but the satisfaction of the soul is important to Vicdan and what satisfies
her soul is the great love that she feels for the Republic: "She had lived through
the years of constructing the republic as if through a blissful 'grand amour'!
It was this all-absorbing love which was the high point of her emotional life"(Atasü
208). However, according to the author-narrator, she was mistaken to have thought
that the satisfaction of her soul was much more important than the satisfaction
of her body. She always denied the need and even the existence of her body,
but as a result, "her body felt estranged from her, and became ill!"(Atasü 208).
The author-narrator is also "experiencing deep love"(Atasü 208), but her "grand
amour" is a man, not the Republic because "for [her] generation enthusiasm for
the masses lay outside the individual world of feelings… whereas mother drew
whole lungfuls of the political wind blowing her way, assimilating it to her
very existence"(Atasü 207).
As mentioned before, the author-narrator does not want to emphasize her difference
from her mother. On the contrary, she thinks that all these differences are
inevitable, for they belong to different generations. She says "when she was
alive, I judged her according to the values of my generation, although she was
someone of an entirely different era. Our fates were different despite our similarities"(Atasü
207). She is also aware of the fact that their differences do not separate them
because she discovers that in spite of those differences, she is not an isolated
being, but a part and a continuation of her mother since nothing exists on its
own. When she was young, she was not aware of this fact, so she struggled hard
to assert her separateness from her mother, but now she thinks in a different
way: "As I drew closer to middle-age and losing her, the awareness of continuity
as the most essential ingredient in life was dawning on me"(Atasü 212). Thus,
she can understand now why her mother "was, on her sick bed, living that 'present'
that once she had continually postponed, together with that 'future' which had
become impossible for her, by identifying with [her]"(Atasü 211-212). Her mother
lives the present together with the future by identifiying with her daughter
because as Chodorow argues, "mothers tend to experience their daughters as more
like and continuous with themselves"(quoted in Friedman 77). Thus, when she
discovers the continuity between her mother and herself, she also understands
that "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" (Atasü 212) and
this recognition will enable her to find out who she is and understand the present
at the end of her journey.
In the chapter entitled "Journal to My Daughter" the author-narrator returns
to the present moment after the journey to her mother's past. Now she is in
the graveyard to visit her parents. This chapter is important in that the author-narrator
finally arrives in her destination where she finds the answers for her questions.
At the end of the journey she has found out who she is after she has discovered
that "one generation [is] born from the previous generationand blended into
the following one"(Atasü 213) because by means of this recognition, she understands
that the idealist Kemalist generation, one of the members of which is her mother,
has not dissapeared. As Neruda says "'the flesh of the earth is made up of people'"(Atasü
258) and she recognizes that "it is not a metaphor. The soil filling in my hand,
the physical texture of the very matter I feel on my palm, is made up of generations
of people, living and dying…"(Atasü 258). Then, death is not the end but the
beginning of something new. Her mother and her generation have died, but they
have not dissapeared because "the material essence of their physical selves"
"have been sucked into the texture of the earth" (Atasü 270, 253) and they have
given life to the plants by "nourishing… [their] slender roots"(Atasü 271).
That is why the author-narrator says "If the leaves I am careful not to tread
on crackle, I know it is the sound of a thin fissure being torn open in my heart.
I know the leaves are 'them'"(Atasü 253). Then, if the idealist Kemalists have
not dissapeared, the history that was written by them has not vanished, either,
so she thinks "just as the history of the universe has been carved on a trunk
of a tree, the history created by men has been carved into the texture of rocks
and earth, into their molecules and electrons!"(Atasü 258).Thus, the history
of her country is also in the flesh of the earth along with the Kemalists, so
"the flesh of the earth, which finds fresh life in decaying human corpses to
breed the plants which are my sisters and brothers, bears the name of 'homeland'!"
The author-narrator calls plants her sisters and brothers because they are
all made up of the same things. In other words, those which gave life to these
plants also gave life to her, too. Therefore, she understands that in order
to find out who she is, she should "keep in touch with the flesh of this homeland
as intimately as [she does] with [her] own"(Atasü 259). However, first she should
thrust her way through all that ugliness and degenaration that have covered
this flesh and reach
the living organism right there in the depths, which merged
Ionian vases with Phoenician amphorae, and porcelain decanters; the powers which
refused to surrender to personal, material gain, and so refused complicity with
those who invaded in the first two decades of this country; the powers that
post-modernity thinks weird and eccentric because they put the survival of their
homeland above individual gain (Atasü 259).
