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(an excerpt)
by Ayșe Kulin
Translated from the Turkish by Kenneth J. Dakan


A Mansion in Occupied Istanbul

Snowfall loses its grandeur out of season. Instead of transforming Istanbul into a shimmering city of mother-of-pearl, the snow—which had arrived at the end of a long and arduous winter, just as the flowers were expected to bloom—resembled confectioners' sugar haphazardly scattered across the muddy streets and peeling wooden houses. In the Beyazit district, the driver of a two-horse carriage—his face red, his fingers numb with cold—drew back on his reins at the top of the second street leading down to the sea. The carriage slid several yards before stopping. Wary of shod hooves on patches of ice, the passenger, Ahmet Reșat, had decided to spare the horses and finish his trip home on foot. He descended from the carriage, paid the driver, and picked his way with cautious footsteps down the street, across the scattered snow. Soon it would be time for the morning call to prayer. Reșat Bey was worn out—his meeting had been prematurely concluded, the participants far too exhausted to think, let alone speak. He paused for a moment in the middle of the street, silently praying that his wife was still asleep, before slipping into the stately home on the right. He was in no condition, at this early hour, to answer questions.

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His fingers had barely grazed the garden gate when it opened beneath them. "Good morning, sir," said Hüsnü Efendi.

"What are you doing in the garden at this hour," said Reșat. "Didn't I tell you all not to wait up for me?"

"I was getting up to pray in any case. And I saw you from the window. You're worn out, sir."

"Of course I am. How many days have we all gone without sleep? God help us."


The look Ahmet Reșat gave his manservant was intended to reassure. Not only were Hüsnü Efendi's eyes filled with anxiety, he was obstructing his master's passage.

"There's no bad news, Hüsnü Efendi—business, that's all that kept me. Business. Go on now, pray. Off with you."

Hüsnü raced ahead to open the front door. Stepping across the threshold, Ahmet Reșat caught a sharp whiff of disinfectant. He grimaced, sank down on the footstool beside the door, removed his shoes and placed his fez on the appointed shelf, handed his coat to Hüsnü, and entered the selamlık in stocking feet. Hoping to nap for a few hours, he threw himself onto the divan before the window, face down, resting his forehead in the cupped palms of his hands. He had a splitting headache. Casting from his mind the discussions and events of the previous twenty-four hours, he tried to relax as Mahir had counseled him—clearing his mind, taking deep breaths. He drew one, released it slowly . . . and another . . . and another. Yes, his friend's advice had been sound. He stretched and yawned, rolling onto his back, placing the cushion he'd tossed to the floor beneath his head. But he'd barely dozed off when he was startled by the tobacco-coarsened voice of his aunt.

"What kind of person stays out until this hour, with an invalid in the house?"

Collecting himself as he sat up, Reșat muttered, "It's not for my own pleasure."

"Well then, what exactly is it that's been keeping you away until dawn?"

"You know the state of affairs."

"Affairs of state are best handled by day, my son. Nights are for prayer, for sleep. Your grandfathers' duties were no less exalted than yours, but come night they slept in their own beds."

"And how lucky they were that our country wasn't under occupation, Aunt."

"That's all I hear—the occupation! What's done is done. There's no fighting the past or death. But your nephew, he's still alive. Less concern for the health of the nation and more for my grandson, if you will. He coughed all night again. Soon he'll be spitting up blood. He needs to get to the hospital directly. Today."

"But he'd recovered—aren't you exaggerating?"

"Don't believe me, Reșat? Night after night he coughs, and you're not around to hear it. I've been trying to catch you for days. Kemal's cough syrup is nearly gone, and we're running low on coal. We can't even heat the house properly."

"I'll see if there's any syrup left in the Pera pharmacies. As for the coal, Aunt, even the Palace is running short. We'll have to burn wood."

"But there isn't any wood to be had, either. And we've got to keep Kemal's floor warm."

"Have the gardener chop down the trees at the end of the garden." Ahmet Reșat got up from the divan and patted his aunt on the back."I'll go have a look at Kemal," he said.

"Looking at him won't help. Take him to the hospital."

"You know that's not possible."


"Because he'd be arrested on the spot. His photograph's been posted for months; he'd be recognized immediately."

"Are you calling my grandson a traitor? Which of you went off to freeze in that white hell? Which of you took up arms for the nation? He's a traitor—the rest of you are heroes. Is that it?"

"I'm no hero. But the police aren't looking for me, either."

"The government that issued his arrest warrant has fallen, hasn't it? Does the present government have the power of decree? What are you so afraid of?"

"Aunt, governments rise and fall, but the Sultan remains."

"All I know is that Kemal needs medical attention. Now."

"Look, you brought him into this house without my knowledge or consent, and I turned a blind eye for your sake. So he wouldn't be suffering out on the streets. But don't expect me to jeopardize my family. If it's consumption, there's nothing the hospital can do for him beyond the customary tending. Thanks to you, Kemal is well cared for here at home: Mehpare is at his bedside night and day. We'll do our best to get him medicine. I beg you, let's end this discussion once and for all."

"Reșat, you rat!"

