Turkish shows off its intellectual history at Book Fair

16th October 2008, Comments 0 comments

The many sides of Turkish intellectual life including those in direct conflict with Islam are highlighted in Frankfurt.

Frankfurt -- Whenever a nation offers a snapshot of its own literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair, its choice of writers says a lot about how the country sees itself.

Turkey, as this year’s special guest, has taken an historical approach, putting on an exhibition focused on the giants of 20th century intellectual life in Istanbul.

Entitled Palimpsest Reclaimed, it features 1-meter-high black and white photographs displaying famous authors on a maze of high walls, each with descriptions of their poetry, novels, essays or other writings.

The eight great writers, including Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk who is only one of two still alive, are portrayed as "gateways" to literary themes such as "nation building," "between East and West" and the 1930s enthusiasm for peasant wisdom.

For visitors curious about Turkey today, which is governed by a faith-based party, one aspect seems to be missing: Islam.

In an interview, exhibition designer Sadik Karamustafa denied any conflict between secular and Islamic views in creating the exhibition.

"They are represented," he said, referring to observant Muslims. "Hundreds of publishers are represented at the fair."

Ekrem Isin, the exhibition’s curator, said each of the authors illustrated a "gateway" to a set of social or cultural issues they had raised at one time.

Among the more unusual features is a set of six images displayed upside down. According to legend, the six had overturned Turkish sentence structure in their works.

Isin said that the exhibition draws attention to the layers of culture, beginning from the medieval period up to the present day, which comprises Turkey's "contemporary reality."

Displayed in glass cases are a collection of valuable old books that mark 500 years of multilingual publishing by Turkish printers in various cities including Thessaloniki, now part of Greece. Among the languages used in the books are Kurdish and Hebrew.

"It's the odyssey of publishing in our geography," said Karamustafa.

On the top floor of a fairground pavilion, there is a photography exhibit on the fabled town of Ephesus and a collection of contemporary books in many languages on Turkey.

And besides being able to show off Turkey’s cultural richness, the cultural diplomacy this fair offers is highly sought after since it guarantees the intense attention of the German media and the public.

And of course, some of the rough-and-tumble tensions of today's Turkey, where outspoken authors have been punished in the past for insulting Turkey, are likely to be addressed by contemporary authors attending the fair this week.

Pamuk is the most widely known of about 350 authors and translators visiting the fair at the organizers' expense to meet publishers, sign books and attend panel discussions.

Aside from Pamuk, other established leading writers in attendance include Murathan Mungan and Celil Oker. Turkey also hopes to win wider international exposure for newcomers such as Asli Erdogan, Elif Safak and Sebnem, Isiguzel, publicists said.


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