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Reşat Nuri Güntekin’s “The Fall of Leaves” is a milestone of Turkish literature, able to make you fully understand how the dynamics changed within the post-independence Turkish family
The Fall of Leaves
The Fall of Leaves is a novel that tells the story of a family in a rapidly changing Istanbul. The protagonist, Ali Riza Bey, an idealistic former official who translates business documents for the Gold Leaf Limited Company, leaves the company due to deep moral qualms. This decision brings his family into extreme financial difficulty and will cause, just like the fall of the leaves in autumn, every member of the family to part from it. The novel, written in 1930 and set in the early years of the Republic of Turkey, tells through the family microcosm to which the protagonists belong the social changes of the time and the socio-cultural decadence given by the opposition of a forced Western modernization to a now perceived traditional culture as obsolete and oppressive.
The transformation of the post-Independence Turkish family
“The Fall of Leaves” by Reşat Nuri Güntekin represents a milestone in Turkish literature as it tells more and better than others the transformation within Turkish society at the dawn of independence, which took place in 1923, just 7 years before the publication of such a novel. The particular thing about this book, however, is that rather than focusing on Atatürk’s innovations, it focuses precisely on how he changed the Turkish family, exploring its dynamics and various economic and social problems.
The main protagonist is undoubtedly the head of the family, Ali Riza Bey, a man who, despite belonging to the generation just before that of his children, will find himself catapulted into realities and situations that he never would have expected to find and which will transform forever his life. His world is in fact a hybrid place where, while the old moral principles of the past remain strong, we are witnessing an increasingly complex, consumerist society in search of one’s self-realization, which will lead many characters around him to make dubious ethics with mostly uncertain results.
“The Sound of the Mountain” by Yasunari Kawabata in Turkish version
This new society, in fact, lives in a continuous and constant limbo between opportunism and morality, with the latter more often than not going to punish the former, bringing ever greater trouble to the characters of the novel, in turn extremely confused as to who they must be in this world. The interesting thing is in fact that it is not only Ali Riza Bey who is confused about what to do, but so are his own children, on the one hand increasingly hungry for success and emancipation, but on the other with the constant inner doubt of what the maximum limit they can go before falling.
In those respects, the closest novel ever ported to Medio Oriente e Dintorni is probably “The sound of the mountain” by Yasunari Kawabata, which investigates precisely on these transformations, sharing with “The fall of the leaves” also the profound natural symbology, an extremely poetic and present element here, which perfectly marks the course and the evolution of time. Indeed, Ali Riza Bey initially works in the “Anonymous Gold Leaf Society”, a kind of metaphor to say that his family tree at the beginning of the novel is in perfect health, to the point of having gold leaves, or his blameless children.
A milestone among Turkish family novels
Over time, however, almost all the leaves of this tree will fall off and a deep autumn will fall upon this little family, causing incredible pain to the head of the family, madly in love with his era and his ideals. It is no coincidence that in the last pages, probably the lowest moments ever experienced by the protagonist, we will be in winter and it is no coincidence that, when the latter will be able to forgive one of his daughters and truly accept the new era, we will reach finally to spring, giving a new smile to the face of the now elderly Ali Riza Bey.
If you like family novels “The Fall of the Leaves” by Reşat Nuri Güntekin is a book that absolutely deserves a place in your bookshelves and which is perfectly halfway between “Portrait of a Turkish Family” by Irfan Orga and “Leyla’s house” by Zülü Livaneli. The elements of contact with the first are mainly attributable to the socio-economic decline of this family, an element unfortunately of central importance and frequency between the years of the First World War and Turkish Independence (although, not being Ali Riza Bey as rich as the Orga, this will have less catastrophic effects); with the second, however, the element of greatest contact is certainly the figure of Ali Yekta Bey, another head of the family who, despite having raised his son in an irreproachable way, will see his dreams of glory vanish with the entry of his daughter-in-law on the scene.
A reading not to be missed and which you can fully explore thanks to a live broadcast that I will hold on April 25 together with Giulia Bei, the translator of the novel, on the Youtube channel of the Casa editrice Altano.
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