As his aunt stormed from the room towards the staircase, Ahmet Reșat sank back onto the divan, his newly throbbing head cupped helplessly in his hands.

Ahmet Reșat was indeed besieged by a host of troubles. His fugitive nephew couldn't be taken in for treatment, and the only doctor they could call was Mahir, a close family friend. Were it to become known that Ahmet Reșat was sheltering Kemal, he would face immediate exile, with no regard for his explanations, his years of service, or his position. He was caught between his oblivious and aging aunt and the protests of his wife, who was terrified that their children would be infected with consumption. The two women agreed that Kemal should be sent to the hospital, if for very different reasons. Kemal's condition wasn't improving at home. The disastrous misadventure of Sarikamiș had left him a broken man. Guilty of politically-motivated crimes, the scalawag had sided first with the partisans of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP); when they were swept to power after the revolution of 1908, he'd turned his back on them, alienating not only CUP supporters but their opponents as well. Kemal was a true liberal, and the rift with CUP had been wide. But the damage had been done, and he would be forever associated with their cause. In fact, information of an unsettling nature had recently reached Ahmet Reșat: some of his colleagues had taken to referring to Kemal as "Reșat's mutinous nephew."

While the nephew may, in fact, have deserved all the contempt he received, the uncle did not. Kemal had been mired in trouble since his first day at the lycée, associating with agitators from the Young Turks to the Masons. He'd also become friendly with opposition writers, going so far as to have articles published under his own name in a magazine known to be disagreeable to the Palace.

Kemal had been thrilled when CUP took over the reins of governance, but it hadn't been long before he'd made enemies of them as well. So much so, that he had volunteered to battle the Russians in faraway Sarikamiș just to get away from them—as well as to serve the homeland, of course.

But Kemal and thousands of his fellow soldiers had had no idea of what awaited them in the North. Istanbul's soldiers departed from Haydarpașa Station to the accompaniment of fluttering handkerchiefs, a marching band, prayers, votive offerings, and the sacrificial slaughter of livestock. The pomp and high spirits proved to be short-lived. First came the long train ride to the furthest reaches of Anatolia, where mobilization to the front continued in the ice, by oxcart. When the soldiers finally reached camp, the hell that greeted them wasn't one of flame, but rather of glacial whiteness—a scalding cold that burned their arms and legs and faces, that raised blisters and opened wounds on their unprotected skin.

Few of them managed to survive the catastrophe of Sarikamiș. Kemal's relatives had braced themselves for news of his death, and were relieved to learn that he'd merely been captured. Nine months later they found him in front of the garden gate, barely alive, physically shattered. While they'd succeeded in slowly nursing his broken body back to health through many months of treatment at the hospital, followed by a year of devoted care at home, all the patience in the world had failed to heal his spirit.

Ahmet Reșat had disapproved of his nephew's imprudence, but, in light of the boy's sufferings in Sarikamiș, he did his best to forgive and forget. Allah had spared his life and reunited him with his family; perhaps the Palace would be equally forgiving—surely he regretted his foolhardiness. Kemal was well-educated, well-versed in languages; he'd seen the world; he was a skilled writer: surely he could be of use as a translator? Through the force of his good name and connections at the Palace, Ahmet Reșat had managed to secure a position and save his nephew. But sadly, this solution hadn't lasted.

Kemal's sufferings seemed to have taught him nothing: this time, he got himself mixed up with the Nationalists. Even as the uncle was applying for clemency to the Grand Vizier himself, the incorrigible nephew was penning articles critical of the government for publication in the Vakit and Akșam broadsheets—again, under his own name. Finally, the palace issued an arrest warrant.

Reșat Bey had absolved himself of any responsibility for his nephew, and promptly evicted him. He'd been enraged to discover that Saraylıhanım had smuggled her grandson, whose health had deteriorated once more, back into the house, and secretly installed him in the attic with the servants. More than anything, Reșat was furious with his wife for having colluded with her. He could well imagine how his aunt had cajoled, bribed and threatened the rest of the household into silence, but surely Behice wasn't so easily bullied. As he listened to her defending herself through a flood of tears, he couldn't decide if she'd been motivated by pity, as she claimed, or if it was the extremely valuable diamond brooch, presented to his aunt some years ago by one of the Sultan's adoptive mothers—a Circassian, if memory served—that had finally won her over. Reșat knew only too well that his aunt was as adept at bribery as his wife was fond of baubles. Still, his conscience wouldn't permit him to throw his convalescent nephew back into the streets, and so he was allowed to remain in the servants' quarters until he had regained his health.

Ahmet Reșat was drifting away from his family. It had been weeks since he'd seen his daughters or spoken to his wife. He would arrive home while everyone was asleep and set off for work in the early morning darkness, before anyone else was awake. So removed was he from the grievances and tribulations of his household that he felt as though he lived in another city.

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Originally published in Turkish as Veda by Everest Yayınları, Cağaloğlu, 2007
Copyright © 2007 by Ayșe Kulin
Translation copyright © 2012 by Kenneth J. Dakan
Dalkey Archive Press, 2012, All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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