Clichés over dictatorship overshadowing Turkish literature abroad - publisher

The cliché that prioritises authors who are represented as “the writers who make the dictator shake” casts a shadow on the rest of the Turkish literature, said Sylvain Cavaillès, an Istanbul-based French translator and publisher, in an interview with the Global voices on Friday.

Cavaillès in 2017 founded his publishing company Kontr, after realising that despite the richness in Turkey’s literature, Turkish authors were not usually translated into French, with the exception of 2006 Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk.

Going by the Turkish spelling of the French word contre, which means “against”, the small publisher’s portfolio has eight titles so far, most of them by Turkish writers of Kurdish origin, including Murathan Mungan, Murat Özyaşar, Seyyidhan Kömürcü, Cihat Duman, and Mehmet Said Aydın.

Two additional titles are scheduled for 2019 by authors who are not connected to Kurdish areas in Turkey, Cavaillès said.

According to Cavaillès a certain attitude which he calls “the Pamuk phenomenon” limits the Turkish authors’ chances of being translated to other languages.

“The attribution of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Pamuk in 2006 did stir an interest for Turkish literature in France. But in 2018 Turkish literature is reduced to only two authors, Aslı Erdoğan and Selahattin Demirtaş, simply because they are categorised as ‘the writers who make the dictator shake’,” Cavaillès said.

Demirtaş, the former chairman of the predominantly Kurdish Democratic People’s Party (HDP), who has been in prison since 2016, has so far penned two short story books. His first book “Seher [Dawn]” was published in English last year by a U.S. publishing house belonging to Hollywood actress Sarah Jessica Parker. The Kurdish politician’s second book “Devran” was published in Turkish last month.

Aslı Erdoğan is a well-known Turkish writer, who was imprisoned for four months in 2016. The author, who is the winner of the 2018 Simone de Beauvoir Prize, remains accused of promoting “propaganda” and “incitement of the people” and now lives in exile in Germany.

According to Cavaillès, the rest of the authors in Turkey have less chance to reach foreign audiences, not because of those authors, but because of the publishing sector’s promotional preferences to increase sales.

“This is a cliché intended to help books sell. Indeed it is not Pamuk who is concealing the rest of Turkish literature, but such cheesy clichés,” he said, adding that this is why his company only focuses  exclusively on Turkish literature in French.