Letter to a dead past: Mehmet Eroğlu’s novella “Kıyıdan Uzakta”

Mehmet Eroğlu’s most recent work is a novella called Kıyıdan Uzakta (English: Far From The Coast). In terms of narrative form, this work is very different from the writer’s other fictional creations. Its main character, Zühal, tells the happenings of the last three months in a long letter to her dead husband Selim Sönmez. While Selim is virtuous, successful and perfect in every aspect, Zühal finds herself unattractive, is dissatisfied with her daily life and feels terribly lonely even though she is not alone. Every time she looks into a mirror, she sees a mask of unhappiness covering her face… until her life suddenly changes.

Zühal’s husband Selim Sönmez who is a successful university professor one day comes home with his teenage daughter Melek. Selim’s ex-wife sent her from Hamburg back to Istanbul after a dubious incident that is kept a secret almost until the end. Melek appears to be the personification of her name: an angel who is beautiful, sweet and shining from inside. However, Zühal also finds in her a reflection of her own loneliness. Torn apart between two identities, an “Angie” speaking German and a “Melek” who is not so comfortable with the Turkish language, Selim’s adolescent daughter is in search for maternal love. Zühal who is in her late thirties by then, after three miscarriages finally gets the chance to play the role of a caring mother. But there is more to it. When Selim leaves for a short trip, the angel-like Melek seduces Zühal. This is the moment when a forbidden love story begins between the two women. Both are looking for something particular in the other: Zühal for her lost youth, Melek for her lost girlfriend. During this passionate adventure, Zühal’s once so empty soul comes to life again through a fresh wind of happiness. When she confesses to her husband that she cheated on him with his daughter, her marriage falls apart. Shortly afterwards, Selim commits suicide (in the disguised form of a car accident).

The brutally honest letter Zühal writes to her dead husband is also a letter to her dead past. Interspersed with Greek mythology, she describes her traumatic experiences with her mother Müyesser who is lying on her death-bed. Her confrontation with death continues when she becomes friends with her mother’s very old neighbour and his donkey whom she sees withering away. In an act of therapeutic writing, Zühal forces herself to face her own failures and fears. She also questions her lesbian experience with this very young woman who, despite the destructiveness of this relationship, has changed her perception of love as a whole. Mehmet Eroğlu demonstrates empathy, compassion, sensitivity and great social awareness by bringing up a controversial issue that is still a taboo topic in many parts of Turkey. Zühal’s and Melek’s short affair shows that love in its many forms can paint a dark world in the brightest colours.

I thank Mehmet Eroğlu for having sent me his latest work. Despite its only 98 pages, this original novella reads like a novel because of its topic density and narrative profundity. It is about the art of loving, leaving, and suffering. About social expectations, society’s hypocrisy and taboos. And, last but not least, it is about the death of the soul which is more painful than actual death. Life is a never-ending search for meaning where we all turn into beggars for every minute we can spend with our beloved one. After all, there is nothing more precious than time when it comes to love. With Kıyıdan Uzakta, Mehmet Eroğlu provides his readers with a courageous manifesto that might give women the power to finally live their own lives and be themselves. Even in a patriarchal world.

Mine Krause,  The Turkish Literature Blog, Paris, Mart 2018