Dawn by Selahattin Demirtas


Selahattin Demirtas

A new novel from Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint, SJP for Hogarth, Dawn paints a remarkable portrait of life behind the headlines in Turkey and the Middle East – in all its hardship and adversity, freedom and hope.

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A new book from Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint, SJP for Hogarth: Written from behind bars, the unforgettable collection from one of Turkey’s leading politicians and most powerful storytellers.
In this essential collection, Selahattin Demirtaş’s arresting stories capture the voices of ordinary people living through extraordinary times. A cleaning lady is caught up in a violent demonstration on her way to work. A five-year-old girl attempts to escape war-torn Syria with her mother by boat. A suicide bombing shatters a neighborhood in Aleppo. And in the powerful story, 'Seher', a young factory worker is robbed of her dreams in an unimaginable act of violence.
Written with Demirtas’s signature wit, warmth, and humor, and alive with the rhythms of everyday speech, DAWN paints a remarkable portrait of life behind the headlines in Turkey and the Middle East – in all its hardship and adversity, freedom and hope.

Advance Galley Reviews

I confess that I didn't enjoy reading these stories, but I did find them haunting. The people populating this collection are victims of a political and cultural regime whose voices are important to hear, but at times challenging to understand fully. I do appreciate having the opportunity to read this collection from Penguin's First to Read program.

This collection of short stories was written behind bars by a human rights lawyer and politician who is a political prisoner in Turkey. That backstory is important, because without it I’m not sure that these stories would have been published. At least not in the United States. Each of the stories is very short. They touch on the lives of a range of people from different economic circumstances, genders and ages, but in each case the voice of the protagonist sounds the same. The writing feels very basic and colorless, like a child writing a “how I spent my summer vacation” essay. Maybe something was lost in translation. However, the themes of most of the stories are quite serious. Some of them have a profound impact. I think more could have been done to make the stories accessible to people unfamiliar with Turkey. There are notes at the back of the book that help with an understanding of names, places and customs, but it would have been more useful to have this information while you are reading the relevant story, and not after you have finished the entire book. Some of the stories that I found particularly powerful were “Seher” about a young woman who pays a terrible price for a little freedom; “Nazan the Cleaning Lady” about a girl accidentally caught up in a demonstration; and “Mermaid” about a 5 year old refugee from Syria. There were also a few stories that I didn’t understand at all, like the last story in the book that doesn’t seem to have an ending. So, this collection was kind of a mixed bag for me and while some of the stories were memorable I thought the writing was generally clunky. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 because of the stories that I liked. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Like Selahattin Demirtas, I was affected by both the declining state of human rights and the alarming drop in online freedom in Turkey as the current regime grew increasingly totalitarian over the last few years. Unlike Demirtas, my spouse's liberties were only somewhat restricted after 2016 (and not for the same reasons, obviously), and we were finally permitted to leave Turkey last summer. With that chapter of our lives now behind us, I was eager to "see" Turkey again through the eyes of an author whose past and current hardships are much more arduous than my own, knowing that his life experiences would have shaped the way he views his country and the people and situations in it. Thoughtful and wry, his preface is not to be missed. Demirtas's explanations about his current situation as a political prisoner help underscore his stories about everyday people with added urgency and weight. In Dawn, some of the lives we peer into are stereotypically Turkish -- Demirtas takes the conservative and traditional cultural mores ingrained by religion, forced on people by shifting politics, and flays them for the world to see. Gender roles are strict, traditionally defined. Double standards for men and women? A given. But the overarching theme across these stories seems to be a sense of helplessness. The people who populate Demirtas's worlds find themselves hapless victims of ugly circumstances, with little choice or recourse in the matter -- these characters are puppets buffeted left and right by harsh gales of wind, unable to grab the reins of fate and achieve the outcomes that they do want. The way this theme insinuates itself through Demirtas's stories isn't surprising, considering that Demirtas is currently still wrongfully imprisoned, along with thousands of others, based on political whim and circumstantial evidence. Because of the time I spent in Turkey, I could easily picture the sights and sounds of the many locales featured in Dawn, from the protests amid big-city street rubble to the bleak but quiet village vistas. However, Demirtas does not try to paint any visuals for the foreign reader. His prose is spare and assumes some familiarity with Turkish soil. Readers who have not experienced the many faces of Turkey miss out on the true flavor of these stories. I questioned somewhat how accurately Demirtas's stories reflect modern Turkey. I'm well-aware that honor killings and child brides are unfortunately still a part of the fabric of Turkish life, despite being illegal -- I saw news coverage several times a year while in Turkey, and I spent most of my time with highly conservative, traditional families who quit schooling after 5th grade (older generation) or high school (newer generation) and don't expect women to hold roles other than mother and homemaker. But I also lived in a big city (Ankara) in an upscale community of educated, well-traveled, white-collar Turks, people who seemed sprung from a starkly different world. I believe that Demirtas's stories depict mostly one side of the Turkish experience (the poor, the conservative, the victims) and omit some of the contradictions and clashes that happen when new and old are sandwiched next to each other, with traditionalists maintaining their ways despite immersion in the modern world, despite the internet and other media providing them a constant window to vastly different types of lives and ways of thinking. These contradictions are very much also a part of everyday Turkish life. At any rate, what I've found is that a person's view of Turkey is greatly influenced by the environment they find themselves in and the people they surround themselves with. There is no way to paint life in Turkey with broad strokes. Demirtas's evocative stories about the general human condition spoke to me, sometimes gouged me a little inside as I remembered the people I crossed paths with. I wish that some of the narratives had been drawn out more, filled in with more details, instead of ending abruptly, and I hope Demirtas might one day write stories intended for foreigners, embellishing with details that would bring not just the people, but the whole country, to life -- for all of us.

