Novel in Turkish (Türkçede Roman) by Mustafa Nihat Özön is a must-read for two main reasons. First, it explains the birth of this new genre in Turkish, in the second half of the 20th century, providing a connection to its sources in the traditional Turkish literature. Second, it shows the history and the basic concepts of the European novel which influenced the Turkish novel. In the second chapter, this book studies Ahmet Mithat and its literature in detail, however, I’ll merely focus on the introductory and first chapters to talk about the general context of this genre in Turkish.
The history of novel in Europe goes back to the epics, yet, Özön prefers to examine this genre beginning from when it evolves and gets its name as novel. A study which will include the former forms of story-telling would be appreciated but I second the choice of Özön for a very practical reason: The name of the genre refers more or less to the real or fictious anecdotes and legends written in colloquial language, thus, it should be distinguished from epics and mythical stories written in an advanced and poetic language.
Although the introduction part was very helpful to understand the general lines of the European novel, I have a complaint about the lack of links between the transitions of the genre and the social changes and movements. Novel in Turkish was weak to follow the parallelisms of the patterns in the transformation of the society and the developments in literature. We can see the cause-effect relationship only in the French-Revolution but in a unilateral way: effects of social events on the audience of the literature.
Özön gives the details of various stories of old Turkish literature in the first chapter. This chapter is helpful for especially those who seek an insight over the audience of these stories. It also explains the circulation of these literary pieces. I find the categorization of the stories in the book very efficient. Özön first divides these stories into two main titles: poetic and prose. Then, he puts forth the differences between those which are read from written texts and those which are told from mouth to mouth. Finally, he explains the stories which are altered by different groups of societies according to their beliefs and life-styles.
The thing that grabbed my attention most in the first chapter was the “Groups of Audiences”. Under this subtitle, Özön reveals the different audiences according to their socio-cultural positions and the way that they engaged with these stories. He shows three layers of audiences.
On top of the pyramid, there are merchants and officials of the government working in or near the Palace. These are well-educated people. In the second layer, there are people who are in a close relationship with these well-educated officials and merchants. Özön considers them as the second-class readers. In the base level, there are peoples of general public who barely know how to read and write. However, they still get engaged with these stories by organizing gatherings to read the stories all together.
It is important to decide which one of these groups were the target audience when a specific story is at hand. It should also be noted that the borderlines of these layers were started to be dissolved when the printing press is started to be used in the Ottoman Empire.
As a final word, I would suggest reading this book to those who seek to understand the birth and development of a new genre, novel, in Turkish literature.
Featured Image: Lei Han (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)