PRIZEGIVING

By Aysel Ozakin.
Translated from the Turkish by Celia Kerslake
173 pages
London: The Women's Press, 1980.
ISBN # 0-7043-4123-9

Comments of Bob Corbett
April 2002

This astonishingly sensitive and insightful novel unveils the story of Nuray Ilkin whom we meet on her way from Istanbul to Ankara to receive a prize for her novel. The time span of the novel itself is just the three days of her travel, award ceremony and return to Istanbul. But this is a novel within a novel, and during the course of Ilkinís reflections we are given significant portion of the prizewinning novel itself, which is itself autobiographical.

Between the novel and the novel within the novel we learn the story of Nuray Ilkinís life. She is haunted by the suicide of her mother some 33 years earlier. After her motherís death she is raised by her aunt to be a traditional Turkish woman and marries, has a daughter and settles into what seems a relatively happy marriage. Yet she is haunted by the fact that her motherís suicide is tied to some sense of meaninglessness in her life and Nuray feels this same desire for something more. She realizes she has her central sense of self in relation to her husband and much more than being Nuray she is Cemilís wife. She becomes more and more aware of this lack of self and finally can no longer bear it and leaves an astonished and horrified Cemil to strike out on her own.

She has her daughter to raise and few skills so she works a boring job in order to survive and discovers she is making little progress in creating a meaningful self. She decides to write a novel and works on it for a couple of years in all her free time. This novel is her own story and that of her mother. It becomes the prize winning novel and thus she is off to Ankara for her award.

It would seem she has achieved all her goals. She struck on her own, faced incredible odds and wrote her novel which vaults her into some level of renown and fame. She will now receive a cash award that will allow her two years living without work while she can pursue her second novel thus continuing her rising career. Surely she is a great success and has achieved what she wanted and needed.

But things are not so easy. She desperately wants her daughterís approval and she wonít give it at all. Seckin is herself a radical socialist and believes her motherís novel to be indulgent bourgeois individualism and disapproves totally. Cemil has gone on his way, a good deal bitter at how Nuray left him and he has little to no contact. Nuray is putting enormous hopes in the approval and recognition of the arts council in Ankara which has awarded the prize.

However, she is soon disillusioned there too. She discovers the group is relatively unaware of her work, not very approving and much more interested in the prizewinners in art and film. She begins to feel extremely alone and unfulfilled.

What is so moving for me in the story is that Aysel Ozakin is not writing a polemic. This story could so easily have turned into one: dissatisfied house wife leaves husband, charges into the world and conquers it demonstrating the importance of radical feminism. But Ozakin tells a much more difficult story, one in which Nuray Ilkin has all the courage to tackle the dream of becoming an independent person with a strong sense of self, yet is a human like the rest of us who needs other people and their approval. Like all of us she is situated in a particular culture with its positive and negative aspects in relation to her own life. She is bold and courageous to struggle for a much greater realm of personal liberty and meaning than the society will readily grant, and that struggle, while meaningful and motivating, is difficult and often unrewarding. Nuray wonders near the very end of the novel if she has really gained anything or even lost more than she had at the beginning.

Aysel Ozakinís structure of telling this profound, moving and very sad story via the novel within a novel in which both are the biography of Nuray Ilkin, works phenomenally well in this marvelously written and structured work.

The novel is 23 years old and the feminist issues in it are dated and in some sense boilerplate feminism. Nonetheless there is something timeless about the struggle as well. No matter than nature of liberation one wants, no matter how much the individual wishes to be a self, there are always tensions and conflicts with society and with oneís own need and desire for OTHER. Ozakin captures the pathos of this struggle and these contradictions. No matter the time and the issues of any contemporary time, this novel should weather well; it touches deep and universal human themes with sensitivity and profound insight.

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu