Turkey’s exquisitely ‘odd’ and relentlessly creative writer Leyla Erbil passes away
Leyla Erbil was the first Turkish female writer to be nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature by PEN International in 2002.Leyla Erbil, one of Turkey’s most creative writers, with a talent matching her discretion, has passed away today after being treated in an intensive care unit for weeks following a heart failure. She had been diagnosed with leukemia.
Erbil, 82, was the first Turkish female writer to be nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature by PEN International in 2002. She also won the association’s prestigious short story prize this year.
A virtuoso of the Turkish language, Erbil’s art was a constant rebellion against grammatical constraints. She worked her sentences like a handicraft artisan, forging a new syntax if what she wanted to express required so. “What’s behind my search in language is to discover the ‘golden tune’ of the text’s essence,” Erbil had said in one of her last interviews while explaining her inventive yet unquenchable approach to literature. On another occasion, she recollected a conversation with a friend in which she argued that the language was “insufficient” to understand people. “I said that I would change these molds,” she recalls herself as saying.
From the ‘odd woman’ to the ‘odd man’
Her first story Hallaç (Cotton fluffer) came out in 1961, the same year she became a member of the Turkish Worker’s Party (TİP) along with other intellectuals such as Behice Boran, Çetin Altan and Yusuf Ziya Bahadınlı. Her first novel Garip bir Kadın (An odd woman), published in 1971, became a masterpiece. Casting a resolute female gaze over a male world and penned with an innovative language, the book’s critical success earned Erbil comparisons with Virginia Woolf.
Another short story collection, Gecede (In the night) would reinforce her reputation as a majestic narrator of the female condition.
Leyla Erbil's last novel, Tuhaf
bir Erkek (An odd man) was
released this year.
Kalan (The remaining), published in 2011, related the tragedy of Istanbul’s multicultural communities through the eyes of its cosmopolitan and rebellious female protagonist Lahzen.
Erbil momentarily abandoned the exploration of women for odd men in Tuhaf bir Erkek (An odd man) published in 2013. Perhaps closing a circle, Erbil said in an interview that the novel intended to explore how one man could impersonate many others – or, more concretely, how Hurşit becomes sometimes Zurşit, Kürşit, Mümin and Bünyamin – for obviously different reasons than a woman.
And Turkey… If it had to possess a gender, for Erbil it would be neither an “odd woman” nor an “odd man.” “Turkey is still introspecting itself, hasn’t given itself a name. It’s a hermaphrodite,” she replies with a touch of derision.
Erbil will be laid to rest on July 22 in Istanbul.