Today a fascinating non-fiction book. I must confess I did not know much about Turkey before I read this book but nonetheless I could not put it down.
Under the Shadow. Rage and Revolution in Modern Turkey by Kaya Genç.
Turkey was split in two long before the attempted coup.
Acclaimed writer takes to Istanbul’s streets to find out why.
Turkey stands at the crossroads of world politics: caught between the West and the Middle East; bordering Syria and the frontiers of ISIS; excluded from the EU and governed by an increasingly hard-line leader. Recent events – both the failed military coup and Erdogan’s subsequent nationwide crackdown – have propelled this young democracy into a new chapter of turbulence.
Since the Gezi Park protests of 2013, Turkish journalist and author Kaya Genç has met and interviewed activists from across the political spectrum, from censored journalists to state propaganda writers. Weaving Ottoman history and mythology together with their stories, he gets to the heart of the fractious history and political division that is defining 21st century Turkey, skillfully showing how the ideological cracks permeating its society run deeper than previously thought.
Kaya Genç is an acclaimed writer whose work has appeared in the Guardian, FT, London Review of Books, Salon, Guernica Magazine, Prospect, TLS, The Millions and the New York Times among others. He is the Istanbul correspondent of The Believer and the LA Review of Books. His article ‘Surviving the Black Sea’ was selected as one of best non-fiction pieces of 2014 by The Atlantic.
‘Kaya Genç’s writing is as evocative as it is charming’
Elif Shafak, author of The Architect’s Apprentice and Honour
‘Kaya Genç is one of the most interesting Turkish writers to have emerged in recent years. He converses across borders while forging his own distinct voice and perspective and challenging dominant narratives.’
– Maureen Freely, President of PEN and translator of Orhan Pamuk
‘Kaya Genc, a wonderful writer and tireless champion of literature, has done us all a great service by bringing together so many young voices on the Gezi movement’
– Elif Batuman, Staff Writer, The New Yorker
About the author:
Kaya Genç is a novelist and essayist from Istanbul. L’Avventura (Macera), his first novel, was published in 2008. He has a PhD in English literature. He is currently working on his second novel. He blogs at
Thanks to Net Galley and to I.B. Tauris for offering me a free ARC copy of the book that I freely choose to review.
This is the first book by Kaya Genç I’ve read, and I hope it won’t be the last. He does a great job of collecting testimonies of many youths, from different social classes, religious backgrounds and political beliefs, and presenting a balanced account of the different points of views and how the interviewees developed their stance and thoughts. It is clear that the author is a great communicator, in sync with his subjects, and understands them well. He is also skilled at capturing the nuances and peculiarities of the youths he interviews, whose voices come across clear and distinctive.
The author does not take sides (if there’s such a thing as sides), but he provides his reflections on Turkey and Istanbul itself, in a language that is nostalgic and poetic at times. He does draw historical parallels (also mentioned by several of the participants) with previous movements in Turkey and in the introduction mentions recent events (that are not discussed in the body of the book, as it looks mostly at the period between 2013 and 2015). It is difficult to read the book and not to think about the historical moment we live in, and some of the comments made throughout the book (about the role of public protests in democracies, about banning headscarves and outward religious symbols, about imprisoning journalists and the influence of social media) are as relevant to the situation in other countries as they are to Turkey’s.
A couple of examples of some of the sentences that made me think:
Now, as cries for an east-west war echo throughout the world, I am afraid of the world turning into a place like Turkey, governed almost permanently by martial law.
Once he concludes his story, Fettahoğlu seems calmer. ‘What I just told you about is not the result of politicization’, he says. ‘It is the result of a sort of void. People are radicalized and they act like hooligans. Politicization should be an intellectual process… To hate the other side’, Fettahoğlu says, ‘is not, cannot be, politicization. No.’ A final pause. ‘It is only hatred of ignorance.’
I enjoyed, in particular, the different voices and individual accounts, like glimpses into the young men and women’s lives, the clear links between the personal and the political (the book is about political ideas but mostly about people, who sometimes reach similar conclusions or feel similarly about certain issues even if they come at them from different political positions and outlooks are very different), the passion and the determination and the touching moments shared too (a mother who didn’t like her daughter’s political ideas sharing a picture of her signed book on Facebook, a young man surprised on seeing his father cry when he hears about the death of a journalist…)
I am not an expert in Turkish politics or history and enjoyed enormously the book, which is skilfully and beautifully written, and I’d recommend this book to anybody who has even a passing interest in the subject. I also look forward to reading more works by the author (and I’m very intrigued by his novels. I’ll be on the lookout).
Thanks to NetGalley, I.B. Tauris and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and please, like, share, comment, CLICK and REVIEW!