IN THE NEWS
English Translation, Ozkan Binol, Article, Yeni Asir, Sabah, Istanbul, 7/22/2012
She novelized her mother-in-law’s story
Adalet, (Her name means “Justice” in Turkish), an open-minded Muslim woman who prayed five times a day, was very modern lady with universal thoughts. Forty Thorns tells her story.
My guest this week, American author Judy Light Ayyildiz, has been married to Vedii Ayyildiz, a Turkish doctor, 50 years. Receiver of a Nazim Hikmet Poetry Award in 2009, novelist Judy takes the reader to the early years of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. She is a sincere admirer of Ataturk as she relates the life story of her mother-in-law.
Here I would like to thank to Dr Vedii Ayyildiz and Murvet Celen for their contribution in this interview.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers more closely?
I was born in West Virginia, and have always been interested in the creativity-driven life. Earlier, I was a music teacher, took part in musicals and sang on stage. For 20 years, I enjoyed acting roles in theaters and gave solo concerts. But, I have been writing since second grade. In mid-life, I said, "I want to be a professional writer," and went back to the university, while all at the same time, I had three children to care for. My husband was a practicing doctor. At any rate, I started to learn new things again. Eventually, I received a master of liberal arts by combining music and poetry. My poetry began to be nationally published; and then, I received a scholarship to get a master’s degree in the field of creative writing. After that, I taught creative writing for 30 years.
How did you meet your spouse?
In my junior year in the university, three female friends and I rented an apartment together. Two of them were going out and playing tennis with a Turkish doctor. They introduced him to me. Apparently, I was very impressed with his personality, his dialect and big heart .... We met in April and married in November. That was nearly fifty years ago now.
MY HUSBAND WAS A HUMANIST
50 years ago, to enter into marriage with a foreigner was not a common event, and not an easy decision. How did you reach this decision and what kind reaction did you receive in your community?
At that time I was a Christian, but also a humanistic person who was fascinated by all religions and cultures. Vedii was also a humanist. I had always perceived the world as a whole soul. The difference between religions doesn’t bother me as long as there is freedom. Basically, the majority of progressive religions believe that one God is the creator. These want to share the positive purpose of living together and loving each other on this little blue planet. In fact, the most difficult thing is to be able to accept each other. Jesus said, “Do not fret about the other orders from God, only love each other.” My husband and I decided from the beginning to work on communication. Religion never became a problem for us. You also asked about my community’s response to my marriage. There was a lot of worry about my future, and some rejection. In time, I think most of them came to like Vedii better than me.
You are a music teacher, as well as a writer ... How did your education in music affect your writing?
Quite a lot. When I decided to become a writer, I thought I should give up music because I had a family. Naturally, I knew how much dedication any of the arts requires. I would focus on writing. Therefore, I took many elements of music and put them to my writing, and my style became very lyrical. For example, if I am writing about riding a horse, the lines of the description might have the rhythm of the ride. In writing, I use tools such as textures, color mode, tone choice and rhythm in order to create mood.
Source of pride
You have books of poetry, and you received a Nazim Hikmet Poetry Award. How has this award affected you?
It is an honor for me. Nazim Hikmet is one of my favorite poets. There are two books that affected me very deeply. The first one, Leaves of Grass, belongs to the American writer, Walt Whitman. Whitman is a foremost founder of modern poetry in America. His book explored the land, the people, social environment and the human spirit of America. When I discovered The Human Landscape, I said that Nazim Hikmet is the Walt Whitman of Turkey. Both wrote about their country and its people. Like Whitman, Nazim laid a solid foundation for modern poetry for his nation. Nazim also wrote about everything concerning the country such as suffering, happiness, marriage, love and betrayal. He was surreal at times, but he captured the spirit of his people. For those reasons, to hear his name with my name is a source of pride that humbles me.
Let's move to your first novel, 40 Thorns ... Tell us a little bit about your book.
In the beginning, I never thought this story would develop into a novel. Adalet was one brave woman who had a singular place in the universal struggle for self-determination and women’s rights. She was extremely open-minded and progressive. Early on in my marriage, Adalet and I became very fond of each other. I respected her. So, that's how it began. At the age of 91, she asked me to come to Istanbul spend the summer with her. "Judy, I want to tell you all my life," she said. "I'm not important but my story is." Her mind was mentally sound. She had a better memory than me. So, I made the trip to Istanbul and we began the story with video and tapes. Every morning she came out of her room delicately dressed up as if she were an actress going on stage. At the time, I did not realize what her story would become, but now I think she might have known. Unfortunately she died a year later.
In the beginning didn't you design the book as a biography?
