Ahmet Altan on world stage with the Ottoman Quartet

Ahmet Altan’s celebrated novels Kılıç Yarası Gibi (Like a Sword Wound), İsyan Günlerinde Aşk (Love in the Days of Rebellion), Ölmek Kolaydır Sevmekten (Dying is Easier Than Loving), and a concluding novel, a sequel to the other three, will be published in world languages under the name “the Ottoman Quartet.”

Sandro Ferri, (who also publishes Elena Ferrante, the enigmatic author of the bestselling four-volume series Neapolitan Novels), has recently signed a deal with Altan to publish his books in English and Italian and sell translation rights of the four novels to other languages.

Altan’s four novels will be published in English by the New York-based Europa Editions while the Italian version will be printed by the Rome-based Edizioni e/o. Both houses are run by Sandro Ferri.

Novels do not stay behind bars!

Unusually, Altan signed the deal in mid-April at the Silivri Prison No. 9, where he has been held, on charges related to the July 15, 2016 failed military coup. He was arrested on September 10, 2016 along with his brother, columnist and a professor of economics Mehmet Altan, for supporting the coup attempt by giving “subliminal messages” during a television program. Both men face three aggravated life sentences. Altan was released by a court after an initial 12 days of police custody but was rearrested less than 24 hours later upon the prosecutor’s objection.

Altan, who is allowed to meet his lawyers only for an hour a week and barred from sending and receiving letters, is writing his novel in his prison cell but not allowed to send his writings outside the prison. Altan’s latest book of essays Yabani Manolyalar (Wild Magnolias), which was published by Everest Publishing House, came out after he was jailed.

Altan’s ninth novel, Son Oyun (Endgame), was published in January in Italy again by Edizioni e/o under the name Scrittore e assassino (The Writer and the Assassin). The publisher made his offer on the Ottoman Quartet to Altan in prison following that novel’s enthusiastic reception in Italy. The deal Altan also makes provision for the handling of Ottoman Quartet’s international film and television rights.

Endgame hit US bookshelves on April 18

Endgame, translated into English by Alexander Dawe, was published in Canada, Britain and Australia in 2015 and 2016 by Harper Collins, Canongate and Allen&Unwin respectively. On April 18, it hit the bookshelves in the US from Europa Editions.

While Ahmet Altan is unable from his prison cell to attend book signing events and talks to mark Endgame’s US debut, the reviews the book has been receiving in the US are conveyed to the author by his lawyers.

Kirkus Reviews: The author uses both characters and devices to marvelous effect, creating a hallucinatory fiction that reads as much like The Stranger (1942) as it does The Godfather (1969).

Library Journal (Starred review): Stylish, inventive, and deliciously dark, Altan’s U.S. debut is both an absorbing thriller and an intensive novel of ideas; no wonder he’s an award-winning and best-selling author in his native Turkey. (…) VERDICT Existential questions perfectly blended with atmosphere and rat-a-tat prose; highly recommended.

Publishers Weekly: Altan’s work is at once atmospheric and distant, with shifts from discussions with and about God to the narrator’s abstruse relationships with the people of the town, particularly Zuhal. Still, each of the threads are artfully crafted and do come together nicely by the end, as promised. Altan’s characters are, at times, difficult to penetrate, but his story is pointed, enigmatic, and difficult to forget.

The Washington Post (by Nathan Scott McNamara): In Turkey, recently imprisoned writer Ahmet Altan is a giant cultural figure. His novel Endgame sold more than 250,000 copies there when it was published in 2013. To put that in perspective, Jonathan Franzen’s most recent book, Purity, sold less than half that in the United States with a national population that’s four times as large. Now, Alexander Dawe’s English translation of Endgame brings a major international writer to an American audience for the first time. (…) Although it offers an implicit critique of Turkey’s corrupt justice system, “Endgame” is also comic and charmingly absurd, largely due to the reckless efforts of its characters to get even. As in many Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino movies, the levity isn’t in the bloodshed; it’s in the unexpected particulars that decorate each grisly situation. It’s in how the narrator will rush away from a murder scene to go chat online with his girlfriends.

“Forgive me, but these boys have no brains,” one woman tells him. “They’re half-arsed wasters who can’t even sit still, just have to fidget, get up and break something.”

But the narrator takes joy in the unsavory madness. “Life was insipid and boring for those who didn’t know the underground,” he says. “That secret world full of sin was where all the fun was.”

Final novel of the Quartet: A story of 1915

Ahmet Altan released the first novel of the Ottoman Quartet, Like a Sword Wound, in 1998. The novel, which earned Altan the prestigious Yunus Nadi Novel Prize, tells a story through the eyes of its contemporary protagonist, Osman, who is looking at the items in his home inherited from his family, contemplating about his relatives who lived in İstanbul, Paris and Thessaloniki in the early 20th century and starting having conversations with them. Making Osman converse with the dead, Altan both constructs characters and relations inspired by history of his own family and tells the tales of true events and real persons from the era of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Amongst “the dead” of Osman, there are, on the one hand, members of a well-off family closely integrated with the state bureaucracy who serve the Ottoman Army as officers and the Palace as clerks, while the same family is also related to Sheik Yusuf Efendi, a man distanced towards the Palace and politics but is close to the society and God.

In Like a Sword Wound, Love in the Days of Rebellion (2001) and Dying is Easier than Loving (2015), Ahmet Altan takes a closer look at the fall of the Ottoman Empire through historical events such as the Era of the Second Chamber of Deputies (Meclis-i Mebusan), the March 31 Incident, the removal of Sultan Abdülhamid II from the throne and the defeat in the Balkan Wars. Readers can witness traces of the role that the Committee of Union and Progress (İttihat ve Terakki) played in that destruction, as well as in the shaping of the ideological structure of the Republic that was to come.

In the fourth novel whose title is yet to be disclosed, Ahmet Altan focuses on the year 1915. Through the characters and family connections of the preceding novels, he tells the tales of the Battle of Gallipoli and the Armenian Genocide.