Review of ‘Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü’ by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar
This wonderful book tells the story of Hayri Irdal, a man adrift from the times he lives in. He begins as a successful member of the Time Regulation Institute, but very quickly we learn that it’s all gone wrong and he proceeds to tell his rambling story. He grew up in the shadow of a clock called Mubarek (blessed) though his father occasionally cursed it as menhus (unlucky). He has a short apprenticeship with a watchmaker which shapes his life. The story unfolds through his childhood and his fathers ill-luck, particularly comic in respect to their adventures in gaining something from his rich aunt. He marries and is followed by wild rumours about an old beneficiary which somehow lead him to a stay in an asylum where he meets Doctor Ramiz who introduces him to Halit Ayarci, founder of the Time Regulation Institute. The institute itself is a monument to bureaucracy of the most pointless kind, large overbearing and terribly serious. It can’t last.
Through the whole book Hayri Irdal befalls a bewildering number of misunderstandings. His descriptions of his second wife and her escape into the evening matinee movie are hilarious. Hayri is constantly amazed by the world around him and how little he understands it. The book is a deep and darkly comic satire, occasionally veering into almost slapstick. It truly is a timeless classic.
The good news is that a new English translation by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe was released at the start of the year. I haven’t read the translation yet, but if its anyway as good as the original it’s well worth a read. There’s a review here and a rather wonderful post about the cover illustration of the Penguin version.
Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar (23 June 1901 – 24 January 1962) was a prominent Turkish author writing during the time of transition from the Ottoman Empire to the modern Turkish republic. He was born in Istanbul but as his father was a judge, moved frequently through his childhood. He taught literature at schools throughout the country and was a member of the Turkish parliament between 1942-46. In his writing he combines elements of Turkish and western literature with special interest in psychology, moving with the times, dreams and the effect of society on the individual. There is an annual festival held in his name in Istanbul each year.