Yes, but as I continued writing, I realized that this story of the life and love story of a woman was also a saga about the heart of the Turkish people. It was about the power of the human spirit to create something lasting out of the ruins of devastation. The experiences of the end of the Ottoman Empire and the turmoil following to the rise of the Turkish Republic are actually one of the miracle-stories of the world. It is a unique story of hope rising from despair—and the republic has continued to grow for almost 90 years. Why? Because of the great heart and spirit and ability to triumph with gratitude that is found in people like the woman, Adalet. Only the power of the spirit can create.
SEARCHED SEVEN YEARS
How many years did it take to write the book?
My research took seven years. Initially, I came to the realization that Turkish history is like a baklava—multi-layered and ancient. With Thrace and Anatolia, we are talking about a mosaic of civilizations including the age-old Sumerian, Hittite, Roman and Lycian. Each layer of culture took something from what came before. So, I went back many centuries. When finally I began to write, I felt Adalet’s spirit. Sometimes, it was as if she were looking over my shoulder as I wrote. "No, no, not so," she sometimes seemed to be telling me. “Look—it happened this way."
Actually, you haven't just written the story of a woman, you have written the history of Turkey.
I am sure that every Turk has already studied his or her own history. I'm not trying to tell this history again. Maybe I’m unfolding it for the Americans, yes, but not for the Turks. On the other hand, even those who know the history will perhaps see it from a different perspective, and we are talking about wars and nation building from this single woman, Adalet’s, point of view. Sometimes when we see our own history through the pen of a stranger and through the eyes of one who lived the times, history takes on freshness. For example, we might have heard that "150,000 people died in the Balkan War," and then replied, “That is terrible," but the number is just too much and it is hard to establish a connection with those people who died. But, if you hear intimate details of what happened to one person who lived in the disaster you will feel their grief as a reality. In this way, oral history is an individual truth of history, on the spot and up close. I would like to see the common people write their stories. Turks who are reading Forty Thorns seem to be establishing a personal bond with Adalet. They have told me that she becomes like their own grandmother. Everybody has oral stories. The layered history of Turkey is full.
Ataturk, the great hero in my eyes -
Ataturk is one of the heroes of the book.
He is a hero to me. The more I learn about him as an individual, a leader and humanist, the greater he becomes. Of course, the miracle of the Turkish Republic would not have happened without him. When you study Ataturk, you will see he is not just a creative person and a military general with a high IQ. You will also recognize a visionary with charisma endowed with the power of action and word that can give people faith to do the impossible. Once, at a conference where I was on a panel discussing the Balkan Wars, one of the professors there asked me, “Did Ataturk make any big mistakes?" “Yes," I said. “He died early." Indeed, sometimes I would think if he had lived just twenty years more, some of the damaging '50s, '60s and '70s events in Turkey could have been prevented,
What did Adalet think about Ataturk?
“He was our everything,” she said. Besides, she experienced what he accomplished for women in a short period of time. “I saw his love for our country,” she said, “And when I saw him as a teacher for all of us, I really started to like him." Ataturk, as a leader, worked unceasingly for the people until he wore himself out. He constantly lit up like a candle that eventually burned up. I couldn’t find fault in him as a leader. Today, Ataturk is an international persona. He no longer belongs only to the Turks. I answered a student who asked me why I'm repeating the story of Ataturk again, "Do not worry about him," I said, "Maybe you are bored with hearing about Ataturk, but Ataturk’s legacy belongs to the world. He is recognized as a prime an example of statesmanship. You can read that Sir Winston Churchill said that Ataturk is probably the greatest leader of the past century. Such a one rising up in Turkey should be a source of pride to young Turks like you. Your nation will be subject to many changes and may progress on the world stage. But if you forget who you are and where you came from, you will be empty.”
Turks in general are generous people
Today where do you think Turkey is going?
When I first came to Turkey in 1969, there were horses and carriage carts in the streets. From that time to present, I have witnessed so many positive changes. I was even here during a military coup. Throughout the many changes, one thing has remained. The Turkish heart is generally generous and wishes to help. The people of Turkey have always lived between the east and west, and witnessed the struggle between egalitarian and progressive intellectuals against the reactionary conservatives who seem to many to want to oppress women and women's rights. Today when I look to Turkey in the region, I see a country that is of central importance on the world stage. I hope that the conservative parts of society can continue to embrace the positive elements of the progressive. It is of the utmost importance at this time to identify common shared points and build together from there.
Are there are some similarities between the USA and Turkey?
