When we put together our list of “100 Great Translated Kids Books from Around the World,” one of the languages that was conspicuously absent was Turkish:
We asked master-translator Canan Marasligil to help suggest a children’s author who should be brought into English, and she suggested Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) nominee Miyase Sertbarut.
“I think she definitely needs to be translated to English (and other languages too!),” Marasligil said.
In her nomination materials for the ALMA, the charming Sertbarut said, “I spent a lot of time with both my imaginary characters and my readers. I have talked face to face with thousands of children and young people in hundreds of schools. I pass on the greetings of real people to my characters when I get home and the greetings of my characters to the children when I go to schools.”
I never hesitated to write about difficult subjects: Child abuse, native language education, poverty, the examination system, issues in foster homes, rising up against value systems, the commercialisation of science… It gives me joy that I was able to present these topics to my readers without being overly dramatic or didactic, by using accessible language and presenting them with exciting adventures.
My stories have appeared in Turkish textbooks. (The less subversive ones, of course! It would have made me happier if the subversive ones made it as well…)
Most importantly, she writes: “I have always loved Turkish literature and want others to love it too.”
Author and columnist Ece Arar Emener, wrote of Hidden by the Fog that it “has such a strong narrative that one is curious to know which method the author used while working on it. As if a great ball of yarn slowly unties itself in front of you and then re-ties itself all over again.”
Marasligil has shared a translated excerpt of Hidden by the Fog, with the publisher’s permission. If you are interested in more excerpts, please let firstname.lastname@example.org know.
Bad News at Breakfast
That Sunday morning, Ms Nilgün had set breakfast on the balcony. They even had the salami with pistachio that Ilay loved so much. Although her mother showing extra care to the breakfast table on Sundays did not surprise Ilay, the smell of omelettes with butter wafting from the kitchen made her suspicious that something extraordinary may be going on. Something bad must have happened again, even the tubes of ketchup and mayonnaise that her mother hated so much, were on the table.
On the day that her parents told her they were getting a divorce, they had put out all the food that she liked: French fries, köfte, Russian salad with plenty of mayonnaise and a big bottle of coke. Her parents hadn’t even made a sound when she poured a copious amount of ketchup on her fries.
“Has my mother been transferred?” she wondered, as she pulled a chair. That would be sad. Her mother was a doctor at the hospital, she’d been saying for a few months now that she might be transferred. If they had to move, the saddest part would be to leave her neighbourhood friends, especially Tayfun, behind.
She couldn’t get Tayfun out of her heart and her dreams for the past six months, and they were just beginning to get closer. Oh! He was the cutest boy in school. Ilay thought she could never find anyone like him again. He asked her out last week and she immediately said yes. He was her first boyfriend: they walked together in the park, sat knee to knee in a café. She saw entirely new lights and shades in his eyes. Although her other friends didn’t entirely approve of Tayfun, Ilay’s heart seemed to beat only for him. This excitement, this first love, made her feel like the happiest person alive. If her mother told her they were about to move to a different city, she would certainly resist. She’d say, “I’ll stay with my dad then”. Her father wouldn’t object to that. That would make her mother sad though, but she would do anything not to be apart from Tayfun.
She slipped into daydreaming accompanied by the buttered smell of the omelettes. She didn’t even notice the three stubby beaked crows that stood perched on the imposing plane tree close by. Meanwhile, all the attention of the crows were directed towards the balcony, particularly the food on the table. If they had been perched there on that branch two weeks ago, Ilay would certainly have noticed those three strange crows. Especially their stubby beaks and their legs that have become as thick as a chicken’s… But, for the last two weeks, Ilay had found her dream prince and forgot about the rest of the world. Even if she noticed those birds, they would appear to her as the most beautiful songbirds or canaries, singing to her, perched atop rose bushes. After all, she now was a young girl who had fallen in love for the first time.
School was over, with study books now thrown under the bed, never to be touched again, exam stress gone, grade reports received and language courses drawn to a close. Now, was the time for the movies, parks, Internet cafes and snack food. She was free until the announcement of the school entrance exam results. She handed in a good exam. Maybe she couldn’t make it to a top science school but she was confident that she could end up in a good public school. Wherever she’d go, she will not have to share the corridors with toddlers running around anymore, nor would she be put on duty to help little kids up when they fall or break up their silly fights. Everything will be more serious, age-appropriate and fun. She will be able to call her teachers “sir” or “madam”. When she was in primary school, that is what she aspired to the most; but her teachers always insisted on being called “teacher”. But for Ilay, “sir” or “madam” meant “I am a grown up, don’t treat me like a child”.
Now she had a boyfriend who liked her. Although they didn’t even hold hands yet, eyes could tell much, and also long phone conversations… Ilay didn’t find herself ugly anymore when looking in the mirror. She stopped wishing her eyes were larger, her ears smaller and her nose perkier. She found someone who liked her, which meant she was beautiful. In addition, Tayfun was one of the most popular, handsome kids in school.
Her daydreaming was interrupted when her mother stepped into the balcony carrying the plates of omelettes. As she served the plate to her daughter, she tried to lighten the mood by unnaturally sweetening her voice.
– Is my little princess hungrily waiting for me?!
– Mom, don’t talk to me as if I’m a baby.
This resistance didn’t faze her mother.
