French take over translation of Tanpınar’s Turkish literature book

In an interview, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar was once asked, “What do you think is necessary for our literature to be valued internationally?” Tanpınar replied: “Our writers and poets mingling with life and the world more and then time [is necessary]. Maybe before anything else, time… Let us not forget that our literature is only 80 years old.”

The “time” upon which Tanpınar pinned his hopes did not let him down. Lately, Tanpınar has become a writer whose work goes beyond borders. The books of this 20th century man of letters, who complained about not getting enough attention and not being able to expand his work overseas, are now translated into numerous foreign languages.

His work “19. Asır Türk Edebiyatı Tarihi” (The History of 19th Century Turkish Literature) -- about which Ahmet Oktay once said, “The work proves the importance of the author as a literary historian, and it has not been surpassed [in quality] so far” -- is now being translated into French. Being translated by Feeda Fidan, Valerie Gay and Gül Mete Yuva under the direction of Professor Faruk Bilici, who currently works at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris, the book will be published in 2010. Up to here, everything looks fine; however, the process behind the scenes was more problematic.

Heritage of world culture

The idea of translating the book was first proposed in a program held by the Turkish Library collection of Actes Sud publishing house's Sindbad department a couple of years ago. Considering the size of the work and the cost of translation, Bilici calculated that a sum of 50,000 euros was needed and exchanged many letters with officials from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Everyone liked the idea of such a project, but when it came to meeting its financial requirements, no one wanted to take responsibility.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism's Translation Subvention Project (TEDA) supports the translation and publication of Turkish literary works, but officials told Bilici they were only able to subsidize up to $10,000 of the project. Two years were lost in the vicious circle of disagreements that followed. Finally, Bilici brought up the issue within the framework of the Season of Turkey in France, and the translation project was accepted in principle. TEDA's French counterpart, the Centre National du Livre (National Book Center), put the project on its agenda, accepting Tanpınar's book as a work of world cultural heritage, and the translation work started.

‘French readers will see the wealth of the Ottoman world’

Bilici is of the opinion that the book has no equivalent in the world. “The translation of this book into foreign languages is essential in teaching the basis of Turkish literature to readers around the world. This work also functions as a bridge between Ottoman literature and the literature of the 19th century. Beyond being a literary work, this is also a history of thought. In terms of the author's style, the work is a work of art and an indispensable resource,” he explained.

Bilici further noted that those reading the book in French will learn that Turkish literature has a rich history. French readers will be able to see the sources feeding such internationally renowned writers as Nazım Hikmet, Yaşar Kemal and Orhan Pamuk. He added: “Such books never become best sellers anywhere in the world. However, we imagine that many intellectuals and literature lovers will show interest in the book. French readers will learn that the Ottoman world is also a world of art and literature.”

The book deals with the literature of a period when innovations in perception, thought and style took place and a new world view as well as a new perception of nature and human beings arrived. In the book, Tanpınar narrates the lives of many authors, including Ahmet Cevdet Paşa, Münif Paşa, Ziya Paşa, Namık Kemal, Ahmed Midhat Efendi, Recaizade Mahmut Ekrem and Abdülhak Hamid Tarhan, and the impact they had on social, political and literary circles.
The book was first published in 1949, a second edition was released in 1959 including adjustments and additions and it was last published in October 2007.

Having two books translated into French, “Beş Şehir” (Five Cities) and “Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü” (The Time Regulation Institute), Tanpınar would certainly be happy to see these developments, and he would wish our other literary masters the same generosity that time showed him.

Musa İğrek, İstanbul
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