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Review of ‘Bir Sonbahar Akşamı’ by Sait Faik AbasıyanıkTurkLit

Edited by Raşit Çavaş

Doğan Kardeş Kitaplığı/Yapı Kredi Yayınları 2009

 

My first encounter of Sait Faik was a TRT series way back in 2002. It was called ‘Havada Bulut’ and took place on Burgaz Adası where Sait Faik lived. Bearing in mind that my Turkish was pretty poor back then my impression was of a sad man with an altogether too-inquisitive postman, a quiet thoughtful man, an outsider in his community.

From reading more about his life he obviously lived a lot more than the series gave the impression of. He was from a well-off family, taught a bit, failed at business and eventually lived off his inheritance and his writing. He lived in Beyoğlu and Burgaz Island and died of cirrhosis at the age of 48.

The stories in ‘An Autumn Evening’ are observations of ordinary life. The young man’s grief in Semaver, a trip from train station to hotel in Meserret Oteli, the inquisitive postman in Havada Bulut. The stories skirt the dark side of life in many cases; a woman gets no help from her community in Kim Kime, workers troubles in Şahmerdan where one ends up in the water, the other bleeding on the dock. In many cases the stories are more internal, the struggle between the life led and the ideal, the hoped-for. A man is transported to his innocent childhood by two glasses of milk in Süt, only to return to the straitjacket of everyday life as he steps into the street. As in many Turkish stories what remains unsaid is nearly more important than what is spelt out. The stories capture the everyday details, the slight fear of what a stranger will look like, the response a query will evoke.

The outsider observes in many of the stories but that does not convey how sensual some of them are. We drink and smell the warm milk, scan the skies for the last birds, feel the flurry of snow through the teahouse door. The language is deceptively easy. Reading you get carried away by it, his descriptions are magical. Attempt to translate any of it, as we did in a session with Maureen Freely in the spring, and you realise just how much he packs into a single sentence. Past, present and future, kaleidoscoped with description and emotion.

There’s much more to say about this book but I’ll sum up by saying read any Sait Faik stories you can find and make up your own mind. This book is one I’ll return to again and again, as each reading reveals another aspect of the stories. They are among the Turkish classics and rightfully so.

 

Sait Faik Abasıyanık “created a brand new language and brought new life to Turkish short story writing with his harsh but humanistic portrayals of labourers, fishermen, children, the unemployed, the poor” according to Wikipedia. He was born in 1906 in Adapazarı. He was educated in Bursa and studied in Switzerland before living in France for three years. After teaching and business he devoted his life to writing in 1934. He died in 1954 of cirrhosis diagnosed the previous year. His house on Burgaz Island is a museum run by the Darüşşafaka Society.

  • Sounds like he might be, at least in that one milky story, the Turkish Proust?

  • He lived in Grenoble in France for three years and translated from French to Turkish so it’s very likely he was influenced by Proust. Süt is a very short story though, just three pages long.