Book Review: ‘The Wounded Age’ and ‘Eastern Tales’ by Ferit Edgü, translated by Aron Aji

Reading: Aron Aji

Prairie Lights, Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m., Free

Born in 1936 in Istanbul (and approaching his 87th birthday on Feb. 24), Ferit Edgü has been writing beloved and award-winning work in his native Turkish since 1959. He’s published novels, stories, essays, poetry and even a children’s book. He’s been adapted to film, awarded the Sait Faik Literature Prize and the Sedat Simavi Prize for Literature and been translated into French, Italian, Japanese and more. But little to none of his writing was available in English. Until now.

Aron Aji, director of the University of Iowa translation programs and president of the American Literary Translators Association. And he has built a career deftly translating Turkish authors. It may be vanity to review a translation of work that I could not read in its original language, but this is important enough a volume to try. The nuance of translation lies in the ability to disappear. Like an editor, a translator is a partner, responsible for standing in for the reader and ensuring that the author’s intent is conveyed. A translator doesn’t merely convey meaning, but atmosphere, tone and style.

This is especially true of poetry. And The Wounded Age, the first in this two-story volume, is an intricate journey that walks the line between poetry and prose. Aji’s sparse translation packs a poet’s layers of meaning into each word, hanging thinly on each page in an echo of the sensation of breathing in the mountains, where the tale is set: Much of the story is dialogue, the narrator (a reporter) relying almost entirely on his interpreter, Vahap, to offer him a window into the world of the people he’s trying to better understand.

It’s filled with the agony of someone who longs to tangibly help those he meets, but knows he is relegated only to tell their story. It is a must-read for reporters in today’s media landscape, anxious to convey humanity as well as knowledge, and for anyone obsessed with the history of war poetry and the ways that words are asked to intercede between us and darkness.

The second in the volume, Eastern Tales, reads like a book of fables or parables, each vignette heavy with meaning and weighty as poetry. Although first published a dozen years earlier (The Wounded Age in 2007, Eastern Tales in 1995), it carries through the themes of the first: communication, understanding, neglect and loneliness. It, too, is set in the mountains, and speaks of them as of a lover.

“As I said my thank-yous to the man I wouldn’t see again, he said ‘Don’t you worry, Teacher, you’ll come again. Sooner or later, these mountains call you back.’”

Where The Wounded Age emphasizes and embodies the experience of being in the mountains — the starkness, the thin air — Eastern Tales carries the heaviness that the idea of a mountain conveys. It’s an elegant parallel to place them in this proximity, almost a primer to the region they describe. Here, as in the first, Aji’s translation emphasizes the sensation invoked, building a world of deep meaning, lovingly realized.

This article was originally published in Little Village’s February 2023 issues.