Hurriyet Daily Newspaper recently interviewed an aspiring Turkish writer, Ercan Baydogan, whose first book deals with his experiences and observations about American culture. I haven't had the opportunity to read Mr. Baydogan's book so my remarks are based only on this short interview. Click HERE to read the interview.
The article is interesting if only for what it says about the author, his motives and his literary shortcomings. Mr. Baydogan states, somewhat confusedly in the interview, in reference to the commonality of Turks and Americans, 'We are not better than anybody,' I am not sure what he is trying to say but at least, in terms of writing about travel, I would have to agree.
Unfortunately the author tends to give the game away by mentioning repeatedly the easy potential rewards from his writing, that is, money, fame and a new career in political commentary. Dreamers, of course, should be allowed to dream but it is sad- and painfully revealing- for this to be forefront in his mind. Although his motivation is all too common nowadays amongst young writers, it is hardly the right path for a writer of any notice.
Apart from this, Mr. Baydogan says at one point in the Hurriyet article, "“All the women I met wanted to go out with me, and most of them wanted to have sex. I didn’t do it, but most of them kept insisting. I told them I was married, that I could get a disease, which is why I refused them.” It seems as though, he was more afraid of the dirty dirty American women than his wife. If only for unintentionally amusing statements like that, would I read his book. There are excerpts at his web site so you can judge for yourself.
There are many advantages to publishing your own work outside a publishing house. You are free to write as you wish, when you wish about whatever subject you wish. This is probably one of the great attractions of blogging. One of the pitfalls to self-publishing is, however, the lack of honest criticism and advice based on experience. A good agent, or editor, should advise the new writer and offer suggestions which would prevent him/her from appearing foolish, ignorant or backward. Self-publishing- like the vanity presses- allows the inexperienced writer to publish whatever they have written without an essential, serious review (prior to publication). At least, if you wish to self-publish, you should consider writing classes or writing groups. There are many such sites on-line and the feedback would be invaluable.
Mr. Baydogan's main flaw seems to be a misunderstanding of the nature of travel writing. (I am not speaking of travel magazine articles, but serious travel books seeking to offer insight to a different culture.}
The Fine Art of Travel Writing
It has long been noted that travel changes the traveler. As Mark Twain idealistically said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” As we embark on our trip, we pack up all our notions and firmly-entrenched prejudgments along with our socks and clean underwear. We leave home with a smug assumption that what we have been told and taught is correct and everything else is in need of our inspection and approval.
Travel writing at its best should call these concepts into question. A travel writer who returns the same person has wasted his/her time. This type of writing requires the power of observation but also thoughtful reflection and introspection. This is what I see- or think I see. This is the way I think about what I see. But- and this is the critical point- also the travel writer should ask: Why do I think that my way is the right way? Is there another way that is equally valid? Who benefits from this system and who pays the price?
Certainly, it is not a question of being right or wrong. That my culture is better than yours. It is quite possible that the writer will discover that his initial ideas were, after all, correct. However, after his journey, after the reflection that travel brings to the thinking person, he should have a deeper understanding of why he believes what he does. Writing it all down is merely a way of thinking on paper.
Even a walk around the park can bring fresh perceptions and observations, and, in theory, offer an opportunity to view the world in completely new way. This is what makes life, with all its disappointments and struggles, worth living.
Speaking of my own experiences, I don't suppose I could ever give a complete list of the things I have learned from my travels in Turkey. Did I love every minute? Hardly. Did I spend all my time without any hardship or melancholy. Of course not. I also didn't spend all my time grumbling or sneering at the locals.
I admit that not all my observations are flatteries to Turks, however, but for that, I cannot help to love the Turkish people more. They are not perfect and have never claimed to be. But, without a doubt, I am a better person from being among them.
Margaret Mead said, "As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate lovingly, our own." For me, the pendulum swings back and forth in my opinion of both Turkey and my home country, The US of A. There are days when I am in love with Turkey and feel a generalized love for all Turks. Their sense of family, the open show of brotherhood and hospitality. Their sense of fun even when times are hard. The one-day at a time attitude and appreciation for this moment. (And even Pollyanna has some dark days.)
At the same time, I've come to appreciate my home country in ways that I never once thought about in the thirty years I was there. The sense of organization, the conception of a government that must work for its people (not the other way around). That sense among Americans that things will get better if we work a little harder, think a bit more deeply and try something new.
Good things from each country, to be sure and I am glad I was able to see both sides.