“Would Chekhov have suffered writer’s block?” Maria wondered, as the hull of the sunflower seed snapped open between her lightly clamped teeth.
Had it not been for gravity and absentmindedness, it might have appeared like a final attempt of helpless rebellion as the kernel fled in its nakedness, first escaping through Maria’s lips and slipping straight into the narrow entrance of a cowl-necked blouse, lapsing between two mounds of mysterious bosomy matter, and finally shelving itself in the black hole of the navel.
There, cradled in the darkness was the sunflower seed, and it knew not what parallel or different fate it would have encountered had it slipped inside – on the other side, of that warm, heaving skin. At that moment, it knew not time nor space, it only knew of warmth, suspension, and a false feeling of relief.
Maria’s eyes swept the floor but found no trace of the seed, so she picked up another one when suddenly, an idea! A writing idea after weeks of creative standstill! She mock-kissed the second sunflower seed with glee and tossed it back on the table. “If Chekhov could eye an ashtray and tomorrow furnish a story called ‘The Ashtray,’ what tales I could conjure from a sunflower seed!”
With confident strokes of her pen she inked ‘The Sunflower Seed’ on the top of a blank sheet, and Maria wrote:
“Would Chekhov have suffered writer’s block?” Alejandra wondered, just as the sunflower seed snapped open between her semi-clenched teeth.
Of what seemed as a definitive act of impetuous rebellion, the seed fled in its nakedness, first escaping through Alejandra’s lips and slipping straight into the abyss of a cowl-necked blouse, lapsing between two mounds of mysterious bosomy matter, and at last shelved itself in a black hole which was the navel. There, cradled in the darkness was the sunflower kernel, and it knew not what parallel or different fate it would have encountered had it slipped inside – on the other side, of that warm, heaving skin. At that moment, it knew not time nor space, it only knew of warmth, suspension, and an ersatz feeling that resembled belongingness.
Maria continued to write vigorously and narrated how Alejandra’s husband discovered the mutinous seed in her bellybutton later that night and punished it by plopping it into his mouth with a teasing gleam in his eyes.
Pleased with the South American tone of absurdity in her story despite aiming for a Russian shade, and unaware that her tale was half fiction-half accidental truth, she put her pen down with a satisfying staccato. “Ah, the sound of a period!” she exclaimed. As she stood up, the sunflower seed fell to the floor, later to be identified as midnight snack by the little mouse that lived in between Maria’s walls.
The above story is not from the two books featured here. I wrote this in 2009 when reading a volume of Chekhov, who happens to be one of the most handsome of authors, ignited a spark of creative inspiration. Since then, I’ve found that the best short story compendiums do not inspire me to write reviews; they nudge me to pay more attention to the details of everyday life and to write my own short stories however inferior mine may be.
Ferit Edgü is more minimalist than Sait Faik but I find both their stories to be of a distinctive hue. There is something almost monochromatic about them: But akin to the most masterful black and white photographs, this quality does not reduce them to something less but raises and intensifies their expressiveness.
My best attempt to describe them would be to ask one to look into photographer Ara Guler’s black and white images; or better yet, grab that photo book, Ara Guler’s Istanbul with a foreword by Orhan Pamuk. Each photograph a story, each story an evocative photograph.
It is said that every Turk knows a Sait Faik line or story by heart. He is, after all, considered the Turkish counterpart of Anton Chekhov. Turkey’s most prestigious short story award, the Sait Faik Prize, is named after him — which Ferit Edgü received in 1979.
Needless to say, last month’s release of this Ferit Edgü collection resulted in yet another NYRB | Archipelago book-pairing at my end.
Now, excuse me as I attempt to write another short story. If that doesn’t work, I’ll be content with seeking beauty in the ordinary.
“And so the role of literature on this earth: It is that thing seeking beauty.” — Sait Faik