One of Turkey’s most interesting modern writers.

Portrait of Bilge KarasuBilge Karasu

Bilge Karasu

Bilge Karasu (1930–1995) was born in Istanbul and became the pre-eminent Turkish modernist writer. Besides short stories and novels he was also a well-known translator. A graduate of the philosophy department of the Faculty of Letters of Istanbul University, Mr. Karasu worked in the foreign broadcast department of Radio Ankara until a Rockefeller University scholarship made it possible for him to continue his studies in Europe. After returning to Turkey, he went to work at Hacettepe University, where he lectured in philosophy. In 1963, Mr. Karasu won the Turkish Language Institute’s Translation Award with Olen Adam, for a translation of D. H. Lawrence’s The Man Who Died. By that time, he had begun to experiment with new forms of expression in his collection of stories entitled Troya’da Olum Vardi (Death in Troy). He won the Sait Faik Story Award eight years later with Uzun Surmus Bir Gundu Aksami (Evening of a Long Day). By the beginning of the 1980s, he had tried an abstract form of expression in Gocmus Kediler Bahcesi (The Garden of Departed Cats) and incorporated other forms of art into his writing. He attempted different uses of form and content in works he styled “texts” rather than “stories.” His other works include Kismet Bufessi (Kiosk of Destiny), a collection of short stories; and Kilavuz (The Guide).

cover image of the book The Garden of Departed Cats

The Garden of Departed Cats

In an ancient Mediterranean city, a traditional archaic game of human chess is staged once every ten years. The players (tourists versus locals) bear weapons and the chess game may prove as potentially lethal as the magnetic attraction our narrator feels for the local man who is the Captain of the home team. Each brief interaction between the men comprises a chapter of The Garden of Departed Cats; interleafed between those chapters are a dozen fables. One tale features a terrible stoat-like creature that feeds for years on any person it sinks its claws into, like guilt. Another concerns a kind of tulip, a “red salamander,” which dooms anyone who eats it to never tell a lie again. An otherworldly fish “catches” a fisherman. An apprentice acrobat fears his master. These twelve strange fables––parables moving from guilt and denial to truth, and on to desire––work independently of the main narrative but, in unpredictable ways (reminiscent of Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table), echo and double the chief theme of The Garden of Departed Cats which is the nature of love.

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One of Turkey’s most interesting modern writers.


Fascinating … [The Garden of Departed Cats] is an illuminating transitional work between the work of Turkey’s romantic realist Yashar Kemal and contemporary postmodernist Orhan Pamuk. Very much the best book of Karasu’s to have appeared in English translation (a splendidly lyrical one, incidentally). More please.

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