NOVEL PREVIEW
Words: Ayfer Simms




Until recently a regular contributor to the Monolith Cocktail, Ayfer Simms has taken time away from the blog to concentrate on finishing her debut novel, A Rumor In Üsküdar. Living with her husband and daughter in the same region of that title, in the sprawling metropolis that is Istanbul, Ayfer moved back into the family home after her father was unfortunately taken ill: later passing away. Within a wider context of political hostility in Turkey (bordering on the dystopian), the process of grieving is explored both evocatively and metaphysically by Ayfer in what is a semi-biographical, semi-alternative futuristic geopolitical purview of her home country and home city.

We’ve so far been proud to feature three extracts from A Rumor In Üsküdar. Part four in this series of previews from the book is both a real and metaphorical archeologist dig into the problems facing modern Turkey. A psychogeography you could say; one that merges veiled fantasy versions of a political cast and events.

 

Part Four:

Mrs. Muazzez must now be at least 100 years old or perhaps older. Specialized in Sumerian culture, she has a vast knowledge in all archeological matters. In 2006, at the age of 92, she was accused of hating the state: for having published a book on the wearing of the veil. She claimed that the custom came from the Sumerians, priestesses initiating young people to sexual practices.

Veysel pulled his hair no doubt and put the veil back in its place. He is not crazy, however, and did not incarcerate the centenary. Mrs. Muazzez lives on the European side in an old house that looks like a museum. She has an unprecedented passion for Veysel’s dead rival, Mustapha. At her age, she saw the former statesman shake the country and give a bit of a voice to women (mostly privileged ones).

 

370 days after the beginning of the excavations under the Bosphorus, the digging got interrupted by the discovery of Byzantine vessels, silver coins, cooking utensils and other trinkets. Skeletons have also resurfaced that day. What we did with them I do not know. I did not see them at the Istanbul Archeology Museum, at least not yet. Time erases the status of humanity, everyone knows it. The Üsküdar wharf was then disemboweled in a hurry, in a rush, because there was a lot of money to lose. The Japanese were politely impatient: they wanted to finish there anti seismic tunnel and leave at once.

I was not yet in Istanbul during these works, but I arrived just in time to see the opening of the new Marmaray line. The train station was planted in the middle of the ruins; the rest was covered with earth, after taking pictures that were hung on the walls leading to the turnstiles. The archaeologists spread coffee all over their shirt to save everything, but they were hungry and witnessed the swallowing of the site with cold sweats.

Since the opening of the line that joins Asia to Europe under the sea, several years have passed while work continues everywhere. Large shopping centers, widening of the wharf and other projects make the wound still fresh.

I see from time to time the black casings rising from the cement, the glowing stones – are they old? I try to guess what is hidden in the old earth, hoping also to discover the Byzantines or the traces of the life of those who walked on this patch before us. It’s a stealthy look that I throw nevertheless. I check over my shoulder that the mud spits out its piece.

 

An object has however made its appearance during the excavations and the rumors reach us only now. Turkish archaeologists – those who are not in cahoots with the government in power, or who are unaware of the impact of their discovery, or who are conscious of having to protect it at all costs – are scientifically eager to let the international scene know: on they pass it to a French specialist team. The results of which, we have only echoes despite discretion, suggest that this is something likely to displease the President of the Republic Veysel. The latter also ordered to stop the excavations, the object in question would have been confiscated upon the return of archaeologists and they were obliged to “resign”. It is impossible for us to know if this news is true or if it is the propaganda tool of the opponents of Veysel or is invented by its own entourage to make a diversion on other fundamental subjects. As nonsense is commonplace, we believe everything and we believe nothing.

The president is not afraid of anything. But, it is said, bad tongues – that he is afraid of his wife. She let him put his head on her knees, and ask her to recite prayers to appease his troubles and ill moods.

She whispers to him “God is great and he is behind you”.

It is said that he has seizures of depression. That he happens to be confused. That he sometimes does not believe in God.

