Aziz NESIN 1968
From "MEMOIRS OF AN EXILE"*
of the Memoirs Of An Exile & Hayri The Barber Surname
book, Josephs Jacobson, also
designed the book covers.
father, an Anatolian village boy, came to Istanbul at
the age of thirteen. My mother, from another Anatolian
village, also came to Istanbul as a very small child.
They had to make this journey, meet in Istanbul and
get married so that I could come into the world.
choice was not left to me, so I was born at a very unsuitable
time--the bloodiest and most fiery days of World War
I, in 1915. Again, the choice not being in my hands,
my birth occurred not only at an unseemly time but in
an unfavorable place, on Heybeli Island. Heybeli lies
offshore of Istanbul and was the summer residence of
Turkey's richest people. And since the rich couldn't
live without the poor--they had such a great need for
them--we, too, lived on the island.
don't mean to imply with these remarks that I was unlucky.
On the contrary, I consider myself as being quite fortunate
in not coming from a rich, noble and famous family.
named me Nusret. In Turkish, this Arabic word means
'God's Help.' It was a name entirely fitting to us because
my family, destitute of any other hope, placed all their
hope in God.
Spartants killed, with their own hands, offspring that
were born weak and puny, raising only the strong and
healthy. This process of selection for us Turks is formed
by nature and society. When I disclose that four brothers
died in infancy, unable to endure their hostile environment,
you will easily understand how stubborn I was in surviving.
And my mother, unable to endure her twenty-sixth year,
died, leaving this beautiful world, so worth living
in, to those were strong. In capitalist countries the
milieu is excelent for merchants; in socialist countries,
most favorable for writers. That is, a man who knows
his business must become a writer if he's in a socialist
state, or a merchant if he's in a capitalist one. How
contrary a man I was going to be was already evident
in my childhood, for even at the age of ten, in a country
like Turkey--a capitalist scrap pile--I'd determined
to become a writer though no one in my family could
read or write.
like every good father who gives thought to his son's
future, advised, forget this silly idea of writing and
take a good honest job, one you can make a living at!
I was beyong listening to him.
didn't stop there. Although I wished to be a writer,
yearned to take a pen in hand, I entered a school where
they would thrust a rifle in my hand. During my early
years I couldn't do what I liked, and didn't like what
I did do. I wanted to become a writer, but became a
soldier. At that time, the only schools where poor,
penniless children could study free, were military schools;
therefore I was forced to enter a military boarding
In 1933 when
the surname law was passed, which directed every Turk
to select a last name, people's secret feelings of inferiority
surfaced: Some of the world's stingiest became known
as Eliacik (Openhanded) the greatest cowards named themsleves
Yurekli (Stouthearted) and many of the laziest took
the name Calishkan (Industrious).
One of our
teachers chose the surname of Ceviker (Dexterous) when
he could barely sign his name to a letter. The rampant
racism present caused people with mixed blood to grab
for surnames which signified they were Turks.
I came last in any kind of scramble; I was no different
in this one for nice surnames. No surname remained that
I could take pride in, so I assumed the name of Nesin
(What-are-you?). I wanted to think of what I was and
pull myself together whenever anyone called, What-are-you!
In 1937 I became an officer, you know, a Napoleon. Well
really, I was merely one of the Napoleons. Every new
officer thinks himself Napoleon. Some of them never
recover from this sickness; it lasts a whole lifetime.
Others are cured after a while. 'Napoleonitis' is a
dangerous and contagious disease. The symptoms are these:
The victims think only of Napoleon's victories, never
of his defeats; they are prone to tuck a right hand
between jacket buttons; they stand before a map of the
world, drawing with a red crayon and, after subjugating
and occupying the entire world in five minutes, regret
that the world is so small. Victims of this disease
rave as in a high fever. There are other dangers. In
later stages, they may fancy themselves Tamerlane, Ghengis
Khan, Attila, Hannibal, Moltke, even Hitler or others
such as these..."
- - - -
This great story of Aziz NESIN, first story of the "Memoirs
Of An Exile". It is very exciting to read Aziz
NESIN's book in New York in English, in particular reading
the story as in Turkish. Thanks to Josephs Jacobson
for this and other books which he published from Turkish
the publisher Joseph Jacobson:
Joe and Vi Jacobson (photo
by Maria Nygard)
"...The American professor whom we call 'Joe,'
his nickname, is a scholar whose heart has been captured
and Turkish literature. Joe studied at the American
Army Language School and firmed up his Turkish serving
in Ankara as a Colonel attache. Later with his developed
Turkish he presented a doctoral dissertation at the
University of Utah tied to Yakub Kadri Karaosmanoglu
and his novel Yaban and received a Doctor of
Philosophy degree. After completing the doctorate, retired
from the Army, Joe departed on a great journey, wandering
endlessly about Turkey in the mysterious cosmos of Turkish
literature and grew especially fond of novels and short
1961 rolling up his sleeves after retirement from the
University of Utah, together with his wife, Viola, an
experinced editor, Joe brought to life the publishing
firm devoted entirely to Turkish writers, called "Southmoor
Engin Askin, Cumhuriyet Correspondent in Toronto
From Aziz Nesin's Last Letter