Blog 84 23/06/2019 A Literary World: An Interview with Sebnem E. Sanders

Posted in on 25 July, 2019 in News

A Literary World.

An Interview with Sebnem E. Sanders

Today’s A Literary World interview is something a little different. My guest is Turkish author, Sebnem E. Sanders, a writer I have come to know well for almost three years now. As often happens in life, we met unexpectedly. I first met Sebnem after I had been to Istanbul and written a blog about Maria Callas’ piano at the Pera Museum. Sebnem read the blog and contacted me. Her friend is the director of the Pera Museum and she sent it to him. Sometime later, I was contacted by the actual lady who donated the piano to the museum and who now lives in Spain. Adriana happened to see this same post when searching the internet about the piano. Such is the power of the internet and of blogging. You never know what it will lead to. In this case a full circle. Both ladies have since become friends, especially, Sebnem, and we now correspond frequently as we both share a love of Turkey and the arts. Sebnem was also invaluable to me when I wrote my last book, The Carpet Weaver of Uşak. Her advice and keen eye helped to make the story even more authentic.

Sebnem is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently she lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. At the now closed Harper Collins website, Authonomy, she has workshopped her completed manuscript, The Child of Heaven, her debut book, which reached the Editors Desk in November 2014 and received a favourable review from Harper Collins. She also has two WIPs, The Child of Passion and The Lost Child.

Her flash stories have been published at the Harper Collins Authonomy BlogThe Drabble, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Spelk Fiction, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Three Drops from the Cauldron, The Rye Whiskey Review, CarpeArte Journal, YellowMama Webzine, and Punk Noir Magazine, and in two anthologies, Paws & Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology.   (Publications/Credits). Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond, was published in December 2017

When I asked Sebnem to be a guest, we discussed covering several aspects of Turkish literature, especially for some of my readers who are not familiar with it, but the task was daunting. In the end, I let Sebnem decide how she wanted to do this. This is the result. So, dear readers, make yourselves comfortable and let Sebnem take you on a magic carpet ride through Turkish Literature. There’s lots of great books here.  Welcome to A Literary World, Sebnem.

I’m honoured to be a guest writer at Kathryn Gauci’s Blog. A while ago, Kathryn asked me to write a guest blog on Turkish Literature and I cringed. A vast subject, where do I start from?  So, I decided to stick to the moderns in the Republic era, mainly my favourites, and to those writers whose works have been translated to or written in English.

İbrahim Müteferrika

Guttenberg’s printing press arrived at the Ottoman Empire shortly after it was invented. However, it was only used by the Jewish, Armenian, and Greek communities in the empire until 1727, 272 years after it was invented, when İbrahim Müteferrika had the Sultan’s approval to print maps and dictionaries in Turkish. The Sultans and the members of the court were very well-educated people who spoke and read in different languages. Yet, their subjects were not so fortunate. They were mainly illiterate, and short of printed books to read even if they wanted to.

During the Republic era, Turkish literature flourished. There were many literary movements, however, the general aim was to use modern Turkish, rather than the elaborate language of the Divan Literature of the Ottomans, which diluted the spoken language with Arabic and Persian words and expressions.

Atatürk’s reforms that changed the alphabet from Arabic to Latin and his reformation of the educational system offered the chance for everyone to learn how to read and write, thus increasing  the percentage of literacy.

My grandparents and my father were born in the Ottoman era, so they knew the Arabic alphabet. However, they learned to read and write using the Latin alphabet after the Republic was formed, or previously, while they were studying  a western language. French happened to be the popular language then.

My mother was born in the Republic era, the first generation that didn’t need to learn the Arabic alphabet.

Regarding my favourite writers, I love Yaşar Kemal’s  lyrical prose and stories that take place in his native land of Çukurova, Adana, in the South East corner of Turkey. İnce Memed, (Memed My Hawk), They Burn The Thistles, Iron Earth, Copper Sky, and many more. Most of his books have been translated to English and other languages. Hidden inside his lyrical prose, there are many hints, plotlines, and characters that depict the injustice of the political system and how the villagers, cotton growers, face hardship from the local leaders and the government, as well as cultural pressures.

