O. Z. Livaneli is one of Turkey's most prominent and popular authors, as well as an accomplished musician and composer, whose works have been recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra. He was held under military detention during the coup of March 12, 1971, and lived in exile for eight years. He studied music in Stockholm, then lived in Paris and Athens, returning to Turkey in 1984. He was one of the founders of the Turkish-Kurdish Peace Movement and the initiator of the Campaign Against Violence in Turkey, and he has made significant contributions to the Greek-Turkish Frienship Committee. He was elected a Member of Parliament in 2002.
Author biography courtesy of St. Martin's Press.
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Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Livaneli:
"One day a student approaches Borges, who is blind then, as he's walking the streets of Buenos Aires and asks him, ‘Are you Mr.Borges?' Borges replies, ‘Sometimes!' There are many moments in my life when I find myself feeling the same way. Sometimes joyous, sometimes sad, sometimes optimistic, sometimes pessimistic. I guess everyone is like that."
"I began my career as a publisher; I had a publishing house in Ankara. So I was somehow always related with the world of books. When my publishing house was shut down by the military junta and I was imprisoned, I chose to continue my relationship with books through the act of writing. I've been writing ever since."
"The desire to write was always there in me from my youth onwards, and I began by writing stories. One of my stories, ‘A Child in Purgatory,' was filmed by Swedish and German television. This year my novel Bliss is adapted to cinema. I think I have a special liking for novels that can be adapted to cinema. For me it indicates that the book has a decent story and characters."
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In the winter of 2007, O. Z. Livaneli took some time out to talk with us about his favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Ernest Hemingway's entire work -- and especially The Old Man and the Sea -- influenced my life and career to a great extent. I first read Hemingway when I was a kid, and he immediately became my idol. I not only admired him as an author, but also because of the feeling of adventure that he aroused in so many young people all around the world. After having read The Old Man and the Sea many times -- I had even memorized some parts of it -- I had decided to be a writer myself and lead a life of adventure just like he had done.
At my parents' home in Ankara, the walls of my room were full not with photographs of famous people from the world of music and cinema, but with portraits of Hemingway. I had read all his biographies. On Saturdays, I used to go to the American library in Ankara to check whether there was anything new about him in the journals. In time, his influence over me grew to such an extent that when I was 16 years old, during my summer holiday, I went to a fishing village -- without letting my parents know -- to live like him. I started to work in a fishing boat. At night, I slept in the boat with the novel under my pillow. At the end of two months, I had to return to my parents' house, but at that point I knew for sure that I was going to be a writer.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?William Faulkner, Light in August -- I read William Faulkner's Light in August when I was young, and I felt that it would change my life. The novel elevates a local crime to the level of a universal human tragedy, and hence creates a sense of identification with the events that may have taken place anytime, anywhere in the world. Although its style has an archaic air reminding one of the Old Testament, it at the same time has a very modern quality. Faulkner creates a shadowy atmosphere even in those parts of the novel where the events take place in daylight and in this way, represents the dark and shadowy nature of our consciousness. I must say I tried hard to get rid of Faulkner's influence.
I always think that certain characteristics of the 19th-century Russian novelistic tradition have somehow been transferred to 20th-century American literature. I find similarities between Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Turgenev and Faulkner, Caldwell, Steinbeck.
Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment -- One of the things I most like about this novel is the way in which Dostoevsky describes St.Petersburg; the city reflects the inner worlds of the heroes. Also, Raskolnikov's pangs of conscience due to his crime and his confession move me deeply. Today those who commit a crime go on with their lives comfortably as long as their crime remains unknown. It may be said that Dostoevsky is idealizing the human heart. Only this can explain the fact that at the end of all the novels of this great author, whose main concern is analyzing the depths of human psychology, there appears the light of hope.
Ernest Hemingway -- The Old Man and the Sea -- See above.
The Book of One Thousand and One Nights -- I think that this unique masterpiece of Eastern literature with its multitude of stories that intertwine and form a labyrinth have influenced many writers in the world, such as Jorge Louis Borges and others. Told by a woman, these stories on the unfaithfulness of women stand somewhere between life and death. This book is an infinite source of inspiration for any writer.
Rumi, Masnavi -- Another masterpiece of Eastern literature, this is written by Jalal ad-Din Rumi, the great Sufi poet and thinker of the 13th century. Composed of intertwining tales and stories, Masnavi surprises the reader with its depth and it's full of modern thoughts. As early as the 13th century, Rumi opposes all kinds of religious, ethnic, and sexual discrimination. In my own books, I frequently quote stories from the Masnavi.
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina -- I have always admired the way Tolstoy identifies with women in love and studies carefully the depth of their feelings. It's interesting that in 19th-century Orthodox Russia, this old count with a white beard is telling the story of a woman who would in the end commit suicide because of a desperate love. How could this be explained by other than the ability of great writers to identify with different people and situations around the world?
Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary -- I like this book for similar reasons as Anna Karenina. I have always admired Flaubert's strict loyalty to details and his ability to bring to life visually each scene, place, and person that he describes.
García Márquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold --This short but intense novel tells about the people of a village who are very well aware of a murder being committed in the name of tradition but yet remain quiet. Although the suspects brag about the crime, people seem to ignore it. I like this book very much because it has so much to say on the conflict of tradition and modernity, an issue which I am dealing with all the time in my own country.
Yashar Kemal, Memed My Hawk -- The most cherished classic of Turkish literature has instilled in all of us, during our youth, a feeling for the necessity of struggle against injustice.
Cervantes, Don Quixote -- In this masterpiece which I've read over and over again, I find a very sad side to the desperate struggle of Don Quixote, who tries to defend values that are being worn out by a changing world. It's not a coincidence that my novel Bliss has a chapter called "Don Quixote at Night, Sancho Panza in the Morning." I believe that every one of us is like this a little bit. At night, we're full of idealism and sublime feelings, but in the morning, reality makes us Sancho Panza.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
The ones that immediately come to my mind are Fellini's Amarcord and Fred Zinnemann's High Noon. The first is a very personal film in which Fellini is remembering his youth; the carnivalesque nature of the film, Fellini's sense of humor and Nina Rota's music make it unforgettable. High Noon is another of my favorites, with marvelous character building and a wonderful script.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I like classical music, jazz, and world music.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
If I had a book club, I would start by reading Don Quixote; as everyone well knows, today it represents the true beginning of the art of the novel.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I give all kinds of books as gifts, depending on the person's likes and interests. I myself like receiving history books, memoirs, and biographies.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
No rituals, really. On my desk I usually have my notes, my reference books, and a cup of coffee.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
My first stories were published in 1978, but I began writing years before that date. So mine is hardly an overnight success story.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
I believe that one just has to write and write until one finds his true voice.
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