Just Plain Nesin

“he represents an unprecedented victory of the written word in exploring intolerance, absurdity, cruelty and stupidity in our rapidly changing society” - from the afterword to Professor Jacobson’s translation of Istanbul Boy, Part IV of Aziz Nesin’s autobiography.

Aziz Nesin’s collection of short stories Sosyalizm Geliyor Savulun, translated as Socialism Is Coming Stand Aside, has recently been published by Southmoor Studios. Professor Joseph Jacobson once again demonstrates his abilities as a translator, deftly turning Turkish idioms and quirks of speech into English, without losing any of the original charm : “she planted herself before me and said, ‘you fouled up a sack of figs, simpleton!’”; “my situation had become such a messy stick that I could neither grasp it on the ends nor in the middle without getting dirty!”; “‘it’s easy to see you’re out of work, what with your killing time squirming around scratching yourself in a coffeehouse.’” Professor Jacobson also provides glosses in brackets, when the varied vocabulary of English is unable to pretzel itself into a Turkish figure of speech: “the papers reserved an important place for news such as concerts and conferences in order not to frighten the cup peddler’s mules [to avoid unnecessary trouble].”

As a reader who has discovered Nesin’s work perhaps rather late in life, one of the aspects I find most striking about his tales is the ‘period timelessness’ of the satire and circumstances. While there are now much more than four million people “in this great city of Istanbul” and there are perhaps no longer any small town girls who “[don’t] take photographs and couldn’t tell a picture from reality,” as occurs in the first story, “Just Plain Kadri,” the characters’ reactions to events and their interaction with each other is just as recognisable today. The satire, the gentle taunting of humanity, remains just as pertinent, whether rooted in a mid-century village or a city of the present day. At the same time, Nesin seems to have been building on an established tradition; he mentions that “without a shadow of a doubt, definitely and unanimously, the world’s greatest humourist is our Nasreddin Hoca”, and a Hoca anecdote explores a theme similar to the one in “Just Plain Kadri”. Kadri is enthusiastically welcomed as a hero when he first moves to his sister’s village because the villagers have confused him with a soccer player on one of the greater Turkish teams. When they discover his true identity, they run him out of town. Similarly, there is a story that begins with Hoca trying to enter a club while there was a great feast being held. He was turned away at the door, and at first could not understand why. Hoca waited around in the entrance hall and carefully observed the other people filing in; every one of them was expensively dressed and superbly tailored. From the cloakroom, Hoca pulled out a thick fur coat and wrapped it around himself, then went back to the door. This time he was greeted with much scraping and bowing, and when he sat down at a table, the waiter came over bearing a plate heaped high with pilav. Hoca took one look at the plate, then glanced down at his coat and said, “eat, my coat, eat.” The waiter and other nearby guests were dumbfounded, and asked the Hoca what he thought he was doing. Nasreddin Hoca replied, “well, it was the coat they let in, so he deserves to eat the dinner, not me.”

Aziz Nesin’s strength lies further in his ability to tell a story without encumbering it with analysis and explanation; the facts are related, the conversations reported, without any extraneous material. And the meaning is not obscure, but rather made all the more clear for not having been baldly phrased at the outset.

Especially in the title story, through presenting one or two incidents, and in relating the conversation of three friends, Nesin manages to evoke an entire zeitgeist in the history of Turkey and critique it, simply by writing in the mode of one who says, ‘here is something that happened, make of it what you will’.

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Aziz Nesin’s Foundation, the Aziz Nesin Vakfi, which provides food, shelter and education for thirty-five children from childhood through their college years, is funded entirely by copyright royalties from Nesin’s works, and from donations. Their address is Nesin Vakfi, P. K. 5, Çatalca, Istanbul, Turkey

the mailing address for Southmoor Studios is : 1801 East Southmoor Drive, Holladay, Utah 84117, USA
the first part of Istanbul Boy may be found on the internet at: http://inic.utexas.edu/menic/cmes/pub/iboy/iboy.html

March 2002