ÇİLER İLHAN

TR

Works

My Overcoat

They... They might have come out of Gogol’s overcoat. I have come out of an egg. Yet. and even though I know it’s only one. I have, all the same, succeeded in writing the perfect story. Poisoned Love.

Poisoned Love Synopsis. Chapter One:
Ayfer is the seventh and youngest child of a family of migrants from Diyarbakır, Land of Copper, to Istanbul, City of Seven Hills. Quite why the family left the Land of Copper in favour of the City of Seven Hills is not made clear. At any rate, is there an obligation to clarify everything? I cannot be the God-Writer, no no no. I can-not! Give the reader some room to use his own imagination, isn’t that the best way? Ayfer is thirteen years old when they move to Istanbul. 13. Three-and-ten. The family begin to live between a random set of four walls on a Gültepe -Rose Hill- street, not in the least bit redolent of roses; eleven members in all: the children, the parents, and both grandmothers. A big family, in other words, very.
At a time when Ayfer attends the local school like the good girl she is, the father, bowing to custom, slaughters Ali, who had eloped with Ayfer’s next elder sister, and so finds himself banged up (or doing time, same difference.) Harder, much harder times await the family. Which again is quite normal; has life ever been easy anywhere, pray tell? Once the regular salary -albeit meagre- from the leather works at Kağıthane vanishes from view, as does the banged up father, the mother’s cleaning wages from six days at Ulus residences no longer prove adequate for the entire family. No, they do not. No two ways about it; they do not. In any case, Ayfer is the only child out of the seven who attends school; all the others are occupied with selling roast chestnuts, warm bagels, AA batteries, dustpans and pirated books; well, God doesn’t like idle hands, better they be occupied. The maternal grandmother is doolally and the paternal, bedridden; so neither is in a position to contribute to the strained family budget ever unable to make both ends meet. And even if they could, do you think they would? Especially that paternal grandmother! She who’d never lift a finger to help, but order her daughter-in-law about instead! That is how things are. The time has come, therefore, to take Ayfer out of school and send her out to work; that’s what the conditions dictate. Ayfer begins to work at a waterfront villa in Yeniköy as nanny (well, assistant- to the trilingual -Russian-Turkish-English- Miss Luba, who chose to survive as a nanny in Turkey instead of going round the bend on a diet of nothing but potatoes as a doctor in her homeland of Moldova) to the three tow-haired sons of the Dutch general manager of an international company, and help Hayriye with the housework. (At this point we move into the second chapter of the book, but after a little teaser. Best not to overdo the tease; you might be tempted enough to read my book one day. One day!)