I have a husband who is Turkish, so I know a bit about Demirtas's political activity. This short story collection is not far removed from his political life. I think that many of the stories managed to be both political and enjoyable to read. The first story in the collection, for instance, felt a bit forced to me. It was a political statement that he tried, unsuccessfully, to mask in a story. There are a few stories that I feel to be a bit outdated and not representative of modern Turkey, at least not the Turkey of every Turk I've ever met. The title story is one that I find particularly outdated. Then there are others, like "Nazan the Cleaning Lady," perfectly capture the current political climate in Turkey and those just trying to survive in the midst of the chaos. Demirtas's stories are definitely a mixed bag but are, for the most part, enjoyable.

In 12 short stories, Demirtas makes use of compact storytelling to tell much more. I always envy short story writers because they can tell so much in so little words, but it’s also frustrating because sometimes it feels like there’s no resolution. This is not bad in a literary way, the author has done his or her job, but in an emotional way. An intense and often disturbing look at the world, "Dawn" has some hope though it's hard to pinpoint in all the destruction of lives the characters go through. Still, the writer's own preface and ending story are hopeful bookends to the bleakness. A really interesting choice and well-written work for the SJP for Hogarth imprint.

I have never read a collection of short stories as powerful as this one. Living in the U.S. it's easy to keep the violence and oppression of other countries at a short distance, but this book really brought it to the forefront of my mind. It was uncomfortable and hard to read at times, but that's how it should be. This was made all the more interesting by the preface, where the author explained he was writing it from jail. I'll be thinking about this book long after I've read it.

Dawn is a collection of short stories written from prison by a Turkish human rights lawyer turned politician.  I often don't enjoy short story collections as much as I wish I would, but this one completely blew me away. Especially for a work in translation. You can tell the author has a massive intellect and a playful way with words. The stories vacillate between laugh-out-loud irony and gut-punching pathos. For style and tone, I was reminded a little of the greats of Russian literature, but the subject-matter is all his own.  Don't skip the preface. --which all by itself, is literature of the caliber to be added to university curriculums. Thanks to Penguin First Reads for the free ARC!

Written from behind bars in a maximum security prison in Edirne, Turkey, Dawn's dozen short stories illicit heartbreak, humor, courage, pride, fear, resignation, and, ultimately, hope. Each and together, these stories, translated from the Turkish, show the new normal for an oppressed people. Every story packs a gut-punch. I loved them all. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy short stories, those with socio-political curiosity, as well as the gen-pop.

Courage, fear, heartbreak hope and even humor tumble off the pages of Dawn, the debut story collection by Selahattin Demirtas. Some of the stories read like fables, others are a brief, but compelling look at the struggles of individuals in Turkey and Syria.

Dawn is a deeply affecting read. The stories are simple in their presentation, but emotional in content. The stories are short, but very poignant. I wasn't familiar with Selahattin Demirtas prior to reading this, but I'm glad I had the opportunity to read this work.

These are short stories about everyday people, Demirtas writes. But these are stories about people in situations far from those in a country such as the U.S. In one story, a young woman is raped. She returns home but then finds that she is to be killed by her brothers and father. It is about the honor of the family. In another story a woman on her way to work smells tear gas. A demonstration must be nearby. She's hit on the head by something. Collapsed and bleeding, she is taken to jail with protesters. Even though innocent, she is in jail for months, waiting. Some of the stories are intensely touching. Some of the stories I did not understand, even though they were haunting. What I did gather from reading the stories included glimpses of living in a world with which I am totally unfamiliar. A world where there is another bombing, 68 people dead that day. The drive to continue living under such circumstances is amazing. When asked why he had chosen Seher (Dawn) as the name for the main character in the title story of the book, Demirtas said dawn represented hope, dealing the first blow to the darkness when darkness thinks it has won. (166) This is a good book for readers who would like a glimpse into another world. I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

