cover image A Strange Woman

A Strange Woman

Leylâ Erbil, trans. from the Turkish by Nermin Menemencioğlu and Amy Marie Spa

This pioneering though esoteric modern classic from Erbil (1931–2013), her English-language debut, tells the story of a newly liberated Turkish woman from several vantage points. In the first section, Nermin is a fiery young leftist student proudly pushing gender and cultural boundaries in 1960s Istanbul. She and her friends visit cafés, drink and smoke, talk openly about sex, and exchange poetry. In the second section, Nermin’s dying father, Hasan, presents his point of view in a stream of consciousness, serving as a historical counterpoint to Nermin’s newfangled ideas. The story then detours to a strange tale of the murder of Mustafa Suphi, founder of the Turkish Communist Party, in which Hasan may or may not have played a part. In a final unsettling section, a middle-aged Nermin reveals herself to be little more than a bourgeois hypocrite, in love with leftist ideals but having accomplished nothing for her “people.” Though many of the historical references and mentions of Turkish poems and songs will be a stretch for those not steeped in that culture, Erbil succeeds in crafting a portrait of a young woman from fractured and contradictory points of view. This is one for specialists and scholars. (Apr.)