Agony as Old as the Mountain

In her novel “Kirpiklerimin Gölgesi”, Şebnem İşigüzel, one of the most successful names of Turkish literature,  tells the story of a little girl who is born in to sorrows and whose hope of seeing beautiful days one day hits the walls of violance and helplessness and shatters everytime.

 “Kirpiklerimin Gölgesi” which starts with the sentence “I killed my mother” is not “a novel of incident” but “a novel of human”. As the reader turns on the pages of the book, he witnesses the inner world of an 11 year old who experienced almost every grief possible in life and what brought her to the point of killing her mother.

 The little girl, who lives besides a mysterious forrest in a hut surrounded with poverty and lovelessness with her mother, older brother and grandmother can only feel what is to be loved when she is by her grandmother. That grandmother, according to the writer is as old as the mountain, she is not strong enough to protect the little girl who is exposed to violance both by her mother and brother.

 “Kirpiklerimin Gölgesi” is not only telling the tragedy of that 11 year old little girl but also the mysterious forrest holds stories of grief. The granny who is as old as the mountain tells what she has been through in her childhood and the reader witnesses the tragedy of people who were killed collectively, buried in apple gardens, exiled and burned in caves. The little girl’s granny has also lost her family and loved ones a long time ago in the massacre and she is telling the pain in her heart to her granddaughter. The word “Armenian” is never stated in the book but it is not hard to understand that the granny who is as old as the mountain is talking about the Armenian genocide.

 We talked with Şebnem İşigüzel, who the literature readers recognize from the novels; “Eski Dostum Kertenkele”, “Sarmaşık”, “Çöplük”, “Resmigeçit” and the story books; “Hanane Ay Doğacak”, “Öykümü Kim Anlatacak”, “Kaderimin Efendisi”, about her last novel “Kirpiklerimin Gölgesinde”.

In “Kirpiklerimin Gölgesi” you tell the story of a little girl whose mother and brother hates her and who experiences violence from them all the time. Violance is also at the main point of the side stories in the book. What drives you to cover that subject this deeply?

Maybe it is me being very calm and quite in life... I’m in contrast with what I write but this is where I take my power from. It is very hard for me to explain the violance that I create in my novels. Writing is a totally different universe. I think in that universe I live what I’m afraid to get into in this life. I’m  compatible but obsessive. When I’m self conscious like that in life I travel to a whole different universe as a novelist. In addition I manage to put a distance between myself and what I write. This transforms me, a real cry baby in life, to a whole different person at my writing table. It is actually a hard condition to explain.


The little girl says “In the forrest and in life, the bad ones win” and in the novel the bad ones always win. Do you think this is also the way in life?

I am done wrong, like everybody else. Sometimes I feel like the rug under me is pulled out from underneath. There are times that I feel very desperate. I have had days that I couldn’t say a thing because of grief and sorrow. But everythings passes by. Everything that starts also ends. Evilness is the same. Of course the bad ones always have a more powerful hand. They can win, but the good ones be happy.


The mother dislikes her daughter from the first day on. While reading the book one thinks that there is another reason beneath this hatred and that would be clarified but this doesn’t happen so.

I transformed into the character in the novel the moment I started to write. I looked, saw and felt from her point of view. If the novel can pull the reader in like a vortex this is why. In a part in the novel the little girl wonders about her mother. This is something that the character feels at that point. I write with all my heart, like I feel. So I didn’t feel like or wanted to learn the reason of the hatred. But you have done a very accurate observation.

We feel that the mother has also had a tough life. In fact this doesn’t make her evil. The mother in the novel is like the desperate women of this society. She is obviously forced into things. Maybe she didn’t even want to be a mother. This must be the hardest burden for a woman in life. More importantly most people don’t know how to face with the dark side of their souls. Instead, they surrender. They poison the ones nearest to them with the bitterness piled up inside. The mother in the novel is one of the people who don’t know how to face with the dark side of thier souls.


When she is a child “the blind woman” in the novel is presented to a German man who is way much older than her and is benefited from. There is also the Russian girl in the thermal hotel where the little girl works who is killed by torture. In your novel women and children are the ones exposed to violance, just like in life itself...

Yes, the granny who is as old as the mountains also says that; women and children are the ones who pay the price of evilness. Being a child is a great helplessness. You don’t have the strength to stand against something. In the uneven societies like ours being a woman is a heavy burden. “Because the life wanted it this way” says the granny who is as old as the dump wells of the town. “Nature, God, the benvolent state, the powerful ones.” Sometimes a person is defeated just because she is a woman or a child. Just like it is in the unfortunate stories of my heroes.


Lots of people are insensetive to what the little girl goes through and most of them abuse her. The weird thing is the ones who want to help the girl either get scared and run away or die. Is the society that insensetive to sorrows?

The novel has a very different world of course. As we can fly in our dreams we can make everthing possible in the novels. This is the power that makes me captive to writing! This is why I spend my life at the writing table. It is possible to read this little girl’s terrifying story as the holly book of our time or the things happened to the prophet of our time. There are also references to this. Maybe a strong kid like her could have found a way out in real life or if she was the hero of a more optimistic novelist but in the world of my novel everywhere is dark.


The novel starts with the little girl killing her mother and flashbacks to show the experiences that lead her to this act. Can it be said that “Kirpiklerimin Gölgesi” is “a novel of human” but not “a novel of action”?

Yes. I wanted to write something tiny but at the same time something huge. I guess I succeeded. In highschool a friend has asked in the literature class “What is a good novel?” The literature classes in highschool were delicate and beautiful enough to make me a novelist. Our beloved literature teacher Cemil Bey has answered “The novel that changes your mood is a good novel.” May he rest in peace.

