Imprisoned Kurdish lawyer and progressive politician Demirtaş delivers a closely observed series of portraits of lives oppressed.
Demirtaş, held in a high-security prison in Turkey, describes his surroundings as a kind of city of intellectuals who ought to be out serving their country—but there’s the rub, for that country, in his case, is not the one that holds him captive but the independent Kurdistan of his hopes. In his introduction, he argues that literature and politics serve the same purpose for the audience, namely, to inspire. Whether readers will in fact be inspired by his grimly matter-of-fact stories is an open question, but certainly they convey the essential terror of living in a system under which violence is a given and families are often separated: A young housecleaner is swept up in a demonstration and beaten and jailed; a prodigal daughter reads in a dying father’s notebook that “every stone on the path to loneliness has been laid by nobody else but you”; a young man, shot in the head, contemplates his passing: “My grave rests in Semra’s bloodshot eyes, hers beneath a tree in the village.” Naturally, some of Demirtaş’ stories are set in prison, where he notes the apparent paradox that though the courtyard is tiny, it is infinite, open to the endless circling of its trudging inhabitants, not just the human ones, but the “ants and the spiders with which we share it.” And in one ironic piece addressed to a letter-reading committee of prison censors, he darts from memory to memory, evoking his father’s way of making a poetry of foul curses and a childhood friend’s return in a dream to remind him of the smell of pastirma, “that spicy meat that comes in thin slices”—the stuff, in other words, of the stories he feels compelled to write from behind the walls.
A welcome debut collection. One hopes for more—and that Demirtaş will not be silenced by his captors.