The University of Iowa

From the Exchanges Blog: Maureen Freely visits Iowa

From the Exchanges blog at the University of Iowa

As translators – and indeed, writers – don’t we all wish we had had the opportunity to move to Turkey as children in the 1960s? This was the great luck of Maureen Freely, an Ida Beam Visiting Professor for Fall 2014 at the University of Iowa, who was transplanted from her native New Jersey when her father accepted a teaching position at an elite high school in Istanbul. Within a few short months, we too might have learned Turkish (and Greek, as it turned out for Freely, who summered in nearby Greece each year, why not), experienced expatriate life in an Istanbul still upended by the 1960 military coup, and rubbed elbows with American schoolmates whose parents would turn out to be CIA agents, all while Soviet ships sailed watchfully along the Bosporus outside our window. What rich material! During this time, student and labor-led left-wing militant groups faced off against Islamist nationalist movements, both sides bombing and kidnapping while the state disintegrated, too preoccupied with its internal power struggles to exercise any kind of diplomacy, but still doling out extrajudicial death sentences to its real or perceived opponents. Freely saw it all.

As a novelist, however, Freely is not interested in what actually happened. At her September 23rd reading at Iowa City’s Prairie Lights, where she read excerpts from her two most recent novels, Enlightenment and Sailing through Byzantium, she explained that she’s much more interested in exploring the forces behind Turkey’s political upheaval, the conditions that made violence possible, and why the emotional damage was so irrevocable for those who lived through it. In Sailing through Byzantium, for example, the main character Mimi is drawn into a world of paranoia and political intrigue just as the Cold War comes to a head in 1962. In Enlightenment, we follow the travails of a group of American and affluent Turkish students accused of brutally murdering a university tutor amidst political circumstances beyond their understanding. The shadowy state remains a theme throughout. During her visit to Iowa, on more than one occasion Freely referred to the very real Turkish “Deep State,” a nebulous coalition of intelligence, military and government players who operate beyond the confines – and oversight – of the democratic state, working to impose a nationalist agenda.


Exchanges: A Journal of Literary Translation