The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres that was signed between the Allies of WWI and the Ottoman Empire is not explained here. There is nothing here that mentions how it marked the beginning of the partitioning of the empire, how Armenia was subsequently recognized as an independent state and a referendum was scheduled to decide the fate of the dream of a Kurdistan, but nothing of how the referendum never took place. No details of what exactly happened when the Kurds within Turkish borders clashed with Turkish nationalism; nothing of the decisions, events, or indecisions that led to the extermination of more than half of the Kurdish population in Turkey by 1938.
Throughout the book an unnamed and unidentified narrator addresses a woman muted by grief and coaxes her, not to speech, but to remembrance — a remembrance not of a specific event but of her spiritual and personal history, and the ancient mythology of her people; and I believe here lies the genius of this novel. Without explicitly saying that this book is about identity, Sema Kaygusuz makes this book wholly about identity.
Out of the silence roars a powerful voice that resists all attempts at wiping out Kurdish identity. I have come to understand that this book is, above anything else, a rallying cry for the Kurdish people: For them to never forget who they are. To never give in to the silencing, and to never allow grief to estrange them from who they really are.
What is between these pages is something that we won’t find in the chronologies of history. What is written here is more profound. In this novel that reads more like a lengthy poem, Kaygusuz achieves the impossible task of giving shape to grief and silence, and intimating a manner of history that can only be expressed through obmutescence or poetry.
“Finally, I would like to say, I intended to write not just in Turkish, but in the language of all who lament for the dead. And I intended to write it with the language of figs… the fig tree whose fruit has, over the course of the history of civilization, seduced and destroyed, poisoned and healed, struck panic in those captivated by its pleasure, and been served like jewels at the tables of kings, pharaohs, and sultans — in order that I might set aside its vitalizing force, its enviable adventure, in writing. What I mean to say is that, over the course of this novel, I am not only my grandmother who survived the massacre: I am also her granddaughter, I am Hizir, and I am a fig, with its countless tiny seeds. Each of us has written the others into being.” — from the Afterword of Every Fire You Tend by Sema Kaygusuz
Thank you for knowing exactly what I’d love to read and for lending me your copy, Gabi. Always grateful. 🤍