Sait Faik Abasıyanık - Sometimes called “the Turkish Chekhov”. These stories unfold like secrets or hallowed gossip passed between friends and neighbors.
Sait Faik Abasıyanık, A Useless Man: Selected Stories. Trans. by Alexander Dawe and Maureen Freely. Archipelago Books, 2015.
Sometimes called “the Turkish Chekhov” Abasıyanık’s stories are expansively compassionate and exquisitely compressed. “The Silk Handkerchief,” which begins with workers hurrying out of a moonlit silk factory on their way to see an acrobat and ends with a boy-thief’s downfall, is the closest to a perfect short story I’ve come across in years. With a watchmaker’s ear for calibration, Abasıyanık attends to the quiet mechanics of self-betrayal, the tiny gestures that bely internal struggle. In “On Spoon Island” a group of boys rows to a nearby island to play in the ruins of a Portuguese pirate’s fortress. One night on the island, Odisya, the heroic Greek son of a humble gardener, lies down next to the narrator underneath a pomegranate tree and longingly confides, “If I knew how to read I’d keep reading and never sleep.” But Odisya does fall asleep, and the narrator kisses him tenderly “with a desire that is as pure as it is secret.” Such fleeting sweetness, too ephemeral to savor, made me long to “keep reading and never sleep” too. - Erin Gilbert
Sait Faik Abasıyanık was born in Adapazarı in 1906 and died in Istanbul in 1954. In twelve books of short stories, two novels, and a book of poetry, Sait Faik’s prose celebrates the natural world and renders in vivid detail the struggles of his characters: ancient coffeehouse proprietors and priests, dream-addled fishermen and poets of the Princes’ Isles, lovers and wandering minstrels of another time. Many stories are loosely autobiographically and deal with Sait Faik’s frustration with social convention, the relentless pace of westernization, and the slow yet steady ethnic cleansing of his city. Seemingly in keeping with the restrictions that the new Republic placed on language and culture, the fluid, limpid surfaces of these tales craftily veil the deeper truths lying in their subversive undercurrents. Sait Faik is greatly revered to this day, lending his name to Turkey’s most prestigious short story award. Nearly every Turk knows by heart a line or a story by Sait Faik.
These stories unfold like secrets or hallowed gossip passed between friends and neighbors. Each one’s telling--intimate and mysterious, earthy and luminous—is propelled universal by a striking glimpse of the human heart. Set in post-Ottoman Istanbul, Sait Faik’s characters span a rich cultural array, including Turkish fishmen, Greek Orthodox priests, factory girls, thieves, simit sellers and all manner of lovers. Though these stories take us to a spe- cific place and time, Sait Faik’s unflinching eye lands us precisely in our own backyard. - Anne Germanacos
Sait Faik has had an influence on not only me but on almost all contemporary Turkish writers. [He] was one of the earlieast writers who screamed in Turkish that he would have died if he was not able to write! - Buket Uzuner
Reading these stories by Sait Faik feels like finding the secret doors inside of poems. Little moments--here one about milk, there one about death--open out into corridors of narrative, leading to effects and endings that are consistently both gentle and cutting, simultaneously honest and surprising. A distinctive, humane voice worthy of our serious attention. - Rivka Galchen
Brimming with life and intelligence…. Sait Faik is a masterful storyteller and a passionate flaneur. He has the keenest eye and the softest heart for quirkiness, loneliness and love. It feels like nothing can surprise him and yet his writing is utterly riveting and full of surprises. - Elif Shafak