‘A Friendly Face’ by Sevgi Soysal, translated from Turkish by Maureen Freely

At the beginning of the 1970s when the military had seized control in Turkey and imposed martial law, ‘Oya’ a left-wing journalist recently released from prison, is a political exile in Adana – a city in the south of Turkey. Living in a hotel room she’s daily surveyed by undercover policemen stationed at the building across from hers.

“Staring right at her, every time she opened her curtains. In the end it gave her strength, to watch them watching her. To wonder what they made of their pointless job, and where they found the patience. To have to sit there, staring at her curtains, day after day, for months on end – this was a sentence not much different from Oya’s.”

She leads a lonely existence in this strange, angry, concrete city, keeping her head down and never going out after dark, until one night, feeling desperately bored and longing for some company, an unexpected dinner invitation causes her to leave all caution behind. Sevgi Soysal (1936-76) is one of the most important literary voices to have emerged in the second half of the twentieth century in Turkey. Her final complete novel Dawn(Şafak, 1975) – only recently published in English – centres around the events of a single night when a house raid takes place. This excerpt is a fine example of how the entire novel’s narrative is driven by the characters’ internal worlds, moving from the mind of one character to the other’s, and in this way, giving a multifaceted perspective on the atmosphere and shared psychology of that time.

Published in Dawn, Archipelago Books, 2022. This excerpt was published online on Words Without Borders, 2022 and can be read here

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