A. ÖMER TÜRKEŞ
Radikal Newspaper, November 14, 2008
Suphi is the protagonist of this photo romance. But there are also other figurants who are stealing roles from him now and then: his mother, his bookmaker uncle, his fortune teller aunt and his actor uncle who is considerably different from other family members… Some by praying, some by fortune telling, some by advising, some by entertaining while they are all trying to cure his wounds, Suphi is chasing his nameless beloved throughout Istanbul.
‘The Wings of Israfel’, published last year was Hakan Yaman’s first novel. There was a passionate quest in his story. The protagonists of the novel were hunting down a mysterious book that contains various secrets inside. The fiction of Yaman’s second novel ‘The Woman in the Photograph’ is also on a quest. But this time the object of passion is a beautiful woman. What ever its object is Hakan Yaman is telling us the impression and changes of passion and quest on the individuals in both of his novels.
Narrator of the first chapter in ‘The Woman in the Photograph’ is Suphi, the protagonist of the novel. He is a bit chatty and he is aware of it. He goes back to his childhood he had spent in Anatolia with his family on a low income to explain the passion he felt in. This is a bit from his chattering and a bit from his desire to express how he felt into these inconvenient circumstances. Therefore, Suphi often goes back to the old days and looks at his skinny, weedy and sunburned faced childhood under the scary shadow of an authoritative father.
“Now, I explain all these not to have you asked questions like what the problem of this guy is, why he is in these straight ups and downs, what the reason of this tide is. Because I had grown up, I had disciplined this way. Now, if I have some strange behaviors, most probably it is due to these bad experiences. If I still see terrifying silhouettes, waiting with their whistles between their lips on the faint railway platforms in my dreams, it is due to these bad experiences. My morbid behaviors that you will recognize as soon as you see me are due to these bad experiences. If my neck stands tilted over with a shy angle like a dervish’s, it is due to these bad experiences. If I don’t look away, if I always need to hide something, my hands, my face, my eyes, my smile, maybe it is because of these. If my gestures are clumsy, slow and abrupt, if the words are not flowing smoothly but coming out haltingly from my mouth it is because of these. If I can not come closer to a woman; not to tell that I like her, but only to ask her name it is because of these. My melancholy, my pique, my anger, my jealousy, my fury, my animosity are all because of these…”
Suphi couldn’t be able to find the conditions to cure his childhood traumas during his youth days. After he has left Press and Information department of the university and graduated from an open university he has started to work as an accountant in the mezzanines with low ceilings of the shops of the printed cloth, towel, bathrobe, duvet cover, bed sheet sellers in Sultanhamam.
He has no complain about his job with his low salary which he finds sufficient. In fact, Suphi has no self-confidence to make a radical decision to change his job and his life. He is spending his life with hips on similar days to each other; with his hip who he knows will never leave him until he dies, with his hip very closely chases him as a shamefaced shadow that looks and smiles whenever Suphi returns…
His photography hobby he started in his teen years will change his monotonous life surrounded by this hip. He comes across a beautiful woman on a day he walks around Istanbul to take some photographs. At first sight she attracts him. Afterwards this returns to a passionate love. Suphi can not catch her even though he runs after. The only data remaining from her is a picture. “I have realized that my whole life would have totally been changed not at that moment I have taken that picture, but in my dark room. I knew that I would not be former me; I knew that I might go insane on this quest; I knew that I would walk around Istanbul from the fustiest to the newest, from the filthiest, boggiest to the most luxury… Now, my life was a Buselik (1) photo romance when it is slowly running after a kissable photograph with the songs in Buselik… And I became a black and white photo romance hero gazing behind the circles of confusion.”
Suphi is the protagonist of this photo romance. But there are other figurants who are stealing roles from him now and then either: his mother, his bookmaker uncle, his fortune teller aunt and his artist uncle who is considerably different from other family members… While they are all trying to cure his wounds, some by praying, some by fortune telling, some by advising, some by entertaining, Suphi is chasing his nameless beloved throughout Istanbul.
Not to be able to open out to social
Hakan Yaman is again taking the advantage of the intriguing potential of chase stories. By using various sub stories in the second chapter, he has raised the potential that he has created by the chatty narrator who can never come to the root of the matter, who can tell us desperately about himself and his childhood to be understood, who struggles to show the circumstances where he got stuck, when he swang like a pendulum. Especially the treasure seeking adventures which are started by his bookmaker uncle’s force is adding not only curiosity but also humor to the story. “Indispensable of the gallops in Veliefendi (2), lord of the winners of horse races, signage bets, place bets…” When he sets his heart on becoming “a little dark, chunky, hatless Anatolian Indiana Jones”, uncle and nephew they are not only delving Istanbul with the detector and pickaxe on their hands but also going to Anatolia.
Hakan Yaman hasn’t been entranced by the charm of his story, he hasn’t been confined himself with only telling it despite it is a fast flowing story. He has got a solid and gleaming style while describing Suphi’s interior world, important moments of his childhood, the places he’s been to. We are listening to Suphi from his own voice. This voice which reflects rich interior world of the young man who becomes uneasy in front of others is in fact a recording given to his psychiatrist. After the short chapter where the third person singular narration break took place, again the narrator role is taken by Suphi by the voice recordings. Thus, he has both diversified his expression and also made an appropriate choice for the fiction of the novel.
The most important defect of this cute, emotional and fast flowing story is being unopened to social. Suphi is looking around but doesn’t see people during the childhood days he spent in Nigde where his father was working as a train station officer, during his student days when he was deeply interested in photography, during his school days he doesn’t mention anyway, during his military service, during his business life and during the times he chases the woman. Certainly there are people but it is not possible to understand which historical and social time intervals they are living in.
We have caught traces from the 50s of Turkey in his first novel. We can’t find a hint to catch the historical background of Woman in the Photograph except Karam Yağları (3) jingle. Suphi underlines the reason of difference between himself, his friends and youngsters with their interest on intellectual activities. But he lives as if he was not aware of the historical, social, economic and political events of his time. In such a case Suphi’s introversion is becoming an individual pathology grew out of his childhood.
Although they are coming from different social segments, it is Suphi’s distance to a historical background which limits the similarities between Suphi and Orhan Pamuk’s Kemal in his novel, ‘Museum of Innocence’. Kemal was materializing his passion with objects and events that is to say he was functioned with a historical and social depth. But Suphi’s passion is only indicating Suphi. It is a passion that someone could fall without any reason in any place, at any time. Still we catch an important similarity on their passions; independency of the passion from its object. It is also possible to see their passions as an obsession of falling in love with the concept of love.
Protagonists of ‘Museum of Innocence’ and ‘The Woman in the Photograph’ are the naïve, romantic men characters that are often used in our novels since 2000. There must be an allegoric answer to these men characters who seems to have come from Tanzimat novel (4) with their delicate emotions, fragility, passivism but especially with their orphanage.
(1) Buselik is a makam (a tune, mode or scale) in Turkish Classical Music and it also means “kissable” in Turkish. Here the author is playing with words.
(2) Veliefendi is a hippodrome for horse racing in Istanbul.
(3) Karam Yağları is an old cottonseed oil brand, which is well known with its jingle adapted from Edith Piaf’s famous song “Padam Padam”.
(4) Tanzimat, meaning reorganization of the Ottoman Empire, was a period of reformation which began in 1839. It is also a period in Turkish Literature, lasted 20 years from 1860 to 1880.