Second chapter:
So Ayfer finds herself in this affluent three-storey mansion stretching its wings over the Bosphorus. What a house! I had forgotten to mention how beautiful Ayfer is, by the way: Ayfer is a very beautiful girl. Time passes time passes time passes time passes time passes time passes time passes time just a minute! I had forgotten to mention how handsome the man of the house is; the man of the house is very handsome. Fate weaves its web in the fifth month of Ayfer’s dual life on the Rose Hill - Yeniköy line: when Magreet’s -the woman of the house- mother who lives in Arnhem falls ill. Magreet (please pronounce it correctly, not like Mag-ritte, but instead: MaH-GHHHrate!) scoops the kids up and rushes off back to the Netherlands; the schools are off, in any case, it’s summer. Grabbing her chance, Hayriye wangles out of the man some of her two months’ worth of weekly leaves as yet untaken (not unused, but untaken; have you noticed the difference?) And as chance would have it, the police raid Laleli on the rare occasion when a Moldovan coach decides to treat the square as a bus stop (‘34 PSST 5310! Pull over! No dropping off or picking up passengers!’) and this happens to be the time when Luba was on the spot, awaiting the disembarkation of a friend (who shall remain nameless) and they round up all the foreign women (‘Sort yourselves out! This is a raid!’) and take them to the police station. A short investigation reveals Luba to be a domestic, not a sex worker; this distinction, however, does little to save her from being deported on grounds of having overstayed her visa. It takes a full week for Cedrik, the man of the house, to hear news of Luba, many days after the suffering woman finally rattles in to her potatorich land. And the expected encounter (so you were expecting it? You have got a dirty mind!) does take place within a few days. Ayfer, who’d been melting at Cedrik’s huge blue eyes since she first saw them, assumes the uniform of a short sleeved, short-skirted yellow dress purchased at the Ulus market. Uniformed Ayfer (admit it, you too are charmed by her now, she is seductive, oh yes) -that wild mountain daisy that had patiently awaited the arrival of the sun to blossom- now envelops the entire house with her potent scent. Cedrik, who’d pledged his troth to his wife in word and in deed all these years, resists for one day, resists for two days, resists for three days, resists for four days, resists for five days, resists for six days, resists for seven days, cannot resist for eight days and makes a hen out of the yellow chick. The rest is a real tragedy (oh life! Tragedy is your second name!) Our (oh, all right, your, what do I want with a ruined heroine in any case? My mind’s still on Luba. I wish I’d given her a few kilos of chickpeas and lentils and stuff before she left. You’ve confused me!) poor innocent has yet to cotton on to the fact that this foreigner’s son is a cockerel who will no longer accommodate her, but that is the reality, that is how things are! Cedrik lays Ayfer off on the morrow of the day he’d pulled her yellow dress over her head and laid her, he presses six months’ wages into her hand and lays-her-off! He tells his wife that Ayfer disappeared the day after they found out about Luba’s deportation, and adds: ‘And Hayriye’s also off on her leave; too much work I guess, these people never like hard work anyway!’ (Groan! All these lies, fabrications and calumnies! You’ll never warm to this chap, even if I were to plead! But if you were to see his sea-blue eyes perhaps?) So your Ayfer returns home willy nilly. She tells her mother the family moved back to Holland, she lies. Her mother puts on her headscarf that smells of damp, and rushes out to knock on neighbours’ doors in the hope of finding a new job for her daughter. As she pours it out to the neighbours, Ayfer goes out of the door, silently. Still wearing the now soiled dress of her poisoned love, she walks, walks, walks, walks, walks, walks, walks, walks, walks, walks (this is Istanbul after all! You don’t get anywhere easily, do you?!). The young woman (maid no more, surely) suffering with heartache, broken heart, despair, hopelessness and lust, (I swear it wasn’t me who came up with this one, it’s you who makes her lusty) convinced that she cannot bear all this suffering, (which one? Let’s be frank now!) throws her desolate body into the waters of the Bosphorus from the Mehmed the Conqueror Bridge.
The end.

That was my novel. As you can work out from the synopsis, each line was full of elbow grease and beauty. But those critics, the enemies of literature. they’ve panned this deep, yet ill-starred book. they’ve covered it in dust and filth. Who could fail to weep for Ayfer?... They did.

4 December 2007
There is no way, naturally, for me to have come out of Gogol’s overcoat, as I am His reincarnation.
I shall prove this to you now.
I would like to point one thing out before presenting my proof: note how I don’t say, ‘I am Gogol;’ that would have been sheer madness. I am Gogol’s reincarnation. And since I will, from time to time, need to refer to both of my discrete lives, I have decided to refer to the form my soul took on in the 1800s in Russia as Gogol-I and the form it took in the late 1900s in Turkey as I-Gogol.

I knew I was Gogol’s reincarnation as soon as I cast my eyes over his Dead Souls quite by chance. I say quite by chance, because, despite having written so many books, I don’t read much; the ideas of others confuse my mind unnecessarily. Until I found Dead Souls, all I knew about Gogol was limited to what everyone else did; that some people had made free with his overcoat. As soon as I noted the huge similarities between us -that gratifying sudden revelation was the best experience of my life- I immediately set out to buy and inspect all the Gogol-My books that I could find. And naturally, I was also intrigued by the other writers claimed to have come out of my overcoat; firstly, that personage called Dostoyevsky, whose entire life was spent in the clutches of epilepsy, struggling with poverty and gambling, now the darling of, now the bane of Holy Mother Russia, pale of cheek and pointy of chin, -and, much as it pains me to say it- peasant-faced man, whose funeral reportedly attracted forty thousand mourners. I shall, in later lines, include a comparative study of our works, but what requires no comparison whatsoever is how much nobler Gogol-My farewell to life was compared to the goodbye of this person. He is reported to have died of lung cancer at the age of sixty. As for Gogol-Me: I crossed the bridge that connects life and death after fasting for days as befits a deeply God-fearing Russian. Some sources attribute Gogol-My death to losing my sanity; they should get their own heads seen to: how can you meet your death by just going out of your mind?
The reason we don’t remember our past reincarnations is because we shouldn’t -it’s written in the Bible, in Shutzew’s Bible. What is interesting is how the soul goes round and does similar things, and even makes similar mistakes. I shall restrict myself -to avoid boring you- to a very few, select proofs out of the countless I found attesting to our similarities. Method: At the top, Gogol-My work, at the bottom, I-Gogol’s. Relevance: Similarities between the works in title, content, style and overall appearance.

