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ADALET AGAOĞLU (1923)

Adalet Agaoglu was born on October 23rd 1923, in Ankara, Turkey. After she graduated from the French Language and Literature Department of The Ankara University, she started her long career as a dramaturge for Turkish national radio and television. Agaoglu’s first literary pieces were in the dramatic arts, and her work entitled Üç Oyun, a collection made up of the three short plays Kahramanın Ölümü, Çıkış and Kozalar earned her the drama prize of Türk Dil Kurumu (Turkish Language Association). In the early 1970s, Agaoglu stopped writing plays. In her own words, “During my literary career, my biggest dream was to create a fiction that would freely go back and forth inside a timeline. My inspiration in this was Eugene O’Neil who had already tried it on the theater stage. In my own plays, I tried to adapt his techniques of using external voices or recorded voices on stage. However, this alienated the Turkish theatergoer. Furthermore, the limitations of the dramatic stage prevented me from getting the results that I sought. This is why I decided to move to the novel genre, which would allow me more liberty in terms of the concept of time. Hence, it would be possible to perform changes on the spatial and temporal coherence.” Consequently, Agaoglu did not write any plays until 1991, at which time she won the Türkiye İş Bankası Prize with her play Çok Uzak Fazla Yakın.

In her novels, Agaoglu generally depicts the troubles of the intellectual caught within the course of social change, as well as how the middle class individual’s attitude when facing change. She deals with the events that took place in Turkey during the economically troubled and politically chaotic 1970s, especially concentrating on the lives of individuals who are repressed, destroyed, and condemned to lose. In this sense, Agaoglu could be considered a master of aesthetics because on the surface, the characters deal with their own petty problems, whereas the works themselves vocalize the anger felt against politicians who oppressed and intimidated the people. The works also take a significant critical stance against the powers which caused the economic collapse prevalent in those years. Agaoglu gets to the essence of the literary work thanks to her experience as a dramaturge, and her expert feel for the form. In Agaoglu’s fiction, the characters witness the action through flashbacks, and they go back and forth in time. Although the action of a typical Agaoglu novel will seem to be taking place over a single night, it actually carries a profound past within it. These novels are also amenable to psychoanalytical critical study, as it is possible to see characters driven by their memories and fantasies. Both in terms of form and essence, Agaoglu’s novels are skillfully choreographed, and they feature multiple levels of meaning, epitomizing the “carnival novel” genre. The novel Fikrimin İnce Gülü is an excellent illustration for this. The hero, an Anatolian villager who has never been to a city, moves to Germany as a worker, and he dutifully saves his pennies to buy himself a flashy, yellow Mercedes Benz. Due to social change and economic problems he has found himself employed in a foreign country, as an oppressed and cowardly member of a minority. As the novel unfolds, he is heading towards his native village in an ostentatious car, hoping that this would finally earn him some respect, to prove that dreams can become reality despite everything. The novel takes place only during the actual traveling, in a limited time frame. On the road, the hero reminisces about his childhood and his dreams, illustrating to the reader the significance of the car. However, this journey of hope does not end as expected. The protagonist has an accident on the road, his car burns down, and all his dreams, the power attached to the car and childhood joys are lost. The  reader is brutally reminded that individual endeavor alone cannot save societies. Indeed, the novel carries a political and economic criticism that is not obvious at surface level.

Agaoglu received the Orhan Kemal Novel Prize, the Madaralı Novel Prize, and the Sedat Simavi Foundation’s Literature Prize in the years she published Fikrimin İnce Gülü, and its sequel Bir Düğün Gecesi. Her story Yüksek Gerilim received the Sait Faik Story Award in 1975. In 1995, because of her contributions to the cultural and the artistic life of Turkish society Agaoglu was awarded the Republic’s Grand Prize for Culture and Arts (Cumhurbaşkanlığı Kültür ve Sanat Büyük Ödülü). Agaoglu, who has been granted honorary doctorate degrees by the Eskişehir Anatolian University and by Ohio State University, lives in Istanbul.

Plays: Evcilik Oyunu (Playing Mum and Dad 1964), Tombala (Bingo 1967), Çatıdaki Çatlak (The Crack in The Roof 1969), Bir Kahramanın ÿlümü (The Death of a Hero 1973), Çıkış (1973), Kozalar (Cocoons 1973), Kendini Yazan şarkı (The Song that Wrote Itself 1977), Çok Uzak Fazla Yakın (Too Far Too Close 1991), Duvar Öyküsü (The Story of the Wall 1992), Şiir ve Sinek (The Poem and the Fly 1992).

Novels: Ölmeye Yatmak (Lying to Die 1973), Fikrimin İnce Gülü (The Fine Rose of my Mind 1976), Bir Düğün Gecesi (A Wedding Night 1979), Yaz Sonu (The End of Summer 1980), Üç Beş Kişi (A Few People 1984), Göç Temizliği (Migration Cleansing 1985), Hayır (No 1987), Ruh Üşümesi (Cold in Spirit 1991), Romantik Bir Viyana Yazı (A Romantic Viennese Summer 1993).

Stories: Yüksek Gerilim (High Tension 1974), Sessizliğin İlk Sesi (The First Sound of the Silence 1978), Hadi Gidelim (Let’s Go 1982), Hayatı Savunma Biçimleri (Ways to Defend Life 1997).

Essays: Geçerken (Crossing 1986), Gece Hayatım (My Life at Night 1992), Karşılaşmalar (Encounters 1993), Başka Karşılaşmalar (Other Encounters 1996).

Sources: Agaoglu, Adalet. Interview By Yesim Gokce. 7 January 2006. Published in: Skylife, March 2006.  

Reference: Photograph courtesy of Ara Guler.

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