That he has shoeboxes full of money.

That he has nightmares. That one hears him exclaim in the morning: “I killed God !!”

In the opacity of the still deep night, he murmurs, “I’m the greatest”, at the same time he beats with all his might his chest like a furious gorilla. He takes an ax and strikes God in the face. No more reverence. Veysel knocks, beats the air and collapses. They say he sleeps badly. We understand why. How can you sleep well after doıng what he does? He looks terrible, yet his cancer is healed – his cancer is also hidden – but his complexion remains pale and faded. Is he cured, really? Like a superhuman defying all the viruses feared by all of us? The emotions shake him and it is visible in his features. He is agitated. But he does not die of illness like his population.

Veysel feels great but lost. He has reflexes of a believer and has shaped his image on Islam. Islam is its legitimacy. He must perhaps now go beyond religion to remain powerful.

Why say such a thing? It would cost a lot to anyone who dares saying that kind of thing: Unless it’s a rumor. The object accidentally extracted from the depths of the Bosphorus, or rather from the banks of the Bosphorus, would put an end to the monotheistic religions, they say. They would put these religions in the class of superstitions or medieval folklore. This book/object (we do not know anything more) would be like the famous comet that put an end to dinosaurs.

Veysel is naked without his religion. We imagine that it would be his end. That, however, we still have trouble believing it. The danger is that he does not give up so easily. He would continue to urge women to have four children, to avoid laughing out loud, to be modest in all sense of the term.

I look over my shoulder. Watch a smart shark spring from the waters of the Bosphorus to swallow me for thinking these things. The Bosphorus swallowed me once; I fell in it when I was 4 years old. My parents’ friend fished me out before anyone noticed I was gone. I do not remember. It left me with a fear of algae and everything that swarms in the undulating mass. The second time in 1999, the sea caused an earthquake of 8.7 on the Richter scale and claimed 17,000 lives. That summer, my apartment in Kozyatagi was scorching with heat. It was one of those summers that we could only spend dozing. I was bored. Birant had decided to leave me without telling me openly by planning a holiday to the south. I had hoped he would not leave me behind, but I read it in his eyes.

The evening of the earthquake, I drank wine, alone. When I was ready to go to bed, drunk, and feverish I was like Veysel facing a dilemma: to be independent and turn the page over Birant or continue my pathetic grip. When I decided to leave Turkey, Veysel was put in prison for 4 months for reciting a poem judged to be inciting religious hatred.

When I came back some twenty years later, as it happens it is him who boxed us all in.

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Novel Preview: Ayfer Simms





Contributing regularly to Monolith Cocktail for the last six or more years, cosmopolitan writer Ayfer Simms has posted countless music/film reviews (Ouzo Bazooka, Pale Honey, Gaye Su Akyol, Murder On The Orient Express, The Hateful Eight) and conducted a far amount of interviews (Sea + Air, The Magic Lantern) – she’s even appeared, alongside her daughter, in the video of one of our featured artists (Blue Rose Code).

Taking time away from the blog to pursue dreams of writing a novel, Ayfer has spent the last 18 months busily working away at a story that encompasses not only the personal (including the death of her father) but the wider psychogeography and geopolitics of her native home of Istanbul.

 

Born in the outlier pastoral regions of Paris to Turkish parents, Ayfer spent her formative years in France dreaming about following in the travelling footsteps of her great literature love, Agatha Christie. After studying for a degree in literature (writing music reviews on the side for a number of popular French fanzines), Ayfer moved to Ireland for six years before alighting aboard the famous Trans Siberian railway as she made her way east towards Japan. Initially visiting her sister, Ayfer not only stayed indefinitely but also got married and had a daughter. Deciding to attempt a life in Turkey, where the family is originally from, they moved into Ayfer’s great-grandmother’s house in the Üsküdar district, on the Asian banks of the sprawling Istanbul metropolis.

