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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