I see some parallels. In these two countries, we have the struggle between the liberal and conservative values and votes. The core of the matter is power and control. Essentially, both America and the Ottomans and then the Turkish Republic had a long history of social and religious tolerance. In my opinion, this was an established tradition. So, generally, a Creator was accepted as being s in the essence of all the creatures and all beings, and therefore all beings should be respected. Because of countries like Turkey and the U.S.A., I have hope for the world. Actually, the number of intelligent people on this blue planet right now who believe in freedom of religion and thought is more than have ever lived on the earth at one time—ever before. Our homes are global through Internet communication. The educated young people in Japan, Turkey and America resemble each other more than they resemble their parents or grandparents. We must all embrace where we came from and protect our individual consciousness while remaining global citizens. Yes, even though Turkey has long passed from being an empire to a modern republic, the best aspects of the Ottomans should be should be remembered and preserved.
Translated by VA Translation Ozkan Binol Article
TODAY’S ZAMAN October 2011
HOME NEWS NEWS BUSINESS INTERVIEWS COLUMNISTS OP-ED ARTS & CULTURE EXPAT ZONE SPORTS FEATURES CARTOONS LIFE PRESS REVIEW ALMANAC
THINK TANK CAFE
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
FASHION & BEAUTY
Turkish mother-in-law’s memoirs become inspiration for novel
American Judy Light Ayyildiz honors her mother-in-law Adalet Ayýildiz with her new book “Forty Thorns.”
14 October 2011 / TODAY’S ZAMAN, ISTANBUL
A novel named “Forty Thorns” written by an American, Judy Light Ayyildiz, and based on the memoirs of her Turkish mother-in-law were recently published by a Turkish publishing house.
Taking Ayyildiz 10 years to write, the book was recently published in Turkish by the Remzi Book House in Istanbul. The English version is set to be published by the same publishing house in November.
Speaking to the Anatolia news agency, Ayyildiz, who lives with her Turkish husband, Vedii Ayyildiz in Virginia, discussed what led her to write the book. “My mother-in-law called me in 1991 telling me to go to Istanbul and stay with her in order to listen and record her memoirs. She told me that she did not regard herself as an important person, but what she had been through was important. She said she was afraid that her story would be lost when she died. Following our conversation I immediately went to Istanbul and as I did not speak Turkish at that time, I listened and recorded Adalet’s story with the help of an interpreter,” she said.
Ayyildiz added that she could not start writing the book right away since she knew little about Turkish history, but when she got a call from her mother-in-law in 1994 asking about the book and saying that she felt she was going to die and passed away soon after the call, Ayyildiz began conducting research on her story, reading history books, visiting the places mentioned by Adalet and talking to people in those places. The book was finally completed after seven years of research.
The historical background of that period, the plot and even the main character, Adalet, are based on a true story, Ayyildiz said. But the details and dialogues in the book are a work of her imagination. That’s why this book is not a biography, but a novel that is based on real historical events and a real person.
In the book, Adalet is the daughter of a wealthy landlord who elopes with a blacksmith’s son, leaving her family and wealth behind. When World War I breaks out she experiences great hardship. She managed with her husband and seven children, and starts teaching in schools in various cities of Anatolia. Despite her difficulties and suffering, she never loses her faith in progressive Islam or her country. She is one of the many “Anatolian heroes” of that period who devoted themselves to the Turkish War of Independence. Ayyildiz defines her as “a symbol of Turkey’s development, Anatolian life, the War of Independence and finally the republican period.”
Ayyildiz found a resemblance between Adalet and Kibele, the Phrygian deification of Mother Earth, symbolizing fertility, sacrifices and the power of nature. Explaining her views, Ayyildiz said: “Adalet has a different kind of power; she strived not only to survive, but also to live a good life. She never upset herself and complained about what she had been through; on the contrary, she celebrated having new experiences and what they gained her. Standing strong despite hardship and great loss is not easy. That’s why she is an important figure not only for Turkey but for the whole world as well. For this reason I believe my book will attract readers, whatever their nationality.”
Ayyildiz was attracted most by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s life and character. “I was amazed at how Atatürk revived the country after it became a wreck during World War I. When I read books about him and on Turkish history, my admiration grew for Atatürk. Many historical figures in the US, such as Martin Luther King Jr., are seen as ‘gods’ because of their influence and power to change their country and determine its destiny. I see this in Atatürk. Who else could have revived Turkey and built a brand new country that is much more developed? It is almost a miracle,” she said.
Mentioning the Turkish people living in the US, Ayyildiz said: “Although the Turkish people living there, especially the children, are maintaining some parts of their culture like eating yogurt, celebrating Ramadan and other [holidays], they are more American than Turkish. The children need books and other kinds of sources where they can find out about their ‘true’ history.”