August 5, 2021

Writer Murathan Mungan dreams of a Turkey proud of its diversity

LETTER FROM ISTANBUL

From his house nestled in the greenery in Beykoz (Turkey), on the Asian side, not far from Istanbul, the Turkish writer of Kurdish origin Murathan Mungan, 66, a slim and elegant figure, takes a dark look at what is happening in his country. “Turkey is in a state of mental crisis, as Paul Valéry said”, he sums up from the living room bathed in light where he receives his guests with lots of mezze, these assortments of small hot and cold dishes, and hot tea.

Assumed homosexual, refined intellectual, the man is a figure of contemporary Turkish literature, author of more than sixty books, novels, essays, short stories, poems, plays. Several of his books have been translated into foreign languages. His first collection of short stories, The Last Istanbul, written in 1980, just published in French, translated from Turkish by Sylvain Cavaillès (Kontr, 224 pages, 21 euros).

Against the patriarchal order

The book marks a turning point. The writer makes his coming out, describing meetings between homosexuals in the “belly” of a hammam in Istanbul. The establishment is run by Madame, a decrepit and protective figure, inclined to close her eyes “On certain things” to earn money. “Those who stopped there on their way home from work, who had finished their day, were sleeping in that one-night hammam with people they didn’t know, didn’t want to know, whose names they never knew and would never know, and then they’d go away. Maybe that was the real separation. Perhaps it was a secret ceremony born out of the magic of the unknown. “

The news describes a hidden world that social hypocrisy did not allow to reveal, especially in 1980. The editors, to whom the work is then offered, refuse to publish it. In 1985, a small publishing house finally accepted. Reissued in the 1990s, the book “Paved the way for others but homophobia is still there”, deplores its author.

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Sharing her secret was a vital necessity “Otherwise it risked turning into an injury”. Live hidden “Would have been too heavy”. However, Murathan Mungan refuses to let himself be “Ghettoize”. “I write for everyone”, he repeats, while dreaming of a Turkey proud of its diversity. “We are all Armenians”, he shouted, in 2007, along with thousands of other demonstrators grieving after the assassination of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

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