A Rumor In Üsküdar is in some ways autobiographical, the first chapter, which we previewed back in March, was inspired by the death of Ayfer’s father, a few years back. A familiar setting is given a slightly dystopian mystique and ominous threat by Ayfer who reimagines the Üsküdar neighbourhood of that title being isolated and quarantined by the government, as they test out a piece of (propaganda orchestrated) news on the population.

That’s just the umbrella story though; within that setting we have the main character confronted by the country where she originated from imprisoned but ready to face it all and hoping for a wind of change.

Translated into English from the original French and Turkish language versions, an extract from chapter two, ‘Back For Good’, arrives just as the authoritarian controlled Erdoğan government seeks to overturn or re-run the recent Mayoral elections (which his AKP party lost) in Istanbul. How this will pan out is anyone’s guess, with tensions running high.



Chapter 2- Back For Good

The neighbors, the passers-by, the baker, the hairdresser, the grocer, are puzzled to why I am in Turkey.

Once upon a time, a Turk coined the phrase, “to come back for good” – probably in the 1980s, when the first people started to tiptoe back (a small percentage no doubt).

Did you know that he who returns never leaves? Says a voice to me. That’s because moving between countries is not to be taken lightly for these “migrants”.

Well, I say, to that invisible person, this is why you are curious about me. I move like a feather in the barn. With no intentions or plans.

That question pounds in my head: “did you come back for good?” Why?

In the 1980s the French government offered emigrants the chance to give up all their rights in exchange for a sufficient amount of money to buy an apartment in Turkey (under the conditions of the economy of the time). Most of my friends’ parents have seized the opportunity, the chance for a new start in their home countries. My parents shrugged: why block the future of our children?

Turks of that wave are forever hybrids. Their emerging personality got thrown into another world. None of them accept to reveal their secret. None of them admit why they are here. Money or a fake sense of nationalist flattery. Stuck between monuments, caught like seagulls in the net. (Seagulls are monstrous animals, pierce kitten eyes, and defy crows, cats, and humans).

“I have never lived here”. I simply add. I can’t say anything else in truth.

The idea that the experience of being here or there is immutable seems to me incongruous. I get tangled in my explanations of my deep complex sentiments. I am in moving sand facing people who’ve never left this ground. Do they care? They are not listening.

“Well”, I say, “I’m not a clairvoyant, and I can not now say that I will not leave again. I may, or may not.”

– Do you want to leave?

– I did not say that”.

Confusing explanations.

Their eyes are floating in the air as if I did not speak Turkish.

“If it were me, I would have stayed there,” they say dreamily.

 

The country is bleeding, especially in recent years. The Turk takes to one’s heels, those who can anyway. I can, and I did take to one’s heel for lesser troubles. I’d rather not, leave behind my father’s house.

Others continue to vote for Veysel. Who are they?

We are in a decadent Eldorado.

Those who support Veysel from abroad are too comfortable in Europe. They have no wish to settle back here. We, on the other hand, are raving mad. The Turk drinks tea and surveys the Bosphorus and the seagulls, the currents could take him far.

I envied these people for a long time, the chant of the birds above their heads. I imagined they had a sense of belonging. I did not know then seagulls sounded like a baby’s tormented shrieking cries.

 

“Why undo what your parents did?” Someone once said to me.

“I am after the seagulls”, I said.

It’s better if I don’t answer these remarks because I can flee when I wish; I am a bird with a crooked leg (hard for landing).

 

“Of the two countries, which one is the most beautiful?”

I hasten to praise the merits of Turkey, to please them, and I pierce in the looks a sign of relief while heavy sweat runs down my neck. I look like a cripple. “We may not be able to leave, but at least we have a nice village”, that’s the message.