– Has my baby grown up to resist her mother?
– What’s the bad news mom?
Her mother’s face returned to normal. There was a pause. Ilay grabbed the ketchup and mayonnaise tubes and started pouring them onto her omelettes in a fashion that her mother entirely disapproved. Ms Nilgün didn’t say anything as her eyes rested on the red and white lines crisscrossing her daughter’s plate, she didn’t seem to be really looking. Ilay took a deep breath and asked:
– Are you getting married or something?
Her mother frowned.
– Where did that come from? Why did you think I had some bad news anyway? I do have some news, but it’s not what you think.
– Are you being transferred? Are we moving?
– That’s not it… Tea or milk?
– Coffee with milk please.
– Hmm… Your tastes are changing!
Her mother was right, she didn’t use to like coffee. When they went to a café with Tayfun, she had ordered one after he did and didn’t like the taste at first, thought it was bitter but she had grown to like the taste after adding some cream. Now, she was trying to recreate that moment but was also trying to get back at her mother in a revenge attempt. She thought that whatever her mother was going to tell her wouldn’t be good for her, so she was trying to put up a defence. She stealthily gave some of her eggs that were untouched by ketchup and mayonnaise to her cat Ginger, who was rubbing against her legs under the table. Her mother strongly disapproved of Ginger eating anything but from his food bowl in the kitchen.
While Ms Nilgün was preparing coffee in the kitchen, Ilay started eating her omelette with appetite. She came up with a strategy on the spot that she could defend herself better with a full stomach. The news might also ruin her appetite. When her poor mother returned to the balcony with the cup of coffee, Ilay’s plate was almost empty.
After she sat down, her mother poked at her omelette a few times but didn’t eat, instead she took a swig of her tea. Ilay was observing her mother surreptitiously. Here comes the talk, she thought. Ms Nilgün cleared her throat. She always did that before saying anything important. She probably didn’t want her voice cracking.
– The summer holiday has started. You will get bored all day at home.
– I won’t get bored by being home alone mom, don’t talk like you don’t know me. I have the TV, the computer and the Internet… Then I have my friends.
While saying that, she noticed the crows perched on the plane tree.
– Mom! Look at those…
While she didn’t want to distract the conversation, her mother turned her head regardless.
– So what? They are crows… They are waiting for us to go inside so they can steal stuff. But don’t worry, they’ll be afraid of Ginger.
Ilay was surprised that her mother didn’t notice what was weird about the crows.
– But mom, don’t you think these crows are a bit weird? Look at their legs, they are big like a chicken’s and their beaks are stubbier than normal. They look more like chickens than crows. They sure are funny!
While her mother didn’t think this was notable, she couldn’t help enlightening her daughter:
– I recently read in a book that there are more than forty species of crows. These must be one of those forty. Anyway, don’t pay attention to them… Leaving you home alone is going to worry me all the time.
– I am not at an age to start fires at home mom. I also have Ginger to keep me company.
Ms Nilgün continued as if she hadn’t heard what Ilay said:
– Especially when I am on night shift… Your dad is also not living close by, so I can’t ask him…
– Mom, I’ve grown up.
Her mother poured more tea into her cup and continued talking:
– You know you have an aunt.
Ilay put on a mocking tone:
– Oh I know, actually, I have no idea. Isn’t she living in a village reachable only by a fifteen-hour train ride followed by an hour in an ox cart?
– Who told you that?
– You did, remember? I was doing my homework on family trees and you had added in my aunt. Then I got curious and asked where she lived.
Her mother was surprised:
– How did you remember so vividly?
– It felt interesting to have an aunt whose face I’ve never seen. So, mom, are you calling my aunt here? You must be looking for someone to nanny me. But the summer holiday would be over by the time she gets here.
Ilay did not realise her tone was becoming more defiant. She sounded condescending. Lately, that was the tone she used against all the decisions her mother took. All her friends told her that she had become more irritable after her parents got divorced; but she couldn’t help it; she couldn’t control her temper. In reality, she was not unhappy about the situation, although she missed her father, her parents got separated amicably and her father spent time with her every two weeks and they had fun together.
But this aunt business bothered her. She would not have any shared interests with this aunt coming from a village. Was she going to have to watch whatever her aunt watched on TV? What if she started cooking unusual things? But her mother delivered the final blow.
– She is not coming Ilay, she can’t make it, and she has to work there. You are going.
At that point, Ilay, who was listening to her mother while leaned back on the plastic chair, suddenly sat up. This was completely unexpected. What was she going to do in a village too small to even show on a map?
– No! No! A thousand times no, mom!
– Sit down so we can talk properly.
– I am not going anywhere! You are trying to get rid of me, aren’t you? You’ve sent away my dad and now it’s my turn, is that it? Are you trying to declare the Republic of Nilgün in this house mom?
Ilay ran away to her room without waiting for a response. Sensing the tension, Ginger followed her… Her mother was left alone at the table. She started thinking about ways to convince her. She was worried about her daughter getting stuck on wrong ideas. Like just now… Who would want to get rid of their child? Ilay knew very well that her parents separated amicably but she couldn’t help but blame her mother in her anger. Ms Nilgün had to stop her daughter’s line of thinking before it settled. She was considering asking Ilay’s father for help. Maybe she would listen to him.