There’s a saying in Turkey: if you want to be a writer, you need to go to prison. That would appear to be the case for Selahattin Demirtas, former leader of the Kurdish party and charismatic author imprisoned in November of 2016. His collection of short stories is his first published work of fiction and he wrote it from behind bars. The stories in DAWN are by turn grim, bleak, chilling, and hopeful. Demirtas writes about life on the fringe, working-class people, some on the margins of society, some achieving success and wealth in modern-day Turkey and all contemplating a more open and free democracy while searching for meaning in life. The title story, one of the darkest, illustrates the barbaric cultural practice of "Honor Killing", highlighting the clash of conservative values with the country’s rapid modernization. Another dire tale tells the story of boyhood friends who migrate to Istanbul in search of work and money to send home to their families and village. They are undocumented workers at the mercy of their employer and toil for 15 months straight only to have the accountant disappear on the day they are to be paid for all their hard work. Mercifully, Demirtas employs his wit and sense of optimism and lightens the mood with a satirical "Letter to the Prison Letter-Reading Committee" and the humorous "Asuman, Look What You've Done" about a student on a very long bus ride who is told a tall tale by the driver. The author says, "“What readers or voters expect from the writer and politician are, in essence, the same: to be inspired.” In this collection of poignant snapshots of a country on the brink of change, Demirtas manages to do just that. His own story is one of resistance and perseverance and in these fictional stories, the reader will appreciate the pervasive optimism underlying the difficult political and cultural climate that is Turkey today. Thank you to Penguin Random House FIRST TO READ program for a digital ARC of this book in exchange for a candid review.

Short stories aren't my typical fare, but I loved both of the previous books published by SJP for Hogarth. This book is unique in that it was written behind bars by a political prisoner in Turkey; the introduction is particularly fascinating as it shines a light on Demirtas' backstory and motivation to write fiction. Some of the stories are political parables of sorts though they never feel like propaganda as any agenda usually refers to human rights. The tone of the stories vary, a few are tragic while others shine with hope and even have moments of humor (amazing when you consider the conditions under which the stories were written). Some of the stories are clearly inspired by Demirtas' prison stay while others are stories of lovers or families. The notes in the back explain some of the terms, people, and places particular to Turkey and/or the Middle East - these would have been more helpful had they been placed with their corresponding stories, however, I read an ARC and this may be addressed in final publication. While a few of the stories are too metaphorical and one or two are somewhat predictable, this is an enjoyable collection overall.

Dawn is a unique collection of short stories, made all the more poignant by the author's personal situation. Each story has its own distinct voice, but they all work together well. Dawn is a quick read but is deeply affecting and will stay with you long after you finish it.

"Dawn marks the first moments when light emerges from darkness. Dawn represents hope, revives itself anew each day. Darkness thinks itself eternal, and just as it believes it has defeated the light, dawn deals the first blow. This is the moment that brings an end to darkness and marks the beginning of light.” This is a book of short stories about Turkish life written by an author who has written his book from a maximum-security prison in Edirne, where he is still being held. Dawn is his first work of fiction. These stories reflect the hope that the oppressed year for. A good debut for this author.

As the author said, this book is about stories of ordinary people. The author has the ability to extract the spirit of these ordinary people and weave it into the greater themes of religion, gender, politics, life and soul, with simple but penetrating language

Dawn by Selahattin Demirtas is an outstanding collection of short stories written as Demirtas, who is part of the Kurdish People Democratic Party has been serving time as a political prisoner in Turkey since 2016. The collection of stories are about everyday people who are killed or injustly imprisoned such as young daughter who is raped by a coworker then is killed by her family because of it, a five year old who dies trying to escape Syria with her mother, or the false arrest of a cleaning lady. The stories tug at your heart for their lack of justice and the hopelessness you feel as the writer draws you into their story. “ I truly believe that it will be the women, young, and the oppressed people of both the ‘East and West who will lead the fight to end injustice and inequality and be the creators of a universal language of politics that will speak to the hearts and minds of those living both in the developed world and under authoritarian regimes.”

This is a beautiful book of short stories. I received an electronic advance copy from Penguin's First to Read program, but I will likely but a print copy when it is released in the U.S. The book opens with a preface from the author, explaining that he is writing the book as a political prisoner in a high security prison in Turkey. Knowing that information is essential to understanding the stories that follow. They are character driven and often those characters are in desperate situations. I appreciate the author's perspective and the way his describe are often beautiful, even when describing very imperfect and even tragic situations.

Dawn is a collection of short stories that is bound to leave a lasting impression. The author is jailed in Turkey as a politcal prisoner. In these stories of the people the reader will find a little girl who dreams of being a mermaid, an honor killing, young boys working on a construction crew and more. The writing is clear and spare but packs an emotional punch or leaves us chuckling at the author’s sly humor. I don’t often read short stories but I found this collection to be beautiful, and haunting, and horrific by turns.

Let me give you some advice: Read this book. Start with the author's note/ prologue. Read it slowly. Think about it's point. Value the freedom you have, and consider the lack of freedom the author has. Then, slowly, slowly, read each of the stories. Read them again and again. This book is so insane affecting. I am stunned by the author's ability to weave so much out of so few words. Each story is fairly short. Stories touch on violence, misogyny, freedom, family, and age. Each story uses language in different ways, highlighting the breadth of the author's skill. But, all of them show how fragile humanity is. We live at the mercy of our society. Our society thrives at our mercy. While deep, the stories also have edges of satire, humor, and sarcasm. How did the author manage it all, while being in jail? This book is the best short story collection I have read in quite a while. Even without the author's amazing story, of being imprisoned for using free speech, this story is extraordinary. With the author's challenges in mind, the book is unthinkably amazing.


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