‘We Love Our City’ by Ece Temelkuran, translated from Turkish by Kenneth Dakan

“‘Want to look out at the police station? Sometimes they play games there.’

The girl scoots over to the window by the bed and put her face up against the glass. They don’t play games at police stations. What’s she talking about?

‘Come here. You can’t see anything from way over there! You have to look from this spot. See! There they are. They put the big brothers and sisters inside. Then they try to get out. I throw them dried chickpeas. But we can’t do it right now. Nobody’s there today.’

Told through the eyes of two eight-year-olds, The Time of Mute Swans is an endearing novel which explores another dark period in Turkey’s history: the turbulent weeks leading up to the September 12, 1980 coup. Set in Ankara in the summer of that year, it focuses on the special friendship between Ali, an Alevi boy from the poorer suburbs (whose house is burnt down by right-wing extremists), and Ayşe, the daughter of a lefty middle-class couple.

The streets of Ankara are no longer a safe place for a child when clashes between revolutionaries and right-wing militia have become the daily norm, and Ayşe spends most of her summer days at home in the company of her grandmother. Her bedroom overlooks the police station on their street. When the police detain some leftist students and deprive them of food, some mothers begin to throw cookies up to the windows of the detention cells. When Ayşe notices this her grandmother makes up a story: the mothers are playing a game to see who has the best aim and who could toss the most cookies through the window. To take part in the ‘game’, when Ayşe sees detainees at the police station, she starts throwing them dried chickpeas. Ali’s mother takes on a cleaning job at Ayşe’s house. In this chapter, he accompanies his mother on her first day in her new job – the first-person narration switches playfully between Ali and Ayşe, as they individually evaluate, in an unrestrained, funny fashion fitting to children, the experience of meeting the other for the very first time.

Published in The Time of Mute Swans: A Novel, Arcade Publishing, 2017

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