 

My house is surrounded by five historical mosques, all equipped with loudspeakers, and every morning and noon, afternoon, evening and dawn, it begins to sizzle before the pugnacious verve of a young religious preceptor compresses the air of his lungs as if to tear it better before unleashing his chant. Powerful cries erupt, wild animals land in the middle of a city after a hundred years’ war. He is imposing himself like a farmyard rooster. Some old-people-as well as the most devout-rise up, mumbling prayers on the way to their ablutions. The woman: with a samovar from the East boils the tea in the early morning. The call to prayer follows the movements of the sun, tea, that of the Turkish soul. When calm returns, the far-flung mosques scattered throughout Istanbul complete their tunes in turn and descend on us like a whisper.

Yet this morning the call is late. Instead of falling asleep, I look at the time. I have to take the Marmaray for my Judo class. Yesterday the Great Wealth Party proudly occupied Üsküdar’s Square to make speeches about its glory and shook small flags there. There were women in bright scarves. Under these scarves, something shaping the skulls in a rather wide form, giving them the look of praying mantises and the comparison has nothing to do with the name of the insect. This is it seems the official fashion of the women of the party.

 

When I go down Uncular Street, it’s still dark, but an electric blue rises from the depths of the night. The streets are deserted. Most gray buildings sprawl on twisted sidewalks. I dreaded taking this street dominated by men, when I came on summer vacations growing up. Today it’s different. I am no longer afraid and those who intimidated me at the time are dead. Sadly this is valid for my father.

 

In front of the stone market with the rusty shutters, at the intersection of the street overlooking the Marmaray, a man fails to overthrow me. He rushes towards the wall that surrounds the Mosque, pressing the pace; he hastily wraps a scarf over his head. The fabric floats in his legs and barely hides his belly emerging like an island in the middle of the ocean. He runs up and does not apologize for almost tearing my arm out.

He disappears in the big yard. Several men in a lively discussion jostle me again on the steps that lead to the train. One is short of breath, his cheeks are red and his headdress is in his hand. He follows the others with great difficulty. I hold in my mouth dry comments. Do not be angry in Istanbul because there are so many opportunities.

 

Living space in the public arena is as hard to find as cherries in winter. We push each other to the detriment of others: those before us, old people, pregnant women: no other rules than one self apply.

Sometimes I lose control. I hurry, I breathe, I push with my elbow through an aggressive mass, ready for anything, to get on the train or be in the elevator first, aiming for free places, rushing. A movement then, before sinking in the seat satisfied.

Once I did a crooked-foot. I realized the gravity of my act when I saw my ogre profile in full edge on the train window.

On the platform, a man from the railway company blocks me: the trains are canceled for the day, because of a “generalized breakdown”. The last travelers from the European side come down. Men in robes flock. Something is happening in the city this morning.


Words: Ayfer Simms

Preview: Ayfer Simms




An integral part of the Monolith Cocktail team for the last six or more years, cosmopolitan writer Ayfer Simms has contributed countless music/film reviews (Ouzo Bazooka, Pale Honey, Gaye Su Akyol, Murder On The Orient Express, The Hateful Eight) and interviews (Sea + Air, The Magic Lantern) – and even appeared in the video of one of our featured artists (Blue Rose Code).

Taking time away from the blog to focus on her debut novel, Ayfer has spent the last 18 months busily working away at a story that encompasses not only the personal (including the death of her father) but the wider psychogeography and geopolitics of her native home of Istanbul.

Born in the outlier pastoral regions of Paris to Turkish parents, Ayfer spent her formative years in France dreaming about following in the travelling footsteps of her great literature love, Agatha Christie. After studying for a degree in literature (writing music reviews on the side), Ayfer moved to Ireland for six years before travelling aboard the famous Trans Siberian railway and settling in Japan. Initially visiting her sister, Ayfer not only stayed indefinitely but got married and had a daughter. Deciding to attempt a life in Turkey, where the family is originally from, they moved into Ayfer’s great-grandmother’s house in the Üsküdar district, on the Asian banks of the sprawling Istanbul metropolis.

