Winner of the inaugural EBRD Literature Prize 2018
Istanbul is a city of a million cells, and every cell is an Istanbul unto itself.
Below the ancient streets of Istanbul, four prisoners – Demirtay the student, the doctor, Kamo the barber and Uncle Küheylan – sit, awaiting their turn at the hands of their wardens. When they are not subject to unimaginable violence, the condemned tell one another stories about the city, shaded with love and humour, to pass the time. Quiet laughter is their balm, delivered through parables and riddles. Gradually, the prisoners’ underground narrative turns into a narrative of Istanbul itself, and we discover there is as much suffering and hope in the city above-ground as there is in the cells below.
Translated into more than twenty languages, this is a profoundly moving novel about the transformative power of words in times of desperation.
About the Author
Burhan Sönmez is an internationally prize-winning novelist whose works have been translated into over twenty languages. He is the winner of the EBRD Literature Prize 2018 and the Vaclav Havel Library Disturbing the Peace Prize 2017. Sönmez was born in Central Anatolia in 1965 and later moved to Istanbul where he worked as a lawyer. He was a founder of the social-activist cultural organisation TAKSAV (Foundation for Social Research, Culture and Art) and wrote on literature, culture and politics for various newspapers and magazines. Sönmez was seriously injured following an assault by Turkish police in 1996 and had to receive treatment in Britain, where he remained in exile for several years. He now lectures at METU University in Ankara and lives in Istanbul.
About the Translator
Ümit Hussein is a translator and interpreter of Turkish Cypriot origin who was born and raised in London. She has translated authors such as Nevin Halɪcɪ, Mehmet Yashin and Ahmet Altan into English.
‘A writer of passion, memory and heart, Sönmez revives not only the stories of a land but also its bruised conscience.’
Elif Shafak, author of The Bastard of Istanbul
‘A profoundly moving story about the transformative power of words in times of desperation’
Ece Temelkuran, author of The Insane and the Melancholy
‘A harrowing, riveting novel, as unforgettable as it is inescapable.’
Dale Peck, author of Visions and Revisions
‘A wrenching love poem to Istanbul told between torture sessions by four prisoners in their cell beneath the city. An ode to pain in which Dostoevsky meets The Decameron.’
John Ralston Saul, author of On Equilibrium; former president, PEN International
'Destined to become a classic’
‘Ten days, ten stories and ten chapters, like Boccaccio’s Decameron ... This novel will, I predict, itself become a classic.’
‘Sonmez has created in Istanbul Istanbul a measured classic.’
‘With his parable-like novel, Sönmez strides across the entire spectrum of inhumane suffering and human powers of resistance. … This is a uniquely intense and shocking novel of a kind seldom found on the contemporary publishing landscape. Scintillating, relentless and with a humanity that will resonate for a long time to come.’
'Istanbul Istanbul is full of light, colour, joy and freedom ... A deeply moving study of the relationship between pain and the human imagination.'
West Camel, #RivetingReviews