By Leslie Lindsay
A young woman climbs the tallest tree in Instanbul’s centuries-old Gulahane Park, determined to live out the rest of her days there, what follows is her story.
~WEDNESDAYS WITH WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~
Şebnem İşigüzel is a prolific and much-lauded writer in her native Turkey, and with publication of THE GIRL IN THE TREE (Amazon, April 17 2020), American readers will discover a fresh, memorable, and extraordinary voice in contemporary literature.
Amnesty International’s website describes the Gezi Park protests this way:
“On 30 May 2013, police cleared Gezi Park in central Istanbul of a small group of protestors opposed to its destruction. The denial of their right to protest and the violence used by the police touched a nerve and a wave of anti-government demonstrations swept across Turkey.”
What really happened in Gezi in 2013? In Şebnem İşigüzel’s THE GIRL IN THE TREEthe author gives voice to that world in a powerful debut about a girl’s coming of age amid violent unrest and her unexpected escape.
Perched in an abandoned stork’s nest in a sanctuary of branches and leaves, a girl tries to make sense of the rising tide of violence in the world below. She is torn between the desire to forget all that has happened and the need to remember. Her story, and the stories of those around her, begins to unfold.
Then, unexpectedly, comes a soul mate with a shared destiny. A lonely boy working at a nearby hotel looks up and falls in love. The two share stories of the fates of their families, of a changing city, and of their political awakening in the Gezi Park protests. Together, they navigate their histories of love and loss.
Narrated by an unforgettable character in contemporary fiction, this unsparing and poetic novel of political madness, precarious dreams, and the will to survive brilliantly captures a girl’s road to defiance in a world turned upside down. It is only from the treetops that she can get a grip on reality—and find the promise of hope.
Here, Sebnem, talks about her inspiration behind THE GIRL IN THE TREE, her contemporaries, and also how some of the best literature is created out of the darkness.
HOW DİD I FİND İNSPİRATİON FOR THE GİRL İN THE TREE ?
The idea of the novel first came to me with an essay I read. In 2008, when my novel The Garbage Dump was published in German, it received great praise. One critic wrote that I was persuasive like Italo Calvino and created narratives along the lines of Paul Auster. As I was creating the character for this novel, I drew a certain amount of inspiration from that claim. With the motivation I got from that review, I thought if it would be possible for me to rewrite my favourite Calvino novel.
I found the answer to this question, and THE GIRL IN THE TREE, in a hospital room when I was alone with a tree that filled my room through the window. Those were the same days in which Gezi Protests started in Istanbul. My husband and kids were not able to come visit me.
In 2013, there was a long period of public resistance in Istanbul. It all started when the prime minister drew up plans to raze a park and build in its place a symbolic military barracks which would in fact be a commercial site. But people resisted and started protesting. That small park became a symbol of pride and honor for people. But many youths lost their lives. A university student was beaten to death. A fifteen-year-old kid was killed when he was hit in the head by a tear gas canister fired by the police. People were left blinded and crippled.
But there was more to come. Thirty-three university students who were taking toys to impoverished children on the Syrian border were killed in an attack carried out by ISIS. The Girl in the Tree THE GIRL IN THE TREE lived through those troubling times.
My protagonist, who longs to die before dying, yearns to tell about these things—and she does, tracing their history all the way back to the ancestors of the first female slaves brought to Istanbul. It’s a melancholic, sorrowful tale.
We know those politicians who go about their business by embarrassing people of conscience. My protagonist in the novel, who convincingly and powerfully tells her story against the backdrop of the captivating city of Istanbul, is actually the entire world’s Girl in the Tree. You can see her in places like Central Park and Hyde Park. We live in a world where women and the youth are the first to rise up in rebellion. That’s why I think that the story she tells will find a place in everyone’s heart.
This book first emerged with a feeling of discontent about being in my home country. In 2013, life became so tumultuous that I wished I was a bird chirping in a tree rather than witnessing such pain and suffering. Emotionally, I did perch in a tree. And I never came down. I wonder if, in one way or another, we’re all perched up in that tree.
I write for the world. As a result, even if what I write bears traces of the geography in which I live, it’s not incomprehensible or alien to others. By bringing together the context of Istanbul and my particular passion for writing, I give back what I take from the world. It wouldn’t be off the mark to say that I try to create for readers a new and different chemistry between the west and the east. And I could also mention that my grandfather was born in a rowboat on the Bosporus, which is right in the middle. But there is nothing freakish about any of this. I think what I’m trying to say is that the literature that emerges from these lands shouldn’t be approached with bias.
Just as novels aren’t like telephone books, they share nothing in common with city guidebooks either. What’s important are the people. But novels do sweep us from one place to another. Even if some people might be wary of coming to Istanbul, they shouldn’t be afraid to explore the pages of THE GIRL IN THE TREE. I came to love the world through literature. What I really wanted to achieve with this book was to make reading about the daily life of Istanbul, which has largely been shaped by politics, an unforgettable experience.
I wanted to tell a story that was as enchanting as it was convincing. The main character, who has a poster of Robert Pattinson on the wall of her room, will be no stranger to readers from a country such as the US.
I wrote THE GIRL IN THE TREE while mesmerized, as if I was dreaming, with my whole heart. My hero excited me endlessly while I was writing it. Who knows, maybe she can inspire another movement lead by the younger generation.
Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this.
To learn more, to connect with Sebnem Isiguzel via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE GIRL IN THE TREE, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Şebnem İşigüzel was born in 1973. Her first book, Hanene ay dogacak (The Future Looks Bright), won the prestigious Yunus Nadi Literature Award for published collections of short stories in 1993. She has gone on to write eight novels and two more short story collections. The Girl in the Tree, published in Turkey in 2016, is her first novel to be translated into English.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
I hope you do!
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012). Her work has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, and others. Her cover art will be featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, and the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available this spring. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.
~UPDATED, 2ND EDITION OF SPEAKING OF APRAXIA COMING THIS SPRING FROM WOODBINE HOUSE~
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[Cover and author image courtesy of Dewey Decimal Media and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this]