translated by Ruth Christie, Saliha Paker
“One winter night, on a hill where the huge refuse bins came daily and dumped the city’s waste, eight shelters were set up by lantern-light near the garbage heaps.”
The opening sentence introduces us to the birth of a poverty-stricken community, one that will rise up despite numerous efforts to destroy it. As more displaced people hear of them, it continues to reassemble, grow, and become occupied by the marginalised, who do what they can to get ahead.
Mattresses were unrolled and kilim-rugs spread on the earthen floors. The damp walls were hung with faded pictures and brushes with their blue bead good-luck charms, cradles were slung from the roofs and a chimney pipe was knocked through the sidewall of every hut.
It’s a story of impoverishment, perseverance and the survival of the poorest. Every step forward encounters a knock back, an obstacle to overcome. Toxic factories employ them, their ailments dealt with in bribes, even their love lives are dictated by the relative positions they occupy in the unconventional heirarchy of the community.
The workers named the factories after their effects, some made the lungs collapse, some shrivelled the eye, some caused deafness, some made a woman barren. Their proverb for marriage between equals was ‘A bride with dust in her lungs to the brave lad with lead in his blood.’ The saying gained ground when one after another the young car battery workers married girls from the linen factory.
After winning the battle of constant demolition and renaming it ‘Battle Hill’, two official looking men replace their sign with a blue plaque inscribed ‘Flower Hill’.
After the renaming, people heard the demolition had stopped and came to the Hill in their hundreds, deceived by the charm of its name.
Rumour and gossip fuel their perceptions and without worldly knowledge they speculate; theories on events pass from one person to another, changing and evolving into a level of understanding they can accept.
One night yellow pamphlets are stealthily left at their doors, by morning they are strewn everywhere, caught in branches, stuck under their doors. They couldn’t understand why the workers would leave them and others wondered why they could not speak up instead of writing and why they’d left them in the dead of night.
Flower Hill Folk!
Support the strike!
Individuals rise and fall in power, characters referred to by occupation or memorable anecdote, new creatures arrive like ‘The Regular Worker’ spawning the song ‘Work Faster’ and ‘Poet Teacher’ writes about scavenger birds and his pupils.
A lyrical voice is given of a metaphorical nature to the deprived, who have memories of villages of old, of fleeing, of different times. Latife Tekin “gives expression not only to their way of life but also to their outlook on life, perception of reality, sense of humour and dreams.”
It is told in such an engaging style, it reads as if it is narrated aloud, though it is neither fairy tale nor fantasy, it is quite unlike anything I’ve read before, the story and the voice, a depiction of the creation and development of an aspiring community of marginalised people.
Assuming the position of a detached but devoted narrator rather than a patronising intellectual onlooker, Tekin has reconstructed the dreams and realities of sqatterland in specific detail and with a uniquely metaphoric use of the language, without overlooking the humorous attitudes, ironic perception and emotional vitality of the community amid the filth and poverty of its living conditions. Saliha Paker, Introduction
Article: Contemporary Turkish Women Writers in English Translation by Dr. Roberta Micallef
Review: Bosphorous Review of Books reviews Berji Kristen by Luke Frostick
My Reviews of Books by Turkish Women Authors
The Other Side of the Mountain by Erendiz Atasü tr. Elizabeth Maslen
Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak
Honour by Elif Shafak
The Happiness of Blonde People by Ekif Shafak
As I began reading your review, my first thought was ‘Very worthy, but … no’. But you have convinced me that this book would be an engaging, powerful and thought provoking read. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!