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Towards Turkish American Literature

Narratives of Multiculturalism in Post-Imperial Turkey


Elena Furlanetto

The author expands the definition of Turkish American literature beyond fiction written by Americans of Turkish descent to incorporate texts that literally ‘commute’ between two national spheres. This segment of Turkish American literature transcends established paradigms of immigrant life-writing, as it includes works by Turkish authors who do not qualify as American permanent residents and were not born in the United States by Turkish parents (such as Elif Shafak and Halide Edip), and on novels where the Turkish and Ottoman matter decisively prevails over the American (Güneli Gün’s «On the Road to Baghdad» and Alev Lytle Croutier’s «Seven Houses»). Yet, these texts were written in English, were purposefully located on the American market, and simultaneously engage the Turkish and the American cultural and literary traditions.

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II. Imaginary Spaces: Representations of Istanbul between Topography and Imagination


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II.   Imaginary Spaces: Representations of Istanbul between Topography and Imagination

The present chapter revolves around representations of space, both real and imaginary, that display mechanisms of state-imposed repression and removal, but also prepare the ground for cultural encounters. The strongly comparative focus of this chapter begins to outline the difference between Turkish literature with an international readership and Turkish American literature, which originates and dwells in a diasporic dimension. The first section investigates representations of Istanbul in Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul (2007) and Pamuk’s The Black Book (1990) and The New Life (1994). Both writers imagine the city as governed by dichotomous ideologies: imitation and truthfulness, Americanization and authenticity, integration and segregation. Each of these abstract concepts is, using Amy Mills’ term, “emplaced” (Mills 384) and spatialized, so that the city itself emerges as a dual entity where strongly oppositional universes dwell side by side without ever meeting.

The Black Book stages a conflict between an “overground city,” dominated by Westernization and amnesia, and an “underground city” where relics of a forgotten past are simultaneously banished and preserved (Pamuk 191). A similar opposition emerges from The Bastard of Istanbul, where two cafés – Café Kundera and Café Constantinopolis – respectively embody a city burdened by historical amnesia and one obsessed by the excruciating preservation of memory. The discussion of ethnicity in Shafak complicates the configuration of these dichotomous spaces: while Café Kundera hosts an exclusively Turkish crowd, Café Constantinopolis is an online...

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