Dissidence and “Bliss”: A Q&A with Turkish Author Omer Zülfü Livaneli
Omer Zülfü Livaneli — author, composer, folk singer, and filmmaker — is a towering figure in the cultural and political life of his native Turkey, where he once served as a member of parliament. Briefly imprisoned and then exiled for his political activism in the 1970s, he remains a champion of progressive causes, including women’s rights
and friendship between the people of Turkey and Greece. He has written hundreds of popular songs and over 30 films soundtracks, including the score for “Yol” (“The Way”), which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1982.
His first novel, “The Eunuch of Constantinople” (1996), drew instant acclaim and was widely translated. His latest work of fiction, “Leyla’s House” (2006), is already in its 48th edition, and has been published by Gallimard in France. One of his most celebrated novels is “Bliss” (2002), which has been translated into 10 languages and was made into
an acclaimed film in 2007. The book deals with tensions between modern and traditional values in Turkish society as a 15-year-old girl, Meryem, journeys from her home town to the capital to escape the threat of an honor killing by her family. In the company of Cemal, her cousin, she encounters Irfan, a successful academic alienated from his urban
existence, and his own identity, and the trio embark on a voyage of self discovery.
On the occasion of the publication of the Chinese edition of “Bliss,” Livaneli visited Beijing in June 2010, where ARTINFO China spoke with him.
You are known as a musician, a writer, a filmmaker and politician. Which role do you prefer?
I prefer to write. I am a storyteller. To express yourself, music is the best tool; to tell a story or analyze a situation or create characters, you have to write. Film takes a long time and you have to relate to other people: if one fails, we all fail. Being a politician is boring. Does the character Meryem in “Bliss” represent Turkish women?
Actually, I started to write about the professor. A few chapters later, I added a young girl from the south of Turkey, who I saw as a victim … When she entered the story, she got bigger and bigger. She created herself and I followed her. Of course, she represents women in Turkey. Generally, I think women are stronger than men. Not only in Turkey, but anywhere. They give birth, work and raise children. Everybody thinks women are more emotional than men. No! Maybe they are emotional, but they’re rational as well.
What was your experience like when you were exiled for eight years?
I learned a lot. In Europe, I bonded with a lot of artists and musicians of different nationalities. I am cosmopolitan,
so I understand different cultures. It was a difficult time, because I had no money. Many immigrants have to wash dishes for a living: I made my living by music. Luckily for me, my music was popular.
How did it feel to go from being a political refugee to a member of parliament?
My passports tell my life story. My first passport was a fake which I bought to get away from my country. My
second one was a refugee passport issued by the UN. I then got a normal Turkish passport — that was my third. Later, when I was made a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and became a Member of Parliament, I was issued with a red diplomatic passport. Imagine — with different passports, I got different treatment everywhere, but it was always me. I was the same person! When I held the first passport, I was a criminal. When I showed the red passport, I was a very important person. It’s ridiculous. Society is so bureaucratic.