Novel Extract/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, A Rumor In Üsküdar, Ayfer has spent the last two years 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 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 many ways autobiographical – the inaugural chapter (which we previewed in March 2019) 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; within that setting we have the main character confronted by the country where she originated from imprisoned but ready to face it all; hoping for a wind of change in the face of an ever-dictatorial regime. Escapism comes in the form of backpacking reminisces; Ayfer in this newest chapter, dreaming once more of a trip aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Translated into English from the original French and Turkish language versions, an extract from the Russian travail chapter Five awaits.

Part Five

I’ve never seen anyone run to the fences, passionate themselves about their stolen freedom. Curiosity and indolence prevail. I am limp; I have to admit it with shame. The invisible mace got it right, crushing our potentially rebellious mind. When I think of my state just a few months ago, of my strength then, I remain speechless.

One day when I was about to take the Marmaray, I had managed to avoid having my sports bag scanned. A policeman stopped me and asked me – very politely, after all, he seemed friendly – to back off and put my stuff on the treadmill. I resisted and at his insistence, my rage rose, without daring to completely disobey. As I quickly walked toward the machine, I ran into a large man – I didn’t see his head, just that huge body and his threatening hands swinging towards me – my shoe left my foot while the policeman calmed the man who wanted to stick one on me. Until I got my things back, I grumbled, blowing and mumbling like an old bag.

After I left the scene I trembled as if my guts had been emptied. I didn’t like myself very much at the time, angry as I was, but I remembered the importance of showing my dissatisfaction at these incessant controls. Men are subjected to several paper checks per day, unlike women who are left alone. So there you go, since then I haven’t gotten mad at anyone. At the sight of the armed soldiers, museums transformed into garrisons … I simply stopped reacting, I’ve simply gotten used to it, I fell silent, I’ve preferred my immediate comfort, my bubble. I knew I would get out of it if I wanted to. I’ve fled too much since, always, as soon as things gorged, I took my leave indeed. Leaving is my specialty. However, being forced to stay somewhere, to face it, I’ve always dreamed of it.

It was in Russia that I had this longing suddenly. That of staying put and facing up to things. Up to then, I would only look beyond my window. Dreaming of going far, of dragging my legs on dusty roads. High school history teacher: “My nephew who is your age (17 years old) has just left for Russia to take the Trans Siberian Railway”. I opened my eyes wide and my mouth just slightly, as if struck by lightning, then the idea immediately settled in a corner of my brain. 27 years later, with a friend I’ve embarked on the Trans-Siberian.

Then, it is in Ekaterinburg. 1600 kilometres from Moscow with more than a million inhabitants that I realized I envied those who can’t run away.

Perhaps it was a bit sad and macabre that I had these thoughts on the land where the last Tsar and his family were executed. However, I had not immediately thought of that. As soon as I set foot in the murky city amidst drunken people, I felt a physical void. Our host, Olga was living in a building among others in a housing estate riddled with graffiti. From her window, I had noticed that at almost 11 p.m., it was still as bright as the day. The apartment belonged to Olga’s mother. There was the photo of a soldier on the wall: he seemed absent. My friend was fiddling with her bag for a while. She was preparing to take a shower. Olga called us for dinner before she had the time and we settled at the table. The blue walls reminded me of my parents. I heard the tinkling of the spoons in the tea glasses. I had my shoulder pressed against Olga’s smooth wall, just like I did when I was little. Our kitchen when I was young amalgamated with Olga’s one. It is in Russia that I thought of it so deeply. When Olga put a dish of meat before me, I was already wondering why I excelled at fleeing.


Previous Chapter Extracts:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

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