Short Story Review – Çiler İlhan – Zobar and Başa, Iraq II, Ball, I’m a Bastard! (Trans. Ayşegül Toroser Ateş)

Please note – this short story collection was kindly provided to me by Istros Books.  I intend to work my way through this collection in chunks rather than stepping through them individually, as the stories are all very short and connected thematically.

Çiler İlhan’s short story collection, Exile, is split into five sections – Exile, Crime, Revenge, Cry, Return.  The first section, Exile, has one story – Zobar and Başa – which will be discussed below, while Crime has eighteen, three of which will be discussed in this piece.

I will take Zobar and Başa as a framing device of sorts, or as an overview of the themes present within.  Perhaps I am right, and perhaps not, though I think I have the right idea (I am reading blind), as the final section, Return, has a single story, also titled Zobar and Başa.  We shall see.

They’d taken care of us ever since they snatched us out of the clutch of the Grim Reaper back in Romania, so how could I not cry? My sweet Tinke kept licking my tears as I cried… (Zobar)

Zobar and Başa is brief – these stories are all very brief – focusing on emotions and images rather than activity.  It’s clear that this family is falling apart, and perhaps the neighbourhood, too.  People are leaving, forced out, anxious to go, and equally anxious to follow their family members and friends.

Come, almond eyes, let ourselves be our homeland. (Zobar)

The section Crime becomes clearer.  In each of the three stories considered, a ‘crime’ has been committed, and while, yes, these are usually related to government violence against citizens, the crime seems to me to be that of the failed state clinging to power via murder, social thievery, fascism.  It’s not safe to simply be, to live.  You might be killed for a sentence, or beaten for a word.

In Ball, which is the most powerful of the four, a child watches their brother as he is beaten to death by gendarmes.  Why?  It’s unclear.  Normally, when the older boys are playing football the gendarmes take the ball.  This time they start shooting.  They kick.  They beat.

…then Dad came. They didn’t let him in either. Ten minutes later the gendarme came over. Your son’s heart has failed, must have had a heart condition, he told Dad. It’s a lie. My brother was fit as a fiddle. (Ball)

Over the centuries, by far the greatest proponent, disseminator and participant in violence against others has been the state.  Under the rule of this or that government uncountable millions of people have died.  And when violence is sanctioned by the state, the lives of citizens become worthless. Young men are killed without hesitation.  Young women suffer sexual violence.  Children are worth nothing.

The stories are all very short – we are talking one to two pages.  The crime is, so far, that of accumulation, highlighting that, in certain times and certain situations, to exist is to have committed a crime, at least in the eyes of the government.  In I’m a Bastard!, a police officer only realises that the person woman he had brutalised (because she asked a government official a question) was actually a human being when he sees her suffering captured in a newspaper.  He needs to be disassociated from his own activities before he is able to appreciate what he is done.  Before that, she was nothing – she deserved it – she asked for it – if she didn’t want to be beaten, why did she speak out?

Of the four stories, two are explicitly narrated by a woman, one by a man, and the third is unclear, though from the way it is written, I believe a younger female.  All are from the first-person perspective, and all have the matter-of-fact tone of acceptance.  This is how things are.

Well, that’s slightly untrue.  The most emotional of the four narrators is the police officer, because his world has been shaken.  The worlds of the others have not – they expect violence.  They understand that a football game in a field could turn to death.  They don’t like it, of course, but that is life.

Also under review from the same collection:

Zobar and Başa, Iraq II, Ball, I’m a Bastard! are short stories by Turkish writer Çiler İlhan, and were translated by Ayşegül Toroser Ateş.  This collection was pubished by Istros Books and is available from their website.

Author Çiler İlhan
Titles Zobar and Başa, Iraq II, Ball, I’m a Bastard!
Translator Ayşegül Toroser Ateş
Nationality Turkish
Publisher Istros Books

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.


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