The Other Side of the Mountain
Winner of Turkey's most prestigious literary prize, The Other Side of the Mountain traces the lives of three generations of a Turkish family, from the end of the Ottoman Empire to the 1990s. Running through the novel, like a tributary to its source, is a daughter's journey back to her mother's student days at Cambridge and later struggles to find a place in Atatürk's new social order.
'This is a bold and poignant novel, a powerful evocation not only of Turkish history through the twentieth century, but also of world history and of the interweaving of nationalism and ideology. The sentimental. The blending of the personal and the documentary is superbly handled. This is a remarkable and important novel.'
'Literature ascends to great heights when a novelist portrays the spirit and history of a nation with such unforgettable characters that the reader feels a native of that country. The Other Side of the Mountain masterfully provides that universal appeal. Erendiz Atasüi presents us with the soul of Turkey. This is an outstanding achievement.'
Now in middle age, a woman confronts her inner self for the first time, questioning her childhood, her adolescence, her parents' marriage. She struggles to come to terms with her past, present and future, with only her stepdaughter to rely on. But it is not until she awakens from an infatuation that she fully realises who she really is...
This sweeping yet intimate novel interwines the personal and political as it traces one woman's existence across time and against a background of social unrest, to show how present love, pain and violence are rooted in the past and endure into the future. Truths that were obscured behind layers of repression are slowly revealed, proving that no matter how individuals, families and societies try to suppress and forget parts of their pasts, the effects of these hidden truths are felt generation after generation.
A stunningly vibrant and compelling work by a major Turkish writer, who with a deft yet compassionate touch uncovers and brings to life the history and identity not only of a woman and a family, but of a whole country.
THE LAST DECADE OF INNOCENCE (pp.11-15)
I was born in the middle of the century. I can remember the fifties, the years after the war, the world being rebuilt under the piercing glare of the atom bomb, to the rhythms of rumba, samba and cha-cha, backed by stifled voices echoing from instruments of death.
I remember black heaps of coal on white snow. I remember delivery boys bent under the heavy burden of their baskets of coal. I remember their dilapidated shoes exposing bare feet. I remember the cold classrooms, and living rooms where only the area round the coal-fire stove was warm enough. I remember voyages, boats that sailed to Istanbul from the Black Sea town where my father was born. I remember the miserable crowds crammed on the third-class decks, huddled together with their sheep and goats.
I remember my dreams . . . about women in Christian Dior evening gowns with low-cut necklines and bare shoulders, dancing on golden, gleaming parquet floors of halls that I had never seen but heard of, bathed in light flooding from crystal chandeliers . . . the game of 'sex appeal' . . .
My parents used to dance the tango and the waltz at the balls to mark the anniversaries of the Republic. Look at them . . . can you pick them out among the images of the past? Can you spot the men, with their feet encased in patent-leather shoes, sweating in their tails, dancing with the utmost earnestness, those provincial Kemalists? They used to look absurd seen through the eyes of the Seventies, but now seem so tragic . . .
(Is it not touching that they even took enjoyment so seriously, just like your generation?)
While the grey, chilly passageway of the fifties was opening out into the youthful spring of the sixties, I discovered my parents' library. Feride, The Wren, so sensitive, so merry, so sad with her broken heart, teaching deprived children in the devastated villages of Anatolia; Rabia from Sineklibakkal, with her heavenly honey-coloured eyes, so intense, so pious; the graceful Handan, so independent, her young life trapped and wrecked by the passion of two loves; the modern Züleyha from The Ancient Disease, her marriage shattered; all these heroines of Turkish fiction were the sisters of my lonely childhood . .
Then there were all those solemn-looking books in their white paper covers, published by the Ministry of Culture during the forties, translations of world classics . . . those wonderful publications that disappeared completely during the fifties, abandoned by the Ministry. The friends of my adolescence and early adulthood: young Juliet yearning for her Romeo on her balcony in Verona; Mary Stuart wrapped in her flame-red robe walking recklessly towards the axe, rebellious and unbowed to the end. Lady Macbeth is racked by a guilty conscience; Eugenie Grandet, meek, timid, and withdrawn, waits in vain for her lost love. Natasha's impetuous heart veers between Pierre and Prince Andrei; Madame Bovary poisons herself in her dull provincial France. Sonia commits crimes to satisfy her passion for punishment. Nora slams the door behind her and walks away to freedom, my lonely girlhood staring sadly and wistfully after her, full of awed admiration. Nora, she was my heroine . . . Nora, unyielding, determined, and strong . . .