Thus, neither the idealist soul of the Kemalists nor history has vanished.
They are there, beneath all that ugliness and degeneration which can only cover
them but cannot destroy them. Moreover, not only are they in the texture of
the earth, but they are also in the flesh of the author-narrator, so she says
"they are within me, the Kemalists" and "I am their child." (Atasü 271, 272).
Thus, finally she finds out who she is:
Born of Vicdan and Nefise, suckled at the breasts of Cybele, begotten by Raik
and Turkey, I dip my hands into time, the past laps against my skin. Bygone
days, rising from the tombs of Kemalists who gave me life, start circulating
through my body, touching the memories stored in the protein spirals within
honeycombs of my organisms, making them thrum, those memory-laden threads that
lay coiled in my cells without the decoding recognition of my awareness, probably
even before my awareness was born; time past, circulating through my body, renders
these previously unknown recollections of my own (Atasü 272).
During her journey to her mother's past not only has she found out who she
is, but she has also discovered hope which is born from the past. Then, the
journey to the past has reminded her who she is and given hope to her. In spite
of all this chaos and degeneration going on in the country, there is still hope
because she believes that since nothing in the universe dissapears, something
new will born from all this chaos:
At the century's end, the savage alloy of the civilization
is a deadly slurry in which millions of atoms, billions of electrons bubblein
the rhythms of dissolution, but which is still pregnant with vitality. The light
will fall upon this hellish brew…And a miracle! The atoms absorbing light energy
are mobilized, they crash into each other by an irresistable attraction, new
molecules are born; the energy concentrates and see, how the fire threads of
protein appear; living matter! Billions of years ago, when our earth was just
a young planet, was not life born in this way? (Atasü 273).
That is how her mother's generation has given life to her and therefore she
can answer the question that she has asked previously: "Has nothing changed?"(Atasü
273). Her answer is " I am that change!"(Atasü 274). She is "the offspring of
the wounded children of a people felled in the short, spiralling interval between
the beginning and the end of the twentieth century, of those children who became
the creator of their people's miraculous ressurection, I am the change"(Atasü
274-275). The new generation is born from the previous generation, but it is
also different from the previous one and that is why she says:
They are within me, the Kemalists. At the same time, I am different
from them. Because I do not believe in molten individuals subsumed in ideals
and in relationships; but believe in what ideals and relationships contribute
to the individual (Atasü 271).
Then, she believes in continuity, but not in repetition. She is the change
because "time never closes the circle; time flows in spirals"(Atasü 274), so
time flowing in spirals brings about change and progress but not repetition.
During her journey, the author-narrator becomes a whole first with her mother
and then with the past. However, becoming a whole does not end here because
at the end she also becomes a whole with her daughter, so the novel ends with
the image of continuity of three generations, her mother, herself and her daughter.
As a daughter, the author-narrator is both identical with and different from
her mother and so as a mother she recognizes her daughter as "identical with
her mother and yet so different"(Atasü 275). Her daughter is different from
her since the new generation cannot be the same as the old one even if it is
born from the previous ones. So, her daughter is the beginning of a new change
and new hope for the future. However, in her daughter's essence there are
the calcium forming the slender structure of her stem-like
body, the iron circulating through her veins, [which] are rooted in the bone-dust
and fragments of marrow dispersed throughout a landscape which has been torn
apart from Macedonia to Crete, from Aegean to the Caucassus (Atasü 275).
So, her mother, herself, and her daughter are made up of the same essence and
Vicdan passed this essence to the author-narrator who has passed the same essence
to her daughter. Then, these three generations are identical with each other.
Therefore, when her daughter asks "Mother, it is getting dark, where have you
been?", she replies "I am beside you, my daughter, I am within you" and gives
her hand "drenched in light" to her daughter (Atasü 275). Thus, the book ends
with hope emerging from the past which has made those three generations connected.
In conclusion, The Other Side of the Mountain is the story of a woman
who has dipped her hand to her mother's past to find out who she is and to understand
the present. There she has found her mother that she has never known and her
mother's generation. Also, there she has become a whole with them and found
out who she is. When she has taken her hand back and turned back to the present,
she has seen that her hand is drenched in light. Then, she gives her hand to
her daughter and becomes a whole with her, too, so she has found her self first
in relation to her mother and then in relation to others. Thus, The Other
Side of the Mountain is the story of a woman who attempts to know herself
and who achieves this at the end, which is succesfully depicted in a way that
is peculiar to a woman writer.