‘A Season in Hakkari’

‘A Season in Hakkari’

William ARMSTRONG - william.armstrong@hdn.com.tr
‘A Season in Hakkari’ ‘A Season in Hakkari’‘Hakkari’de Bir Mevsim’ (A Season in Hakkari) by Ferit Edgü (Sel Yayıncılık, 14 TL, 198 pages)

A man is shipwrecked and finds himself alone in a remote mountain village. He can’t remember his name, his crew, how his ship was wrecked, or anything else about his past. He only knows that he now finds himself in village on top of a mountain, far from any sea, among people whose language he doesn’t know. After contacting the village head, he is given a spider-filled room, where he is to teach the village children his language. Slowly he strikes up a rapport with some of the inscrutable locals, and the notes that he jots down in a battered notebook form the basis of Ferit Edgü’s mysterious novel, in which the line between dreams and reality is always highly ambiguous. As the poet Melih Cevdet Anday is quoted on the back cover: “It’s not enough to consider this a realist novel. It’s an astonishing story about the unbelievable dream that is reality.”

The “season” of the title is winter, which blankets the isolated village in a thick layer of snow, naturally put to good metaphorical use by the author Edgü. An epidemic of some sort grips the villagers, leading to the death of a number of children, and the teacher desperately tries without success to secure a doctor or medicine from the nearby city. Meanwhile, one of the locals, a man named Halit, starts to pay regular visits, telling him a chilling tale of a murder that took place recently. Surrounded by such barely decipherable tales and logic, and constantly confused about how he ended up in the village, we witness the teacher undergo a kind of internal journey, as “both a teacher and a student”:

I’m a poor traveler who’s lost his way. A shipwreck survivor. One who plays here at teaching. A teacher who has nothing to teach. One who is trying to learn about others and himself. One who is trying to remember his language, his name, the places he’s been to and the language spoken by those around him.

Throughout, Edgü never explicitly“says” anything, but his novel manages to achieve a far greater intimacy than most books that shine their light to illuminate every corner.

Hakkari is Turkey’s most southeasterly province, bordering Iraq and Iran. Its history is marked by bloody episodes, and every mention of it today inevitably brings to mind the conflict between the Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has had bases in the mountains all around Hakkari. This book, however, was written in the 1970s, before the conflict truly exploded in the mid-1980s and reshaped everything in the region. Hakkari is therefore used apolitically, as a symbol of isolation - both physical and psychological. The teacher reflects at one point, “At this height, in this horizonless land, this endless white, makes a person feel completely different. More free.” But despite such quotes, this book is far more complex than an Anatolian “Eat Pray Love,” and each reader is likely to respond differently to its delicate perching between dreams and reality.

It’s actually a very difficult novel to review. How to give an idea of its hypnagogic narrative, its careful balance between the harsh reality of the mountain village and the dream-like quality of how the teacher interprets it? Towards the end of the book, the teacher writes, “I felt it necessary to speak to you. In sailing there’s a custom for two boats bearing the same flag, even when passing very far away, to greet each other.” A village at the top of a mountain in Hakkari may indeed be a world away, but through the intimacy of Edgü’s pen the reader feels as if they have also passed a winter there.