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The City and the Writer: In Istanbul with Beldan Sezen

By Nathalie Handal

If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Can you describe the mood of Istanbul as you feel/see it?

Recently, the city feels gloomy and like one big construction site. What I once experienced as lively, charming, and indulgent now feels empty. Fear and uneasiness accompany the days, for a suicide attempt could happen any time or groups of religious men armed can roam the streets of the neighborhoods at night, eager to provoke a fight.

What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?

Seeing a child, not older than five, sleeping in a cardboard bed made of old fruit boxes. The child was curled up under a street lantern on a very busy street late at night with people passing by continuously. The cover, also of cardboard, hardly reached the kid’s shoulders.

What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?

Its melancholy and grim sense of humor.

What writer(s) from here should we read?

Perihan Magden and Tezer Özlü for fiction, Bejan Matur and Orhan Veli for poetry.

Is there a place here you return to often?

The Savoy Pastanesi and the tea garden next to the mosque, both in the Cihangir neighborhood. Also, the Hazzopulo Passage Tea Garden on Istiklal, which is tucked away against the walls of a church.

Is there an iconic literary place we should know?

There is the train station, Sirkeci Terminal (the Orient Express departure station), and the Pera Palace Hotel (associated with Agatha Christie). For me, it’s mainly the streets of Istanbul as shown, for example, in Fatih Akin’s documentary Crossing the Bridge—The Sound of Istanbul.

Are there hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?

There are many I don’t know anything about . . . the back alleys are intriguing.

Where does passion live here?

In songs and in the creative commotion of market sellers.

What is the title of one of your works about Istanbul and what inspired it exactly?

I Saw an Act of Kindness. It’s a photo book about my stay in Istanbul during the winter of 2016. Through random walks through Istanbul, I tried to capture the city and its inhabitants dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis, suicide bombings by the Islamic State, conservative religious street gangs, and the lingering civil war in the East.

I witnessed on a cold gray day in January a young man wrapping a blanket around a homeless guy who was sitting on the stone steps with just a ripped sweater. He spoke to him, stroked his head, and went on his way. The man, huddled in the blanket, looked a bit less desperate.

Inspired by Levi, “Outside of Istanbul does an outside exist?”



Beldan Sezen is a visual storyteller using various conventions of comics and filmIn 2008 her animated cartoon From the Diaries of Two Breasts premiered at the Pink Film Days in Amsterdam. Her short comic A Girl Named Halt was published as a matchbox-book in 2009 and has become a collector’s item. In 2011 she won the Three-in-One Chapbook Contest Prize for her graphic short stories Fear City, Girls, and Demons. Her first graphic-murder mystery, Zakkum, was first installed in a museum space, Frauenmuseum Wiesbaden, as a giant walk-though of the book and was published in 2011 by Treehouse Press, London, and listed for the 2012 Lambda Literary Award. Her first work as a comic reporter, #Gezi Park, was listed for the 2014 Lambda Literary Award. Her second graphic novel, Snapshots of a Girl, was published in 2014. She was awarded a 2015 Global Arts Fund Award by the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. Her recent books are represented by Booklyn, and institutional collectors include The New York Public Library, Grinnell College, University of Delaware, Stanford University, and the Library of Congress.

Published Jan 9, 2017   Copyright 2017 Nathalie Handal

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