Proof I:
Gogol, Dead Souls, p. 223, Trans. Nuriye Yiğitler, Alfa, Istanbul January 2002
‘Oh creator! How fair is Thy world where, in remote, rural seclusion, it lies apart from sordid cities and highways!’
Kemal Görkem, Souls of Vital Breaths Blow A Ways, p. 110, Betacam, Istanbul 1990
‘.I thought, at that moment when I was left in seclusion in that remote rural spot, how much fairer the world was, distanced from ignoble cities surrounded by ring roads. You have created them all, dear Creator!’

Proof II:
Gogol, Taras Bulba, p. 95, Trans. Nur Nirven, The Red and the Black Classics, Istanbul July 2002
‘.if the Catholic saints wish to throw sacks full of wheat, barley or hay at them from the heavens, I would not complain. All I know is that their priests are only good enough to generate words.’
Kemal Görkem, The Most Heroic Cossacks, p. 201, Black Times White Times, Istanbul January 2000
‘.I said, in my last breath: Those men who serve you as priests know nothing but how to talk. The saints? The Catholics, hah? If they were to throw barley-wheat-rye from the skies, that would be another matter!’

Proof III:
Gogol, The Overcoat, p. 40, Trans. Nihal Yalaza Taluy, Varlık, Istanbul 2000
‘.Akaky Akakiyevich was unusually dedicated to his work.’
Kemal Görkem, My Overcoat, p. 50, Story in Chamber of Dream Merchants, Artemis, Istanbul March 2006
‘.I am unusually dedicated to my work.’

31 March 2001
I am not only the reincarnation of Gogol. It was Gogol-I who lay at the heart of Dostoyevsky’s (undeserved) fame as an acclaimed writer. This investigation is already going off the rails. Here’s proof:

Proof I, Step 1:
Vissarion Grigoriyevich Belinsky, On Literature, Arts, Culture, History and Philosophy, p. 11, Trans. Mazlum Beyhan, Yön, Istanbul 2004
‘.Belinsky goes to the Salzbrunn spa in May 1847. It wasn’t only the physical pain he’d been suffering for years that death freed him from on 28 May 1848; he was also spared prison in Petropavlosk or exile to Siberia in punishment for ‘Correspondence with Gogol’ he wrote in Salzbrunn. In those years, that letter was considered too incendiary to even read, never mind write. Some Petrashevsky Circle intellectuals (Dostoyevsky amongst them) were arrested on 23 April 1849 for reading this letter (which had been circulated secretly) and, after eight months of trials in camera, their death penalties were commuted to exile in Siberia at the very last moment.’ 

Proof I, Step 2:
Dostoyevsky, Demons, p. 4, Trans. Ergin Altay, İletişim, Istanbul 2002
‘.He joined the young conspirators around Petrashevsky, and was arrested and sentenced to death along with them (December 1849.) The execution was halted at the last minute, the convicts being informed of the commutation of their sentences to four years’ exile in Siberia. Despite all the material and spiritual privations, these dreadful years enabled Dostoyevsky to discover the Bible and the spiritual wealth, that is, the ‘gold within the hard exterior’ of the inmates. Notes from the Underground, the first of his grand ‘metaphysical’ novels, and the key to all his work, was published in 1864.’

Proof I, Step Thr/inal:
If I hadn’t written and published my book entitled Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends, if the venerable Mr Belinsky hadn’t penned a critique lambasting this book, if Gogol-I hadn’t sent a letter to the muchrevered Mr Belinsky as a reply to this critique, and if the veryeminent Mr Belinsky hadn’t replied to Gogol-Me when in Salzbrunn with the above-mentioned famous letter, then, my virtuous friends, Dostoyevsky would never have been exiled, and therefore never had the opportunity to discover that contentious gold purported to be hiding under his thick shell.

