In a polished English accent, she began, “In my country,” but she paused, trying to reframe her sentence more academically. “You’re right,” she said instead. After giving this sign of acquiescence, sacred to all sane Oxfordites, she continued, “In my country, they grant the highest importance to the law that the height of minarets can’t exceed that of the government’s secular monuments. For this reason, in fact, they’ve built unbelievably ugly monuments to Atatürk all over Istanbul in recent years, just so they’ll overshadow the minarets of mosques that are hundreds of years old.”
Stevenson waited for the main course to arrive before emitting a short, quiet, acceptable chuckle.
Then he asked, “You’re Turkish, correct?”
“Let’s not say I’m Turkish,” Deniz said, smiling. “Let’s simply say I’m from Turkey.”
With glazed eyes, Stevenson combed the knowledge he had in his Turkey database. “Oh yes,” he said. “I believe Turkey, like Germany, is dealing with a national identity conflict. Am I mistaken?”
Deniz had discussed this with foreigners so many times that she’d memorized an overly simplified speech on the matter, which she’d titled “The Turkish Intellectual’s Problematization of Nationalism.” She recited it in a single breath, “You’re right. As a way of rejecting the nationalist strategies that appeared when the country was founded, and in reaction to the country’s destructive policies toward its various ethnic groups, Turkish intellectuals prefer to say they’re from Turkey rather than Turkish.”
(Excerpted from Banana Sounds, a translation of Ece Temelkuran’s Turkish novel, Muz Sesleri. The translation is by Deniz Perin.)