Sunday, October 11, 2020

Fortnightly Book, October 11

Ahmet Midhat Efendi (1844-1912) was an immensely prolific Turkish author during the Tanzimat period of the Ottoman Empire. He spent most of his career as a journalist, but, having a very large family, he had to do a considerable amount of extra work in books, stories, and the like to keep them all in food and clothes. In 1873 he was exiled to Rhodes by Sultan Abdülaziz for an article he wrote that attracted negative attention. Abdülaziz was deposed by his ministers in 1876 and Midhat Efendi returned to Istanbul, although he was more careful to avoid too direct an involvement in political affairs after that. He eventually came into imperial favor, receiving various government offices and then a university professorship.

In 1875, he published one of his most famous works, Felâtun Bey and Râkım Efendi, which is the next fortnightly book. (In Turkish, the dotless i is pronounced ih and the i with a dot is pronounced ee, roughly speaking.) As the title suggests, it follows the contrasting lives of two young men in the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire, Felâtun Bey and Râkım Efendi, and the complications of Turkish life at that time, always torn between the European and the Turkish, the alafranga and the alaturka kinds of life. Felâtun is a young man from a rich family, Râkım from a poor family; Felâtun has had a rich man's education, which has prepared him for nothing, while Râkım has had to scrape together every fragment of education he has been able to find even to get by. And both, whether they realize it or not, are faced with the fundamental question of Turkish society at that time: What is the best way to be Turkish in an age dominated by Western Europe?

The work was only translated into English a few years ago, in 2016, by Melih Levi and Monica M. Ringer, and that is the edition I will be reading.