Birgül Oğuz, Turkey
About the author:
Birgül Oğuz was born in İstanbul in 1981. She received her BA in Comparative Literature and MA in Cultural Studies from İstanbul Bilgi University. She was the recipient of the Hazel Heughan scholarship for the Modernism-Postmodernism programme at Edinburgh University in 2006.
She is the author of two short fiction books, Fasulyenin Bildiği (2007) and Hah (2012). Her short stories, essays, articles and translations have been published in Turkish literary magazines and newspapers including Varlık, Notos Öykü, Dünyanın Öyküsü, Roman Kahramanları, Remzi Kitap, Radikal Kitap, İzafi, Duvar, Parşömen, Birikim and Felsefe Logos.
In the winter of 2013, she was invited to be a writer-in-residence by quartier21 in MuseumsQuartier, Vienna. Currently, she is studying a PhD in English Literature at Boğaziçi University, and she lectures on text analysis and the European novel at Moda Sahnesi and Nazım Hikmet Academy in Istanbul.
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The eight and a half stories in Hah contemplate the psychology of mourning and melancholia, and the politics of mourning in particular. This collection that reads like a novel begins with the loss of a beloved father, a member of the 1968 generation, a generation viciously treated by the Turkish state in events surrounding the 1980 military coup. Although the father had somehow survived these atrocious events and lived to witness the changes over the subsequent decades, he was filled with bitterness, and was not able to come to terms with the loss he experienced. So the narrative begins with the overt tone of an individual mourner, the daughter, who, in striving to come to terms with the loss of her father, gradually finds that unless she herself assumes the work of mourning which her father had been unable to accomplish, she will not be able to properly mourn him. However, this is a matter of collective mourning within a state that disavows the crimes it committed, thus rendering collective mourning impossible. So Hah, in search of a new literary agency to transform traumatic loss into meaningful narrative, seeks to answer these questions: how can one mourn when mourning is impossible? How can one write about mourning when it is impossible to find the means to narrate it? And how can one not write when writing is the only way to mourn?
In Hah, the intervention of time into mourning manifests itself as the intervention of mourning into language. Hah searches, finds, tries, uses and disposes of many types of literary devices in order to articulate the Loss (that is, 'loss' with a capital 'L') which defies articulation. It is a text that signifies the literariness of every discourse, politics included.
Highly intertextual, Hah draws upon a plethora of texts, from the Old Testament to 20th century European poetry, from 16th century ghazals to contemporary Turkish verse, from cornerstones of Turkish literature such as Leyla Erbil, Oğuz Atay, and Bilge Karasu, to the likes of James Joyce and William Shakespeare, from workers' anthems to folk songs. It is a work that – while a product of a specific time and place – resonates with anyone who has ever experienced loss. Therein lies its particular universality.
Translated by Amy Spangler
'Your Soul of Salt' (pp. 29-30)
It was back in the days when I measured my weight by the teaspoon.
An incessant rain of chalk dust would weigh heavy on my eyelids. I never spoke on the way home. As the light of day bent, fading away, stitch by stitch the thread binding me to the world would come undone. One half of me would fall asleep, the other, silent.
At the knock-knock on the door in the evening, I would shake the dust from my eyelids and ask, “Who’s there?” That’s when father would enter. And with him, the drone of the world. And the drone of giant black turbines, the burble of acidic plaster, the noise of files and hammers, the smell of burnt oil and polyester, all of these would enter. He would enter, dragging his feet. I would grow up, knowing. I would take the saltpepperbread to the table.
When 'A Nation at Work' came on, ha-ha, right!, corns of wheat would fly across the screen, a potato dish would traverse the table and rice and pickles and tractors (you shouldn’t call the teacher “shit” sweetheart), it was a massive mess all over, bread crumbs, salt, threads, empty spools (God very well could have spoken to “noses” rather than “Moses” sweetheart, don’t be hard on yourself), when the plates were emptied we would gather the individual crumbs on the tips of our individual fingers, we could not let our eyes meet because the shame of being full would come between us, (but don’t let yourself get nailed to the wall like that again, okay, sweetheart, just keep the word proletariat to yourself), meanwhile the stomachs of right-wing chestnuts had already burst, having gorged themselves on the blood of workers, but the conquest of the sun was near, (you are the salt of the earth, don’t forget that), but there was no surge, just the limping likes of me with headline fonts on their butt, the noise of remembering was thick and had glued everyone to their homes, wheat rained down, as if snow falling but (to remember you have to forget, sweetheart, whatever you do, never forget), falling and falling, piling up on the middle of the table, three fingers thick, salt and snow were one and the same to our eyes, we would wait in respectful silence and before long he would come, Lenin, no taller than a salt shaker,
Rave Media Reviews:
A fresh, new voice. A wordsmith of such talent is hard to find.
Asuman Kafaoğlu Büke, Radikal Book Supplement
In a style that savors sound and silence, Bırgül Oğuz breathes life into her words, each story painting a single startling image or a procession of images, fluttering in your mind, echoing in your ear.
Nazlı Doğan, Birgün journal
Reading these stories I got the impression the author had first recorded them, as if no sound or echo was lost as they took shape in her mind…the distance between the scratching of a pen and the tapping on a keyboard had seemingly disappeared. For me the real devils are the writers who weave atonal compositions out of silence… In “Hah” words sometimes caress your face. And then suddenly a slap that leaves the silhouette of a raven on your cheek in a play of shadows. It smarts but somehow you appreciate the pain.
Salih Kurt, Aydınlık Book Supplement
Bırgül Oğuz has a love affair with words, painstakingly choosing them before she opens her arms in a deep embrace, and then she prunes and trims…each time giving new life to words that have captured her heart. And hardly ever blinking an eye.
Seda Ersavcı, Taraf Book Supplement
These are stories of suffering and loss, and of audacity and resilience.
Birgül Oğuz shatters conventional forms of language in a subtle new voice that follows the curves of its own consciousness.
Birgül Oğuz is not writing about loss, rather she is writing through it. This is a work dedicated to the act of mourning.
“HAH” What a delightful little book! From a writer graced with a uniquely Turkish turn of phrase.
Birhan Keskin, poet
Fasulyenin Bildiği (What Beans Know)
Short stories. Varlık, 2007