Short Story Review – Çiler İlhan – You Killed, Batman, My Daughter, Baby Girl (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.

Blood runs through these stories.  It’s shocking how little life is valued in them, particularly the lives of women and girls.  They mean nothing, nothing, and it’s tough to read.  Sometimes, parents or siblings care for a daughter or a sister or a mother, but that doesn’t stopped them from being harmed, or abused, or killed.  And very often they don’t care for her at all.

Çiler İlhan is unflinching in her descriptions, but cleverly and carefully, she avoids using shocking words or overly detailed descriptions to add weight to her stories.  What is being portrayed is horrific enough – the words used to show these activities or highlight these practices or go over these family histories, are not.  They are the kinds of words that you or I would use in a normal day, and that juxtaposition serves to strengthen the impact they have upon what is being told.

The country İlhan is describing is no place for a woman, no place for a girl.

You Killed is a powerful piece which uses the opening of ‘You killed’ to describe the deaths of family and friends and, later, of hope and beauty.  This very brief piece begins by cataloguing the deaths of individuals before shifting to explain the termination of dreams and the future.  To kill is not only to murder a life but also to deprive that individual, and all the other people they have touched or might touch, with the infinite possibilities of existing which are no longer possible.

You killed my mother. You killed my father: My uncles and my aunts. You killed my grandmother and my grandfather: My cousins, their wives: My father’s sisters, their husbands. You killed me within. (You Killed)

Batman touches on suicide, repeating the question, “Why do so many women commit suicide in Batman?”.  The answers are horrific.  Sexual abuse from family members, revenge-rape, vendettas.  Women’s lives are cheap.  They are punished for being a victim, punished for the sins of their family, punished for not being a virgin, punished by being forced to marry their rapist, to live in seclusion.

We are invisible at home and in the street. Like an old piece of rag that cleans the floors, the windows, the doors. We are put to all sorts of work. Life becomes even more unbearable once we start to blossom, once we are fragrant. Bored with our mothers, whose breasts have sagged, whose flesh has lost their firmness from giving birth a dozen times, the gazes of our fathers alight on our newly budding breasts. Suddenly our mothers go blind, our brothers deaf. (Batman)

My Daughter is an exceptionally strong piece, made even stronger by what has come before.  After all of the misery, all of the violence, this story opens up with a concerned parent looking for their child.  Good.  The tone is mild – she’s not in her bed, but she’s somewhere, right?  The girl’s brothers gather around the mother.  They explain what has happened.  It’s simple, see.  She brought shame upon the family.  She had to die, and they had to kill her.

The accumulation of violence in the preceding stories helps prepare the reader for this, but the tone of the piece lulls one into thinking that maybe there is a ray of light here.  There is not.  This was a gut-punch.

Repeating bismillah over and over again, I ran into my daughter’s room. She wasn’t there. I went back to the kitchen. Her three brothers were staring intently at my face. The youngest started sobbing.

‘Mother, you keep our secret,’ said the eldest. I sat there and cried my eyes out, oh God, what else was I going to do. But there is no escape from fate. In the end I decided, what could I do, I’m a mother and I’ve lost my daughter, let me at least not lose my other children. And so I have not said a word to anyone for nine years. I’m so very sorry. (My Daughter)

And then Baby Girl was where I had to stop for the time being.  This story, also brief (they are all brief because evil must be contained in some manner), is from the perspective of the leader of a pack of dogs.  They are scrounging around in a cemetery, when they smell a live human.  They dig, their actions are noticed, the police come.  Yes, a baby, buried alive.  The dogs are happy – the narrator is a cheerful soul, pleased with himself and pleased he was rewarded by the police chief with some bones – but we cannot be.  This is the abyss, folks, we are staring into it.  We don’t know why and aren’t told why a baby (and from the title we can assume a girl) was buried alive, but the three stories before that have provided enough context to make a guess.

When the world is this dark, it’s clear that women are worthless.

You Killed, Batman, My Daughter, Baby Girl 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.

Also under review from the same collection:

Author Çiler İlhan
Titles You Killed, Batman, My Daughter, Baby Girl
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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