(You are getting it wrong, confused about the decades. Your sense of yourself as a woman was not awake as yet, it was only your sexual instinct beginning to resonate, timidly. What impressed you when you first read The Doll's House was only the pain of the broken marriage tie. You were only curious about sexuality, yearned only for that.)
I had other heroes, socialist heroes. Life was so beautiful during the sixties and into the mid-seventies, full of youth, enthusiasm, sharing, and mutual aims.
(Friendship, the spirit of cooperation, folk songs . . . they were like a great shawl spread over the incoherence and incongruities hidden in the depths . . . why don't you accept that you have never loved either the time or place you inhabited, ever since your childhood ended?)
When was life reduced to a tedious trail through the unending steppe? I did not feel well… though my body's loneliness was at an end.
(Like parched petals, your body wilted. Caresses that ignored all of your being, except for the flesh, injured it, burned it up, wiped it out.)
My needs and wants warred against each other. How I wish I had lived in Vienna during the Belle Époque, been one of Freud's patients, danced at the Opera Ball with a lieutenant of the Imperial Army and fallen in love with him. He would have been shot in battle, and I would have wept, wept, wept...
(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.)
My marriage had its moments of bliss. Probably it was the hurricane of the eighties that wore it out. 'We thought you were a happy couple.' The forbearance you saw was only compensation for wounds we had inflicted on each other. Don't you realise murders are being committed? I am weary of hearing reports of friends being attacked or murdered, I am tired of attending funerals, losing people, shedding tears, feeling angry, tired of a life dogged by the fear of being killed... I am tired of washing baby clothes, of marking exam scripts, and still acting the perfect hostess to my husband's circle of friends. I am sick of playing a part in the bloodstained comedy that is being staged in this country.
I should have been in Paris in the twenties, painting pictures in a garret. Hemingway would have fought with his wife in the cafe below. Picasso, dressed in a picturesque sailor's outfit, would have sworn vividly as he passed along the street smelling of cheese, wine, and crepes, where I lived. I should have been as delicate and free as my fellow countrywoman, the painter, Hale Asaf... I should have hidden my bleeding heart, like her...
And here I am, while the splintering bones of my grandmothers ache in the deep soil of the steppe - those of my grandfathers abandoned in Macedonia - an Anatolian ballad mourning within me even as a gallant tune from Thrace strikes up jauntily.
(Sheer anachronism… any player who is aware that he or she is acting, while on stage, cannot go on. Of course they are aware of the play, but by a kind of simultaneous amnesia, they forget what they are aware of. Later they say, 'I had a part in a farce.' Acting operates with dual awareness - one part of which is paramount. When both intensify and intersect, at that very moment either you experience a surge of creativity - like a thunderbolt - or the mind grows utterly dark. You experienced nothing. You are recalling the emotions of a later time and confusing them with earlier ones. In the years of armed political anarchy, you were an ordinary housewife. And what was your pastime? Teaching at the University!)
You did not dream of Paris and Vienna in the late seventies, your only dream in the midst of the bloody comedy you were living through, was a cup of coffee on a seashore where death was not on parade.
Then the coup of 1980 struck! The world we had known till then disintegrated. Another bloody comedy began to be performed in place of the old one.
(All the shawls that had covered the incongruities, the incoherence, were torn to shreds. Everyone stood naked. And as for me, I saw myself for the first time clearly, and I saw all the others.)
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 Dubreuilh -from where I had collapsed. I survived. I made journeys, and lost my innocence completely. And only then could I comprehend a world which had lost all innocence. No one now can offer the excuse that their capacity for seeing clearly was damaged by the blinding light of the atom bomb. All the genies ever created have vanished into thin air! The 'iron curtain' has been torn down! You cannot hide any more on either side of it, in a state of mock innocence. And what is there left to fill the gaze? Exploitation, cruelty, and pain.
I listened once more to the ballad within me, and returned home to the steppe where the starved creatures dwell. I learnt once more how to respect my parents' and my own generations, and sometimes how to treat their passionate earnestness as a joke.
Now, I am free, for the first time.