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ABDULHAK SINASI HISAR (1883-1963)

Abdülhak Sinasi Hisar was born on March 14, 1883 in Istanbul and died on May 3, 1963 as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage. He spent his childhood at first-rate waterside residences and mansions on the Istanbul Bosphorus and on Büyükada. His father Mahmut Celalettin Bey was one of the key intellectuals of the period, and the owner of “Hazine-i Evrak” and “Insaniyet ve Ceride” which were among the first literary periodicals. Important literary figures such as Abdülhak Hamit, Ziya Pasa, Sinasi, Halit Ziya Usakligil were among the writers of these periodicals. Because of the affection that he felt towards these writers, Mahmut Celalattin Bey named his child Abdülhak Sinasi.

Throughout his childhood, Abdülhak Sinasi took private lessons from the famous writer of the period, Tevfik Fikret. In 1888, Hisar was admitted to Galatasaray High School and this is where his interest in literature took hold. Among his classmates were prominent names of the future, like Ahmet Hasim, Hamdullah Suphi, Refik Halit, Rusen Esref and Izzet Melih. In 1905 he was admitted to École Libres des Sciences Politiques in Paris, France. At this school, he took classes from Yahya Kemal, one of the renowned Turkish writers of the period. He returned to Istanbul in 1908. He started writing reviews for various newspapers and for the periodicals “Dergâh” and “Yarin.” Many of his works and literary notes were lost in fires that occurred in 1918 and 1922. In 1936, he started working as an Advisor for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and settled in Ankara. After his novel Fahim Bey ve Biz (Fahim Bey and Us) earned third place in the CHP Hikâye ve Roman Mükâfakati (Democratic Popular Party’s Story and Novel Award 1942) he started being recognized as a novelist. In 1948, due to ailments, had to return to Istanbul, where he was appointed as the “chief translator” for the Central Bank of Turkey.

Abdülhak Sinasi Hisar never married. About marriage, he is famous for having said, “Why I should I marry? To see my son become a communist and my daughter an actress?” It is said that he avoided being outdoors, because of his obsession with germs. Even though he loved to stroll along the Bosphorus, he never got out of his car. Because of the same obsession he did not easily entertain guests, and subjected them to lengthy interrogations concerning their philosophical views. If he did not approve of their philosophical opinions he would immediately sever communication. His obsessive nature was reflected as perfectionism in his literary works, of which he did not produce many. However, although his literary output is small, Hisar’s work is dominated by a polite sense of contempt, as well as a thought – provoking sense of black humor. This unusual approach, places Hisar among the principal personalities of the Turkish Literature.

In his novels, he depicted detailed portraits of well – educated, elite, introverted, erratic, dreamy individuals who were prone to strange fantasies, and who were unsuccessful in real life. This is especially true for the depiction of the Fahim Bey character in the novel Fahim Bey and Us. Hisar narrated his novels as himself. Hence, it is difficult to pin down where his plots begin or where he relates actual fragments of his own life. It is assumed that Hisar fashioned characters after himself.

Hisar’s novels are generally accepted as chronicle novels, as he expressed himself by stating “no memoir, no novel.” It is said that Marcel Proust, Paul Bourget and Pierre Loti influenced Abdülhak Sinasi Hisar’s works. Another important attribute of Hisar is that he has produced biographies and anthologies which are rare genres in Turkish literature. Some explain the fact that he produced works in non-fictional literary genres by his fear of criticism, which was well known to those around him.

Hisar’s novels are Fahim Bey ve Biz (Fahim Bey and Us, 1941), Çamlica’daki Enistemiz (Our Uncle in Çamlica, 1944), and Ali Nizami Bey’in Alafrangalığı ve Şeyhliği (Ali Nizami Bey’s Occidentalism and Sheikdom, 1952). His chronicle – essays are, Bogaziçi Mehtaplari (Moonlights in the Bosphorus, 1943), Bogaziçi Yalıları (Waterside Residences of the Bosphorus, 1954), and Geçmis Zaman Köşkleri (Mansions of Olden Times, 1956). Is chronicle / biographical works are, Istanbul ve Pierre Loti (Istanbul and Pierre Loti, 1958), Yahya Kemal’e Veda (A Farewell to Yahya Kemal, 1959), and Ahmet Hasim: Şiiri ve Hayatı (Ahmet Hasim’s Poetry and Life, 1963). His anthological works are Ask Imis Her Ne Var Alemde (Aşka Dair Seçilmis Mısralar ve Beyitler 1403-1950) (All that is in the World is Love: Select Verses and Couplets on Love 1403-1950, 1955) and Geçmiş Zaman Fıkraları (Jokes Olden Times, 1958). The total of Abdülhak Sinasi Hisar’s novels and chronicles take place on and around the Istanbul Bosphorus. Rather than dealing with the political realities of his time, Hisar preferred to detach himself from all reality, and produced works though the superior viewpoint provided by this aloofness. Therefore his novels are dominated by fragmented accounts and by stream of consciousness forms. However, Hisar’s novels or his approach to his characters are not arrogant. On the contrary, he has adopted a modest style that allowed him to frequently poke fun at his narrator - himself. As this goes to show, Hisar only allowed himself the luxury to self-mockery, however he never accepted criticism from others. Despite the fact that this caused his output to be scant, Hisar’s work earned him a special and important place in Turkish literature.

* Biographical information about Abdulhak Sinasi Hisar has been compiled from the work entitled Tanzimat’tan Bugüne Edebiyatçilar Ansiklopedisi.

Reference: Yesim Gokce (Bilkent University)/Turkish Cultural Foundation, photograph courtesy of Ara Guler.

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