Talat Sait Halman


Erendiz Atasü. Onunla Güzeldim, Istanbul. AFA Kadın. 1992. 105 pages.

Erendiz Atasü is a professor of pharmacology and an alchemist of women's fiction. Some critics have attempted to label her as "a feminist writer." The label has failed to stick, because, although she deals poignantly with women's private crises as well as their predicament in a male-dominated society, she has never yielded to the temptation of pamphleteering. She is a "feminine writer" who turns out authentic literature without waving gender banners.

Since the appearance of her first collection of short stories in 1982, Atasü has fascinated her readers with painful and pungent episodes of women betrayed, frustrated, frazzled. She has a gift for capturing ironic or tragic moments in real lives. Her characters, men and women alike, are tangibly and sometimes elusively vulnerable. Much of the tension in her stories results less from menacing confrontations than from the inability to communicate, to experience love in freedom, to achieve spiritual fulfillment. The violence she depicts is mostly "* psychological cruelty.

ONUNLA GÜZELDIM is Atasü's fourth and most masterly book. The title is subtle and telling: it translates as "I Was Beautiful with [or through] Him [or Her]." This is not the title of one of the short stories, and because Turkish is a genderless language, the phrase evokes past beauty or lost innocence in a context of interchangeability, if not equality, for man and woman. This is part of the compelling power of Atasü's art: it demonstrates how tragic both sexes are, how woeful sex can be, how men are just as pitiable as women. Ultimately the stories validate the commonality of anguish in all lives, but greater injustice is perpetrated against women, because they are not merely victims but scapegoats as well whereas men seem to inflict deprivation on themselves due to their inability to enjoy the paradise of equal love.

The most wrenching story in the collection is about a woman who discovers the sculpture of Camille Claudel as well as her tragic life during a visit to the Rodin Museum in Paris. Camille's desperate life and her death in an insane asylum serve as a mighty metaphor for the history of womanhood. Atasü does not hold Rodin and/ or Camille's famous brother Paul Claudel responsible, but she does express dismay that they both proved callous when they could have tried to save her.

A story entitled "Dust" stands as a powerful indictment of cultural change gone awry and urban devastation resulting from the bastardization of architecture and language. Here Atasü bemoans the emergence of a new language she calls "Amjaparab," a combination of American English, Japanese, and Arabic "applied to the computer."

"It's Raining in Munich," a self-conscious retrospective of the Nazi era, is perhaps the least successful of the stories here, because the author is straining to sound authentic about a period with which she is not familiar. Her best work tends to have firm roots in subjective experience. A cogent proof of this may be found in "Former Lover," a tender and reflective story of a bygone love affair. Avoiding maudlin sentimentalism as, well as rancor, this touching first-person narrative conveys the nobility and the agony of love as effectively as any in the best of the Turkish repertoire. When it comes to erotic evocations and mordancy about sex, Atasü does much better than most of her predecessors and contemporaries. Hers is an impressive achievement in the difficult genre of the short story.

Talat Sait Halman
New York University,