#RivetingReviews: Paul Burke reviews THE WOUNDED AGE & EASTERN TALES by Ferit Edgü

Ferit Edgü is an award-winning Turkish author with a diverse literary career spanning decades and including poetry, short stories, biography, novels, screenwriting, and, here, an amorphous blend of poetry and prose. There are two narratives in this volume, both deeply political and empathetic tales that take up the cause of voiceless, persecuted minorities and marginalised communities – people of ethnic origin who current and past regimes have repressed. These are stories those in power would rather keep away from the public consciousness, and though Edgü doesn’t mention the Kurdish people specifically, it’s clear their experience, and his time with them, infuses these narratives.

The Wounded Age is about a journalist sent to south-eastern Turkey to report on the plight of the people of the mountains. This is a harsh land, bone-chilling in winter, rugged, barren and dangerous all year round, barely providing a meagre sustenance. The villagers’ struggle is worsened by persecution and conflict, which together force a nomadic existence across a place torn apart by raiding soldiers and centuries of conflict. More often than not women and children are the true victims – a reality that is in contrast to Turkey’s self-image as a modern European nation. 

The journalist communicates with the locals through an interpreter, but it’s clear that the language bridge isn’t able to span the void between cultures and experiences. The beliefs, values and ways of seeing the world of these people are hard for him to grasp and relate to, particularly in light of the traumatic experiences that haunt these communities. So the journalist struggles towards a deeper understand by trying to make an emotional connection.

As he ventures into the desolate heartland, he witnesses small groups fleeing the army and streams of refugees with nowhere to go. The crimes they have suffered are rarely seen or reported, let alone answered for. The journalist realises how inadequate his understanding of the situation is, so how can he convey it to the wider world? Can words make a difference?

Eastern Tales, written before The Wounded Age, is a more fragmentary narrative, and as such it benefits from succeeding the longer prose-poem. Again, this is about cultural divides and communication. An outsider arrives in a mountain village to teach children, but what use are the skills he can impart? The teacher listens to the radio, but the locals don’t understand why, as the stories it broadcasts mean nothing in their world. They want to be who they are and be accepted for that. As with The Wounded Age, the arrival of an outsider draws attention to cultural gaps, and to prejudice and misunderstanding.

These may be two separate books, originally published twelve years apart, but they are intimately linked through their themes, and through the people and landscape they inhabit, so the volume has a unified feel. The narrative is tough, the tone bolstered by the spare, boned-back prose and opaque feel. But essentially this is about recognising the oppressed, and communicating with them across religious, cultural and ethnic divides, against the backdrop of historical trauma. 

The outside world is a ghost in the narrative, but by implication it judges, demands that minority cultures change, ignores the harm it has done, and harbours a fear of the unknown and the different. The book is a plea to make the time to understand all this – a powerful tale about the value of proper dialogue that speaks to the current migrant crisis and the ethnic violence ongoing today.

Reviewed by Paul Burke


by Ferit Edgü

Translated by Aron Aji 

Published by NYRB (2023)

January 2023 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.

Paul Burke writes reviews, interviews, articles and features for crimefictionlover.com and crimetime.co.uk. He is editor and presenter of the Crime Time FM podcast and is a judge for the CWA Historical Dagger. Paul is a book collector, lover of literature in translation and a crime fiction aficionado.

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Category: January 2023Reviews


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