Among other prominent writers, I suppose everyone knows about Orhan Pamuk, our Nobel Laurate. My favourite Pamuk books are Snow and Istanbul, Memories and the City. Snow takes place around Kars on the north eastern of border of Turkey and it depicts the vast differences between the educated and uneducated Turks, the pious and the secular, the unrestrained and the restrained by tradition.  The story is told by the character Ka, a poet and political exile, who returns to Turkey as a journalist to investigate a suicide epidemic among women forbidden to wear headscarves.

Istanbul,  Memories and the City is one of the best books written about Istanbul with references to many foreign and local writers who have taken the city to heart, as well as Pamuk’s personal memories regarding the city’s landmarks.

His first book which won the prestigious Milliyet Award in Turkey, Cevdet Bey ve Oğulları (Cevdet Bey and Sons), unfortunately has never been translated to English. It can be regarded as historical fiction as it tells the story of three generations of an Istanbul family in the 20th century.

In poetry, my favourites, Nazım Hikmet and Orhan  Veli’s  collections have been translated to English. Nazım Hikmet is regarded as one of the most influential poets of  20th century.


I must mention Sabahattin Ali, the author of Madonna in a Fur Coat, translated to English. Unfortunately,  Sabahattin Ali received only posthumous recognition for his works. He was also a thinker, a poet, and many of his poems were used as song lyrics.Upload Files

Both Nazım Hikmet and Sabahattin Ali were socialists, at a time when communism was banned in Turkey. Nazım died in exile, in Moskow. Sabahattin Ali was sadly murdered on the way to fleeing to Bulgaria.

Another well-known Turkish author is Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar. His Clock Regulation Institute  is a modern classic, A literary discovery: an uproarious tragicomedy of modernization, in its first-ever English translation.” Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar is also a poet, a literary historian and one of the first professors of literature in the Republic era.

Most of Ayşe Kulin’s work, biographies and historical fiction, have been translated to English, and other languages. Aylin, one of her first books, a true story, is one of my favourites. Both Ayşe Kulin, the author, and Aylin Devrimel Cates, the main character in Aylin,  are graduates of The American College for Girls, now Robert College, in Istanbul, my Alma Mater. Ayşe Kulin’s novel, Last Train to Istanbul won the European Council Jewish Community Best Novel Award.

Furthermore, Elif Shafak is also another well-known Turkish-British author. She writes in English and Turkish.  The Bastard of Istanbul, one of her first books, was long-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Some of her best-selling books are, Forty Rules of Love, Three Lives of Eve, and The Architect’s Apprentice. Elif’s 1o Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World  is in the Booker Prize 2019 longlist.


Finally, three Turkish writers who live abroad have been rewarded for their literary efforts.

Born in the US, Elif Batuman’s book, The Idiot, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Ece Temelkuran’s Women Who Blow on Knots, the story of four women on a journey from Tunisia to Lebanon,  was the winner of the 2017 Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award for her first novel translated into English.

And last but not the least, Aslı Erdoğan, the winner of many literary awards in France and Germany, now also lives abroad. Her books, The Stone Building and Other Places and The City in Crimson Cloak have both been translated to English and other languages.

I thank Kathryn Gauci, one of my favourite authors, a lover of Istanbul who writes stories about Asia Minor and Greece, two places close to her heart, for giving me the opportunity to write this blog post. I will leave you with Nazım Hikmet’s beautiful poetry …

Thank you for being a guest on A Literary World, Sebnem, and for giving us an extensive insight into such a wonderful collection of books. I’ve read some and loved them all. It was from reading Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories of a City, that I first came across the word hüzün – a type of melancholia/nostalgia/sadness, often for the past. I understood immediately what he meant as I always thought the Greeks from Asia Minor shared the same feeling. On behalf of my readers, I wish you continued success.

I will leave you with this tantalizing piece of Sebnem’s writing from the Punk Noir Magazine

Fiction: Désirée by Sebnem Sanders



I met my old friend Tom at an all-night bar I’d never been to before. He’d said, “Come before midnight on Friday, and we’ll drink and talk till we drop dead.” I found him sitting at a table for two, opposite the mahogany long-bar. Relishing an expensive malt, we chatted about work, women, and adventures since we last saw each other a year ago. The place was packed with trendy women and men, all eyeing each other and looking for a good catch.

Shortly after midnight, a rare beauty walked in and the spotlight of every eye lit her like an actress on stage. The other women disappeared into the void, as her stilettos clacked against the wooden floor in tune with the beat of the soft music. Dressed in black, fishnet tights, a leather mini-skirt, and a shawl wrapped around her, she strolled towards the only empty seat at…

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