Hakan Gunday’s novel “The Loss”: Ghosts of the Army

The name Orhan Pamuk is also known in Germany outside of literary circles. This is primarily due to the Nobel Prize. If you were to ask on the street who the current winner of the Hermann Hesse Prize is, most of those asked would probably have to pass it. The Hess International Prize, worth 20 thousand euros, aims to draw attention to works and authors that have not yet gained public attention, at least in Germany. In Turkey, Hakan Gunday, born in 1976 (who will receive the Hess Prize in 2022 with his translator Sabine Adatepe), is a cult author, a radical young voice whose books speak from the spirit of the Gezi protest generation.

Gunday “searches in his literary work for an answer to the individual development inherent in the face of collective and social oppression,” the jury statement stated, and further: “He is frightening and evocative in his language and uses his words to paint the pictures in the foreground. You cannot take your eyes off. He invites his readers to take a closer look, questioning social grievances and questioning seemingly well-established norms.” Gunday has published ten novels since his debut “Kinyas ve Kayra”, which appeared in 2000, three of which are in the sensitive Adatepe translation into German, his novel “Verloss” has just been published by BtB (originally 2009).

“The last hour of writing has passed, and now it is death’s turn,” he once said. The protagonist, Asil, about twenty years old, wakes up in the freezing cold, which quickly creeps into the reader’s bones as a watchtower on the outskirts of a Kurdish village, trying to pass the time by recording his experiences in a small black notebook that he carries with him at all times.

Brutal exercise, uniform stupidity, and toxic manhood

Indeed, Asil’s character embodies some elements of its author’s autobiography: Like Junday, he drops out of college, like Junday, he has to struggle with the absurdity of military service. At the time, the novel made a complaint to Gunday for insulting the army (although any explicit text about any army in the world would likely be understood as a contempt), but there were no accusations. Those were different times back then, times of new beginnings, democratic reforms and hope for EU membership.

A few years later, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had to turn Turkey into a repressive police state that ruthlessly oppresses its opponents. Unlike many of his colleagues, Gunday has remained in Turkey until now. However, it is doubtful whether today’s announcement will have the same light result.

So Asil stands on the watchtower in sub-zero temperatures, thickly wrapped with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth despite a smoking ban – and contemplates suicide. Since he has long experienced the whole program of brutal training, systemic stupidity and toxic masculinity, which is probably also home to all military structures, but has special traditions in Turkey.

Aseel discovers that if the child does not go to school, this is not a problem. But those who do not want to join the army are forced to buy their way out with 15,000 liras. Which of course is not possible, especially for the poor. He concludes that being stupid is okay, it doesn’t bother the state. As long as you only serve him with a weapon.

The soul of Ataturk’s killer

However, Asil is not alone on these nights. The soul of Ataturk’s murderer Ziya Horchit, who was executed in Izmir in 1926, is visited repeatedly.

Ziya Hurşit is a historical figure whose life, character, and motivations are filled with imagination by Günday. Originally, the novel’s title is a play on words: “Xian” means something like “Your Diya”, but it can also be translated as “Loss”.

Authentic listening, says Zia: about his life in war-torn Germany, where he hangs out with the Dadaists and steals Nietzsche’s original manuscript “Is Homo,” about his father’s captivity, about returning to Turkey, where he joins Ataturk. Revolution to get away from Mustafa Kemal and planning for the assassination.

He tells how he vacillates between admiration for the founder of the republic and horror at the reckless idolatry of his supporters (which, as is known, often continues uncritical to this day and is in no way inferior to Erdogan’s cult among his supporters, the ruling Justice and Development Party).

He explains how Turkey’s first parliament rules completely meaningless, addressing only Hala Mustafa Kemal. This is also emblematic of a problem that has not changed much in Turkey since then: political movements usually thrive as long as they have impressive leaders and collapse instantly when those numbers are gone.

The misery of the patriarchy

Asil, terrified, listens to the moment his tyrannical officer, Ekbar, enters, catches him smoking or squatting, and, out of sheer sadism, beats him in another four hours in an icy hell. Or push-ups in the snow. This Akbar, whose name means “the Great”, as in “God is great”, also symbolizes the misery of the patriarchal system: “A man is an accident of nature, who hates a woman, but still weeps for her, and where he catches he beats them with his fists. Everything is smaller than his dick His mind, his heart, his humanity, everything he has…

In “The Loss”, Hakan Gunday largely dispenses with the stark orgy of violence that we can find in many of his other books. Yet violence is a constant companion of the characters and the reader: it appears beneath the surface of every line, it’s something you creep slowly and ruthlessly under your skin like the bitter cold of a winter watchtower, and why he, authentic, of all people, encounters this Ziya at night, And whether it is really a ghost or something completely different, Jundai resolves it in the end so subtly and so cleverly that this novel suddenly becomes great literature, world literature.

Gerrit Westman

© Qantara.de 2022

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