Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Soon to give birth"       [sonnet]

Which is the fiction? the Armenian's words? or Turkishness?
the novelist Elif Shafak is soon to give birth
is memory the crime? or conjecture? heaven or earth?
the trial presents   for novelists   a murkishness

if punishment follows rhetorical crime   I wonder
if reward might likewise dog the heels of sentences
when I say "the sky rained roses today!" repentances
could spring from implicit thorns   an obvious blunder!

walk carefully love   the hedge of thought is blooming
there's a whisper in the wind   and the wall has ears
and the allergy might react to the faint perfuming

that inheres in syntax   juries are packed with peers
yet what if the judge has empaneled a fictional dooming?
till the next frame of the cartoon allays your fears


["juries are packed with peers" -- plays on the pun (Pir [Arabic] = Saint, Holy Elder); of course the line is a conceit (one assumes the court in question does not involve trial-by-jury). Shafak anyway divides her time between Turkey and the US, and is thus doubtless acquainted with the jury trial system; but the poem's connection with the realm of facts is tenuous, in short]

Responsive (perhaps a bit eliptically) to a news report -- New York Times (9/13/06), "Turkish Novelist Faces Trial," by Lawrence Van Gelder. It reads in its entirety:
A prominent Turkish novelist who faces trial next week for “insulting Turkishness” says the case is the first to pivot on words uttered by fictional characters, Reuters reported. The novelist, Elif Shafak, a feminist who writes in English and Turkish, has been charged in connection with her new novel, “The Bastard of Istanbul.” The case is being followed closely by the European Union, which says Turkey must foster more freedom of expression as a condition of membership. Ms. Shafak, 34, is scheduled to give birth during the week the trial, set for Sept. 21, is to begin. She has been charged under a provision of Turkey’s penal code that has been used against several journalists and authors. Ms. Shafak said that to date the article “has never been used against fictional characters.” “In that sense this is a new step,” she said, “and it’s quite surprising and upsetting, because if they keep doing this, no one can write novels in this country anymore; no one can make movies, even.” In her novel, Armenian characters make disparaging comments about Turks and refer to the genocide of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire, a massacre denied by Turkey.

Shafak's bio-note is interesting. Perhaps (as with Rushdie), the opposition will bring her work to heightened international notice. Her first novel written in English, The Saint of Incipient Insanities, was published in the US in 2004. I'm curious to give it a look.

This article in the Turkish Daily News (September 9, 2006) has additional particulars about Elif Shafak's impending trial -- including an articulation of the author's understanding as to underlying causes giving rise to such a trial, as well as more detail about her beleaguered novel The Bastard of Istanbul. The article notes that an English version of the novel will be published next year.

In this opinion piece in the Turkish Daily News [an article which originally appeared in the Asian edition of Time magazine], Shafak passingly mentions her prosecution under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, in the context of wider ruminations about Istanbul and the tides of culture in Turkey -- "Pulled by two tides" (August 13, 2006)

Also pertinent (from a year ago) is an opinion piece of Shafak's in The Washington Post -- "In Istanbul, a Crack In the Wall of Denial: We're Trying to Debate the Armenian Issue" (September 25, 2005)


Also (incidentally, but interestingly) -- here's a selection from other opinion pieces by the author (all from the Turkish Daily News, English version):

"What have you done to Cervantes' arm?" (April 23, 2006)

"Memory-less Turkey/amnesiac Turkey" (May 28, 2006)

"The language scar" (July 16, 2006)

"Barenboim in Istanbul" (August 20, 2006)

"The right to disagree" (September 10, 2006)

Also, directly pertinent to the case at hand -- "Global angst" (August 6, 2006)



WORLD: Author Faces Trial for 'Insulting Turkishness' (Weekend Edition, July 22, 2006, National Public Radio -- audio report, 6min. 15sec. in length: Scott Simon's 1min. contextualizing preface, followed by his phone interview with the author)

In Istanbul, a writer awaits her day in court (July 24, 2006 -- Guardian Unlimited Books: special reports)

AP INTERVIEW: Celebrated Turkish novelist recounts struggle with ultranationalists (September 7, 2006 -- Int'l Herald Tribune)

And a somewhat more detailed report, Turkey, a Touchy Critic, Plans to Put a Novel on Trial (September 15, 2006 -- Int'l Herald Tribune via New York Times)


A Turkish court has acquitted a best-selling writer for "insulting Turkishness" in a novel, citing a lack of evidence.
(Guardian Unlimited, Sept. 21, 2006)

Good news indeed. The brief report goes on to note,
Shafak gave birth to her first child on Saturday and was unable to attend the court hearing.
Congratulations are due on both accounts.


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