Famous writer Ahmet Altan back with new book

Famous writer Ahmet Altan back with new book

Emrah Güler ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Famous writer Ahmet Altan back with new book If Ahmet Altan did what he did in Western Europe or in the U.S., he would simply be known as an outspoken journalist and a bestselling novelist. He would probably be leading a peaceful life far from controversy. In Turkey, however, he has been the epitome of controversy for three decades.

Eldest son of the renowned writer Çetin Altan, Altan Altan has been fired and also put under fire for speaking his mind as a journalist, a columnist, and as an editor-in-chief. He was censored for the racy content of his novels long before censorship in Turkey was under the scrutiny of European Court of Human Rights. He has also been accused by his peers of everything from plagiarism to taking cheap populist shots in order to sell his books.

However, Altan continues to stand tall in the face of attacks, his most recent book still making the headlines and selling tens of thousands in its first week.

“Son Oyun” (The Final Game) was released last week, selling a record 100,000 copies in its first day.

The novel once again cemented Altan’s fame as a writer who captures the essence of love and lust from a woman’s point of view, perhaps better than most female writers in Turkey. “Beware of the compassion awoken by beautiful women” is the excerpt leading the PR machinations, hoping to draw in the devoted readers of decades, along with new ones.

Turkey to ‘Kurdey’

It has been nearly a decade since the release of Altan’s previous novel “En Uzun Gece” (The Longest Night) of 2004. But this doesn’t mean that his name did not continue to make headlines, thanks mostly to the newspaper Taraf, which he co-founded in 2007 and served until his resignation in December 2012. The biggest controversy around Taraf came when the daily corresponded with Wikileaks maestro Julian Assange to reveal secret documents of the Turkish military.

Altan has had a long career in journalism, been correspondent and written for dailies Hürriyet, Güneş, Milliyet and Yeni Yüzyıl, and with his famous T.V. show Kırmızı Koltuk (Red Chair) in the 1990s, which he co-hosted with Neşe Düzel.

In 1995, Altan wrote a column in daily Milliyet in which he imagined a change in the history of modern Turkey, turning Atatürk into an Ottoman general born in Mosul, changing the name of Turkey to “Kurdey,” and the “Turk” in the sacred quote by Atatürk “Ne mutlu Türküm diyene” (How happy is the one who says I’m a Turk) into “Kurd.” Writing this in the most sensitive period of the Kurdish problem, Altan was immediately fired.

“Despite all the controversy around Altan’s status as a journalist, he always wanted to be recognized for the body of work he contributed to Turkish literature,” said Buket Aşçı, editor-in-chief of daily Vatan’s prestigious monthly book supplement, Vatan Kitap. “He wants only his books to be included in his bibliography.”

For Aşçı, the work that shot Altan to fame as a novelist and an essayist is “undoubtedly” the bestselling novel “Tehlikeli Masallar” (Dangerous Tales) of 1996. “After the release of that book, his previous novels discovered a massive number of new readers,” she says. The novel, which told the story of a man in his 40s falling for two women, also established him as a women’s writer and one of the most popular writers of love stories.

Although “Tehlikeli Masallar” shot Altan to national fame, he was already an accomplished writer long before, albeit to a limited number of readers. With his debut novel “Dört Mevsim Sonbahar” (The Four Seasons of Autumn) in 1982, he won the Akademi Bookstore Novel Award. According to Aşçı, with his second novel “Sudaki İz” (Trace on the Water), he was already “being compared to literary giants like Orhan Pamuk, Latife Tekin and Mehmet Eroğlu.”


Ahmet Altan. Hürriyet Photo

Censorship problems

“Sudaki İz” was the novel that made him a target of Turkey’s notorious Censorship Committee, which asked the publisher, Can Yayınları, to remove the raciest parts from the novel. Erdal Öz, the founder of Can Yayınları, then came up with an ingenuous plan. The novel was published with black strips covering the censored parts, and also included the official report that included details of all the censored parts and what pages they were from. All the reader had to do after coming to a covered part was to jump to the report to see what was missing.

In his final column for Taraf on Dec. 15, 2012, Altan had written: “Every story has an ending. I lived an incredible adventure. It was filled with every emotion possible to a human being… But it is now time to leave. I’m going back to my real job, to my novels. I leave this newspaper to readers who have always supported us, encouraged us, and never left us alone. Goodbye.” Well, the real job seems to be going pretty well.