Yes this is “a novel of human”. If it has a power at all it takes it from being “a novel of human”.


You have dedicated the book to R.A and to all little girls. As I can interpret R.A. is the person who has influenced you while you were creating the protoganist of the novel. How much of the things in the book is what R.A. lived and how much is fiction?

I have seen R.A. in a newspaper. But this is not her real story. That unfortunate little girl gave me the first sentence of my novel as a present, that’s it. I was very sorry for that child. There is no doubt that I was also sorry for the mother who died. Because I know well what it means to carry a baby, give birth to it, raise her and worry about her. But on the other hand I understand my protoganist who says “I killed my mother but I’m not a murderer.” Besides that this sentence of the novel is a reference to the saying of the Armenian young man who killed the sinful Talat Pasha. There are some murderers who are innocent because of that the experiences they have carried with them are way heavier than the murders they have commited. Nevertheless; no one of course deserves a death by the hand of an other person.


The forrest that the little girl lives in has lots of secrets. We learn about these secrets from one of the most interesting characters of the book; The Blind Woman and the granny of the girl. The story of the people who were exiled, killed collectively, buried in apple gardens and burned in caves is at least as heart breaking as the little girl’s story. Even if you never use the word “Armenian” in your book you give lots of clues about these incidents referring to the Armenian genocide.

Yes. After all, the ones with heart and conscience do not deny the disaster that Armenians experienced on these lands. As they read the novel they understand who lived through this massacre and genocide. I wanted the ones who believe in a blind history, which is poisened with lies, to face with this nameless massacre just as a human being. Maybe this can put an end to the “you-we” shamlessness of the nationalists. There is a huge agony present and it is time to recognize this pain. The apology that we would give to the Armenian community wouldn’t lessen us. It will make us stronger to end this policy of hatred. Just as the Armenian community carries the sorrows with a silent dignity us Turkish people should show the courage to see what has happened in the past and should show the virtue to apologize. I think this is the real patriotism. The other way is nothing but hostility and unrest.

I bow with respect in front of the Armenian community. They carry the grief they have experienced in 1915 with silence. I think it is a greater tragedy that the tragedy the Armenian community has been through is not seen. I am a side at this point. There is a person in my family who has witnessed this incident. My father’s grandfather’s partner was an Armenian, this is why this incidet was knwon in our family. Eventhough there were still people related to me who were poisened with the lies of the nationalists. Think about it, the situation is like that although the tragedy is witnessed and put in to words by the grandfather. This is too painful. On the other hand, my husband is an Armenian. My daughter has a beautiful Armenian name. I  know very well what it means to be an Armenian in this society. I believe that novels will help us to face all these sorrows. I beleive that cinema and literature will build a conscience because novels teach us to look at the agony of others. We need to see the sorrows of the Armenians and know them. I care about discussing this subject as a matter of noble expression in literature.


The granny of the little girl is one of the most important characters in the novel. Can you tell us a little about her?

The granny as old as the mountain... I also really liked her. She is actually the grandmother of the girl’s father. She is one of the Armenian grandmothers who has felt a great pain on these lands. People who show a horrifying blindness about this problem need to listen to her. The story of the granny is the story of this land. Just like the question I quoted from the Bible in the novel “We will give you our secrets, will you be able to carry them?”, all the corners of these lands are full with those witnesses. The old woman once says “Who can deny what our eyes see?”. We need to listen to and know these witnesses. Novels and cinema have the power to give a bitter medicine with compassion. The deniers should take that bitter medicine.


The little girl meets a veteran soldier who is about to lose his mind in the house of ill fame she is working at. The soldier tells about what he has done to the people at where he describes as “The Hell of the Motherland”. What things you have thought when creating this character?

Some people made a part of the country into a real hell for their own benefits. We still don’t know what actually happened there. We are now starting to face the agony that this part of the country felt. This is what the “independent soldier” who tortures people by his dogs tells in the novel; “in the villages and mountains that I served they did what ever I said. If they have yelled everybody heard. The stars, the moon, the roads, the trees, the gendarmerie. But no one would run to help them. This is a pain worse than torture. The whole world turns into a blind wall before your sorrow.” It is horrible that the people who live on this land are that senseless and ignorant of eachother’s sorrows. People still grief in the hell of this motherland. The sides both feel pain and pay prices. I tried to look at this hell in a different point of view. I wanted to show how the ones who come from this hell blend into the community.


Eventhough “Kirpiklerimin Gölgesi” is shaped around the little girl’s story, it is possible to catch lots of violent and painful issues about Turkey’s past and present between the lines. How do you explain us having such a strong tendency to violance on this land we are living on?

The society has a conscience problem. But fundamentally we are facing with a society whose trigger of evillness has badly set. I  would like to write a happy ending for my country but it is getting harder to hope for that. The system is feeding the tendency to violance. The children who are supposedly protected by the government are abused. That is to say we only see the tip of the iceberg about child abuse. In the societies in which women and children have a bad fate the official ideology and the state are the ones guilty. The community has a conscience problem with the children like the ones abused in the novel. It is the most precious education to create a conscience. If the adults in this society have had an education that brought them conscience then these severe agendas wouldn’t have been created.


What do you think is the responsibility of the men of letters of countries like Turkey which didn’t face the agony of their past and which try to keep the lid on them?

The policy of a novelist is what she writes. There is a big role for novels, cinema and arts in the countries like ours which didn’t settle with their past. Literature can make us face the disgraces of life. I love my country more than the soldires who side with a coup or the Ergenekon group who seek for their own power do. I write novels but some people only promise the community misery. Novelists are people who wish the happiness of their country and people. Otherwise they would do bad politics and side with coup. This would bring nothing but poverty and misery. We have seen that.