 

A Rumor In Üsküdar is in some ways autobiographical, the first chapter, which we are excited to be previewing today, inspired by the death of Ayfer’s father a few years back. A familiar setting is given a slightly dystopian mystique and ominous threat by Ayfer who reimagines the Üsküdar neighbourhood of that title being isolated and quarantined by the government, as they test out a piece of (propaganda orchestrated) news on the population.

That’s just the umbrella story though, within that setting we have the main character confronted by the country where she originated from imprisoned but ready to face it all and hoping for a wind of change.

Translated into English from the original French and Turkish language versions, an extract from chapter one, ‘When Going Üsküdar’, awaits.


CHAPTER 1 

When going to Üsküdar


It is two years after the death of my father that the very first dream of mourning appeared, leaving me startled. Reality caught up with the other world. Or rather I did. For these last two years, my dad could clearly not get up, but he was alive, in a good mood, in fine health in his bed. We laughed together. My unconscious did not wish to alarm me and even spared me for all this time.

At the beginning of the week, everything changed.

In that dream, my father’s name was Depardieu and I saw myself crying for him without knowing why. In the morning, I wondered about this fusion of characters. Were the protuberant bellies of the two men the common denominator perhaps? Dreams never rely on one single clue however. They conjure deeper meanings. And then I got it: so simple. The French actor’s name, of course, indicated to me the sad reality of his absence for “de par Dieu” means “ by God”.

Now, dreams, thus my subconscious, are warning me: “He’s dead. You see, he’s dead”. “Why do you think it is a good time to stop sparing me?” I say out loud. When I wake up, I am not happy and feel outraged. 

“I will rebel! I say. He died once; I do not want to be deprived of these short, nocturnal encounters.

Dreams are my meager, but cherished consolation. Reality is aiming far this time, all the way to the sunken heart of intimacy. This phenomenon leaves me aghast. The same evening, I put on my warrior armor. Nobody should touch my father in the pith of my kingdom. I decide to enter this universe consciously, to resurrect my dead.

The night splits in two. In my first dream, he appears in a bad mood. He does not even glimpse at me. He blames my mother of being naive. My mother nods without emotion. SHE knows and she agrees. He says with his eyes “What are you trying to do?”

When I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning, I realize my semi-success. Semi, because despite appearing alive, he is anxious whilst warnings us. His attraction for the cold land is obvious. Where else would a dead man want to belong? I consider the encounter a failed one.

Before going back to sleep, I repeat several times: “No, not like that, that’s not how I want to see him”.  On I go back with my battle attire, perfectly prepared. Indeed as soon as heavy sand sacks falls on my eyes, I manage to see him smiling. He is lying in a large comfortable bed. In the background, I see a television set. He is relaxed. He says to me, “Yes it’s alright, but I do not know what to do with my days, bedridden that I am”.

There, I realize the measure of the problem. It is all very well to make him come back but isn’t he bored there in the cluster of my mind? After this conversation, I find myself eating sweet cakes with my mother in our old village apartment. The light is dim in the narrow kitchen but the room is filled with warmth.

When I wake up again, I feel like this is a small victory. I see that upon summoning I can meet him again, to fill the void of his absolute silence.

Yet what am I really to do? Listen to the messages of my subconscious and make peace or prepare for battle and mutiny every day?

I know the truth without wanting to admit it. My inner self will win because it is always a step ahead of me in its frantic rationality. For 2 years, the subtle message has been the same: My father will never rise again.

Drunk, he used to sing:

When going to Uskudar, there is rain

The coat of my clerk is long; his basques are covered with mud

The clerk belongs to me and I belong to him, why would anyone care?

The boats passing from Uskudar to Istanbul

My clerk sits, he peels hazelnuts

In his dream, the clerk speaks to me aloud

The clerk belongs to me and I belong to him, why would anyone care?

 

Now, here I am in Üsküdar, in the house where he was born and where he died. I was not in a hurry to leave the country but the recent events have forced me to stay.


Words: Ayfer Simms

Illustration: Volkan Albayrak

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