In the latest of our literary dispatches from Turkey, Mario Levi contemplates the sounds of the city he grew up in, and the stories that lie behind them for those willing to listen

Translated from the Turkish by Feyza Howell

Every life has a ‘text’, and every ‘text’ a life hiding in the dark somewhere, awaiting discovery… The choice of vantage point is, in theory, your privilege, the vantage point from which to observe the city you live in, the city you want to make sense of, and rebuild in your own way. What are you after? What do you expect to hear there, from whom, and how? Are you the victim of some voluntary captivity, hoping for deliverance through writing, or a warrior in search of his own language? There are places that you will never reach since that city will always follow you; do you know what they are?

My ‘text’ on Istanbul insisted I ask similar questions. At the top of Galata Tower where I climbed one evening, I, who have chased many a story, or who styled himself as such, heard other people’s questions. The sun was setting. A crystal clear autumn day was about to end. More houses and streets than I could count fanned out before my eyes. Numerous houses shielding their heritage and speaking of the passage of time. Old streets trying to keep up with the changes… My city reminded me of its nature once more, the city I owed my own existence to. My ears were ringing and a familiar dizziness came over me. These sounds could have been proclaiming countless stories my life would never suffice to tell. So many civilisations, cultures, languages and faiths had left their marks. But these stones and windows stay silent to those who neither know how to listen, nor feel the need to. Like so many people… But the luxury of not hearing is denied to the twenty-first century storyteller, if anything, hearing more and more is inevitable. These were familiar sounds, and more: these were sounds I would always hear. No matter how irresistible the occasional need to plug my ears, unable to stomach the things I was hearing. Not that I ever wanted to, or could: this, you see, was the only way I could exist for the sake of my ‘text’ in a city such as this one. By relating, and by trying to understand… Just like Scheherazade, just so I could survive. That’s why I trod those streets, and others too, for so many years.

I know an array of secrets silver Istanbul’s mirrors on the reverse. How else can I possibly explain its resolve to be heard whenever I journey to other tongues?


About the Author

Born in 1957, Mario Levi graduated from the Istanbul University Faculty of Literature in 1980 with a degree in French language and literature. In addition to being a writer, Levi has worked as a French teacher, an importer, a journalist, a radio programmer, and a copywriter. He currently  lectures in Yeditepe University, and is a board member of English PEN’s sister centre, PEN Turkey.

You can follow him on Twitter @mariolevi_

About the Translator

Feyza Howell works as a literary translator as well as serving English PEN as assessor and a number of public agencies as interpreter. She has been translating fiction and commercial texts for many years as well as writing copy and non-fiction, including Waste by Hakan Günday and her translation of Madame Atatürk by İpek Çalışlar is due for publication by Saqi in the autumn.