General-Permanent Proof (the history of literature is full of these)
As you all know very well, Gogol-I am supposed to be the overcoat of Russian writers. So much is said on this subject, such as, ‘Contemporary Russian literature came out of Gogol’s overcoat!’ or even, ‘We’ve all come out of Gogol’s overcoat.’ And what’s more, guess who is found amongst these who admit to this fact with their own mouths? Yes, none other! That epileptic young blood Dostoyevsky! Worse still, similar claimwords are attributed to even Turgenev and Gorky, but let’s leave that aside for a moment and return to inspecting in more detail how callously Dostoyevsky abused my overcoat: Dostoyevsky gave his Poor Folk written at the age of 23 to Nekrasov in the hope that the latter would deign to comment. At first there was no word from the gentleman (clearly he didn’t begin reading immediately. According to Pamuk’s foreword in Poor Folk, Dostoyevsky entrusted not Nekrasov, but his literary friend Grigorovich with his book. It was Grigorovich who read and loved the book and passed it on to Nekrasov. A truly remote possibility.) It took Nekrasov two days to pick the book up, after which he read it from cover to cover like a man mesmerised, and at four in the morning, without even waiting for the sun to rise (Pamuk claims that it was Nekrasov and Grigorovich who knocked on Gogol-My door together, and instead of citing an accurate time, he contents himself with saying ‘in the middle of the night’, but the low-down is highly likely to be as per my account) flung himself into Dostoyevsky’a arms and shouted: ‘Hail the birth of a new Gogol!’ And famedcritique Belinsky, who admired the book, perpetuated (using my name, no less) this absurd insanity. So overrated were his claims that I’d hazard a guess that even Dostoyevsky himself would have doubted them. 

17 Febrarch 2012
I am studying Poor Folk. The book is now-this-is-too-much influenced by Gogol-Me. I shall suffice with a few examples. The first is a clear confession, virtually an admission; the second is a slip of the subconscious. As for those in the third group, I list these in a comparative format with Gogol-My The Overcoat; the blatant theft of characters as well style is evident.

Proof I:
Dostoyevsky, Poor Folk, p. 83, Trans. Ergin Altay, İletişim, Istanbul 2002
‘.And I’m sending a book of stories, some of which I have read myself; particularly The Overcoat; do read it.’ Yes? And what do you say to that?

Proof II:
Poor Folk, p. 87:
‘.What good are these things? Will a reader order an overcoat for me when he’s read them?’ Here you go! The overcoat again!

Proof III-A:
Gogol, The Overcoat, in Diary of a Madman, p. 39, Trans. Nihal Yalaza Taluy, Varlık, Istanbul 2000
‘.Akaky Akakiyevich commanded little respect from anyone in the office. The porters, far from getting up from their seats when he came in, took no more notice of him than if a simple fly had flown across the vestibule.’
Dostoyevsky, Poor Folk, p. 112, Trans. Ergin Altay, İletişim, Istanbul 2002
‘.it was ten o’clock before I reached the office. On arrival, I tried to clean myself up a little, but Sniegirev, the porter, said that it was impossible for me to do so, and that I should only spoil the brush, which belonged to the Government. Thus, my darling, do such fellows rate me lower than the mat on which they wipe their boots!’

Proof III-B:
Gogol, The Overcoat, in Diary of a Madman, p. 39, Trans. Nihal Yalaza Taluy, Varlık, Istanbul 2000
‘.The young clerks jeered and made jokes at him to the best of their clerkly wit, [.] Akaky Akakyevich never answered a word, however, but behaved as though there were no one there. It had no influence on his work even; in the midst of all this teasing, he never made a single mistake in his copying.’
Dostoyevsky, Poor Folk, p. 131, Trans. Ergin Altay, İletişim, Istanbul 2002
‘.asked me loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘What on earth makes you sit with your tail between your legs, Makar Alexyevich?’ Then he made such a grimace that everyone near us rocked with laughter at my expense. They wouldn’t stop. I stoppered my ears and shut my eyes, sitting still, for this I found to be the best method of putting an end to all this..’ Well, I give up! I’m not going to lower myself to even count the similarities between the patronymics Akakyevich and Alexyevich towards proof; my virtuous and noble Russian heart won’t allow it.

123 May 2009
It’s not surprising to find similarities in life stories and personality traits between Gogol-Me and Me-Gogol. Example: Gogol-My father was a landowner, just like I-Gogol’s father. Example: Gogol-My father died when He was sixteen; the sudden disappearance of I-Gogol’s father took place when I-Gogol was around six; note the sixes. But the most indisputable (not that there’s any disputing, just saying.) of all the similarities between us is the most crucial common trait in our work; dramatic humour. Yes, esteemed friends, that is it.
Now we’ve made this observation, we may return to the matter of Dostoyevsky. You may be wondering about the physiognomy of this gentleman writer so unashamedly influenced by Gogol-Me. The time, therefore, has come to join up Gogol-My photodinkums alongside that of his:

[illustrations]

I’m not even going to point to the difference in the nobility between the features and facial expressions of Gogol-Me, the son of an aristocratic family, and those of Mr Dostoyevsky, the offspring of a doctor father, who had, for many years, striven to raise his ignoble name by acquiring a handful of land; I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice. The uncouth peasant’s expression on Dostoyevsky’s face is not one that even a thousand dekares of land could erase!

8 Ocust 2011
Down with the brutes! Only god knows just how much more nonsense remains to be fabricated about Dostoyevsky’s talent as a writer! The entire world will soon concur with the superiority of the religious and virtuous Gogol-Me to the peculiar, confused man with the suspect virtue! Every impetuous Russian, pure of intentions rooted deep in his mysterious psyche, though given to the occasional erroneous decision, and every Westerner who’s sacrificed his heart to the vagaries of philosophy or arithmetic; they will all, very soon, kneel before Me-Gogol in tears of contrition! I may consider forgiveness, graced by my exceedingly noble heart. I may have chosen to come back to this world much further south in a different country on this occasion, and whilst my mind may struggle with the finer details of my old life, that loyal corner of my soul remembers it all! I’ve not entirely forgotten my perfect, my virtuous life in that land of miracles! I remember the joyous taste of that wild Russian blood that courses through my veins, pouring in from those vast steppes I can’t bear to wrench my gaze from! It’s not too late yet; the day will come when the entire world will bow down before you, Holy Russia! It approaches, majestic Russia, on whose dreamy mounds ring the songs of your brave people, and whose tireless, powerful horses run relentlessly like roaring waterfalls! The day approaches when other peoples will part and give you way!

13 November 2008
I can’t stop thinking about this matter of Dostoyevsky. I return to my study with the opening sentences of this writer’s above-mentioned Notes from the Underground. You see my friends, how unusually dedicated to my work I am. The book I referred to earlier begins:
‘I am a sick man. I am an unattractive, spiteful man.’
There now; it’s as plain as day. The writer admitted it himself years earlier; he was sick! Then why are we still occupying ourselves with assertions of great literary merit cooked up by which wretch, which demon’s spawn? If you were to ask for my opinion? Here goes: I-Gogol never saw anything more bizarre, more peculiar than this book in all my life (I must have read at least 30-35 books; it was a bit of false modesty when I suggested earlier that I didn’t read much.) The following lines occupy page 144 in this book, just to cite one example:
‘What I really want is that you should all go to hell! That is what I want. I want peace; yes, I’d sell the whole world for a farthing, so long as I was left in peace. Ask me if I want to drink tea, or the world to go to pot, I’ll shout at once: I want my tea!...’
How do you like that? The man they’ve elevated to such heights is ready to sell them for a cuppa! But what can you do, the kopeck drops too late for the Russian, everyone knows the proverb. You will all come to your senses sooner or later, of that I remain ever hopeful.

There is little point in taking up more of your time. Everything I-Gogol have tried to express on this many lines has been summarised by Nicolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev, one of the leading philosophers of the 20th century. True, he could have written so many more books on Gogol-Me, instead of this one, but seeing as he has, let’s quote him:
‘. I have attempted to demonstrate the strength of his enthusiasm for Russian liberation; however, . he has failed to demonstrate to us how to acquire spiritual and moral independence and how to rescue ourselves from sordid influences as individuals and as a society. The conflict in his thought has prevented Dostoyevsky from becoming the reformer he could have been; whilst with one part of his being, he set to work, the other, spoiled by the effects of populism and collectivism, blocked his way to success.’

Thus the noble Mr Bedyaev concludes this debate. This personage has also, on other pages, mentioned how Dostoyevsky was as much a great thinker, visionary and the greatest metaphysician in all Russia, as well as an artist, how we are all his foster children, how he taught us Russians about the living, concrete, and tangible objects thoughts are, his ingenious percipience in understanding the destiny of man and nature, how every being harbours a volcano within and how his work was filled with eruptions from beginning to end, but all this is quite trivial. So this esteemed mister Dostoyevsky conjured up a few hallucinations in his epileptic, sick imagination, but my darling, what use is verbosity that fails to serve a purpose, or offer practical solutions for a worthwhile life?

Now that I have sufficiently enlightened you my esteemed friends, the time has come for me to leave! You may wish to get to know Me-Gogol better, and enrich your noble lives with the dazzling snippets of information that spout from my work; in which case, I have bad news for you: I have burnt my above-mentioned works in bright moments like those when Gogol killed off his Souls! All that remains is Poisoned Love, and the poems I wrote picking my nose to console myself a little at times when I knew I wasn’t appreciated.

From the book, translated by: Feyza Howell