Orsola Casagrande
Il Manifesto, Le Monde diplomatique
September 2008

Four friends and an ancient book

HAKAN YAMAN was born in İstanbul in 1963. He has spent his childhood in Kuzguncuk, a small neighborhood in the Asian side of the Bosphorus. We find his impressions about the atmosphere of this little quarter in his beautiful novel The Wings of Israfel which unfortunately is not translated into Italian yet. He is using a progressive style in his novel by blending fiction and non fiction in different historical periods. The Wings of Israfel is a novel taking disparity and accepting disparity as a value. In 1950s, a group of friends from different religions and ethnicity are gathering to chat about a miraculous book which contains the answers to all questions. These friends, Omar, Raffi, David and Teodor gather in a small town at nights and they argue and chat about philosophy and religions while drinking wine and smoking cigarettes. But their main point of interest is the story of a search for a magical book which took place in an old Anatolian fable.

Your book reveals the very complex and fantastic mixture; which is Turkey. Unfortunately, it seems to me that this diversity is often seen as an obstacle and not as the richness which it really is… How did you think of the book?

This is a dramatic fact about Turkey. We unfortunately complain about being misunderstood without properly expressing ourselves. I believe that this is an Asian rooted bad habit of ours which hides “it is shameful to talk about yourself” traditional teaching behind. Therefore as you say the cultural richness easily becomes or being perceived as an obstacle. There are many social and political mistakes in the histories of all the nations. But I do think that none ever paid the price like Turkey did.

Coming to the novel, you must avoid being boring when you have serious words to say. Therefore, I have planned to use various elements in the novel to make it richer and more enjoyable. The story of the book which can be read from four directions is an old Anatolian fable. I try to open my novel to global matters by using this very local story as a starting point. And I have put it in the center of the novel. Then came four friends who are major characters of the novel, their different religions, different traditions and needs…

What is the amount of autobiography in the novel?

Undoubtedly, it is Kuzguncuk. I have chosen this neighborhood for two reasons. First, I didn’t know how exactly it was in 1950s, I described in the novel, but I knew the 60s and 70s of this village very well. And also Kuzguncuk was one of the most suitable places to find the cultural and religious mixture and richness of the country.

There is one mosque, two Greek Orthodox churches, two synagogues and one Armenian Church here. Turks, Armenians, Jews and Greeks used to live in peace and harmony until 70s in this neighborhood.

You show a great interest in details and historical facts. Elif Safak is claiming that Turkish people has a selective memory when the history is concerned? Do you agree?

We can correct this as some Turkish people, has a selective memory. But I think in any part of the word people has a selective memories when their own histories are concerned. In my novel, I have tried to set a balance by having my fictional characters lived in the real word. The characters who has really lived in the past like Sultan Mahmud and some purely fictional characters are together in the novel. The novel is following to periods: 1950s, that is to say the historical background of the novel and the eighteenth century. I have chosen 50s, because I believe that it is a period of big changes. For instance, the novel starts with the day the decision of joining NATO is accepted by the Turkish Parliament.

Let us have your comments on the actual political situation.

I sometimes feel myself as a part of history. Tomorrow, I’ll surely be, but even today I feel so. Because while some things change very rapidly in Turkey, some gets stuck to the past and remains unchanged. When I was writing 50s I realized that similar things still happening after sixty years. Unfortunately, this will not change as long as the powers, fed from chaos exist.