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Selection of book reviews

Selection of book reviews 

Ayfer Gürdal Ünal*, Ice Dolls, Dünya Newspaper book supplement, 07.11.2014

Sertbarut is attentive to the music and the rhythm of words as well as to the warm and cold feelings these rhythms create throughout her narrative, therefore improving readers’ awareness of language. At the same time, the author presents a critique of society as a whole. She is a writer who is deeply aware of social realities. Turkish children’s literature gained a very valuable story on child abuse with Miyase Sertbarut’s Ice Dolls. I hope that all children above 11 get to interact with this book in a classroom setting.

Ayfer Gürdal Ünal, Junk Plaza, Dünya Newspaper book supplement, 04.05.2012

Sertbarut utilises dualities in her story. Elite City versus Junk Plaza, money-grubbing chief physician versus idealist doctor Metin. She portrays corruption on the individual level and casts the ministry of health and the police as protective institutions that are above corruption. However, she makes her reader acutely aware that the true problem is social inequality and illustrates very well how social exploitation makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. From beginning to end, the novel features the excitement of a detective story.

Can a bad event result in a good outcome? If housing were to be made for the residents of Junk Plaza within Elite City, the children of the two neighbourhoods were to live together, give strength to each other and enrich each other, could we make the impossible, possible? Could both the rich and the poor approach this neighbourhood without prejudice? The author provides her own answer at the end of the novel.

I will not spoil the ending for you. But, if you want to dive into a less known world presented with high tension, through a brilliant use of language, and create emotional bonds with children who collect trash, Junk Plaza is a good read. 

As the author writes, “Because the world turns for all of us. If humanity, who is at the top of the food chain, keeps eating one another, suffering and poverty will persist as a scar that cannot heal. After all, aren’t we all blood siblings?” (p.150)

Ayfer Gürdal Ünal, Pepper the Fugitive Dog, Dünya Newspaper book supplement, 06.09.2013

Good-hearted ones, swindlers, compassionate ones and cruel ones. Greedy ones, the ones who protect Pepper, those who inform on their long-time neighbours just to get a reward out of Pepper. A plethora of human behaviour. Miyase Sertbarut wrote this book before the Gezi protests and before the prime minister said “inform on your neighbour who bangs on their pots and pans”.  However, with her artist’s insight, she illuminated human behaviour and seemingly predicted the dark days that were ahead. This narrative contains an exciting chase story as well as the strength of friendship and solidarity. What is beautiful is that this solidarity is not limited within a single species. As much as dogs support each other, when the time comes, dogs support humans and humans support dogs, displaying unity and solidarity among all living things. This is what I liked the most about this work. Pepper the Fugitive Dog offers a very pleasurable read with its exciting narrative and shimmering language.

 *Ayfer Gürdal Ünal, author and critic, jury member for 2012 Hans Christian Andersen award

Toprak Işık, author, Ice Dolls, Iyi Kitap Newspaper, 2015, Issue:72

Let’s all name –however displeasure it causes us, one of the monsters: child abuse! Miyase Sertbarut has struck her pen to a significant wound. Isn’t it one of literature’s duties to expose the ills of society? Ice Dolls accomplishes this exceedingly well. It tells us of monsters who grow stronger as they remain in the dark. It says, look at these deplorable things. How will they be eradicated if you don’t gaze upon them, if I don’t gaze upon them? These stories should continue: because there are many wounds that need to be bled to start healing.

Some artists carve their statues out of ice in the winter. When spring arrives, although their wonderful creations melt away, the impression they leave on people remains. Miyase Sertbarut similarly created a world out of ice. She touched on the heart-breaking tales of orphanages. She voiced her story so well that it brings me joy to read such an adept author, especially these days when the Turkish language is challenged. It gives me confidence that our language is capable of telling these stories. Such that it encourages one to write and embrace the language. When the artist builds a city out of ice with words, the reader might wander in and get cold initially but that city made of ice would eventually embrace her like a mother and warm her.

Mavisel Yener, author, critic, editor, Snake Fort, Cumhuriyet Newspaper book supplement, 05.08.2010

Miyase Sertbarut is one of the adept names of Turkish children’s writing. I am always curious to learn what is on her agenda. Like all her books, Snake Fort offers an exciting read for its audience. In addition to the science-fiction twist the book takes on towards the end, this is a work that would draw reader’s interest towards fantastical literature as well as mythology. While the book would enlighten the reader on many topics, it would be unfair to pass over the use of language by the author. The novel, set in Snake Fort, commonly known by the locals as the “Shahmaran Fort” that sits atop the Ceyhan valley between Ceyhan and Adana, features descriptions whose colours, sounds and smells prove to be unforgettable. “Snake Fort was set up in such a way as to instinctively instil respect in people. As if it had physical presence, it resembled an emperor who could at any moment sprout thousands of arms that could grab you and drag you into its dark dungeons.” (p. 29)

Imbued in Sertbarut’s pen, is the secret of the whispers and screams of Ceyhan’s stones, earth and trees. With Snake Fort, the author, while paying tribute to her homeland, also captures the voice that extends from the local to the universal. While the reader is asked to consider mankind’s cruelty to each other and the environment, the reflections on history and geography are imparted without becoming tedious. In the character of Ihsan the treasure hunter, who lacks scientific, rational thinking, the author questions reliance on superstition and spurious tales. “I know of a prayer. We will write this prayer on a piece of paper and hang this from the neck of a rooster. Before dusk, we will let the rooster roam around here. We will dig the spot where the rooster chooses to call because wherever the treasure is, he will choose to call there.”(p. 89)

Aslı Tohumcu, author, Kapiland’s Guinea Pigs, Radikal Newspaper book supplement, 27.04.2007

It is hard, in our children’s literature that tends to walk on egg shells when it comes to certain topics, considering it appealing or safe, to find the realism that is present in children’s literature from across the wider world. We hear about the violence in our schools. We read that drugs are sold as easy as peanuts in front of school gates. We know that children are subjected to the sexual abuse of adults and their peers. We are aware that racism and fascism are on the rise under the disguise of nationalism or piousness.

Miyase Sertbarut, in her novel Kapiland’s Guinea Pigs, aimed at teenagers, chooses her subject matter as an economic conspiracy that has unfortunately become mundane and endemic… Turkey is suffering from a very dangerous virus. The virus particularly affects young people of ages between seven and seventeen with the effect that it compels them into violence. Thankfully, scientists from Kapiland, in cooperation with scientists from Turkey, develop syrup that acts as an antidote to the virus. Called Anti-Row, the syrup is suspiciously available for free and thanks to the ministry of health’s intense propaganda efforts, every single young person between the affected age group starts drinking the syrup. Throughout the story, Miyase Sertbarut highlights the strangeness of unquestioning belief and acceptance and the dangerous results of being governed by our fears.

In this world, just like there are people who face danger, voluntarily or not, there are also people who try to turn everything to their advantage helping the most selfish ones through their inconsiderateness, both exist next to each other. While the author makes her choice clear in the text, she also seems to expect her reader to pick a side as well. Meanwhile, she manages to enrich this exciting adventure story with frequent jokes by our heroes at the expense of the school headmaster and his deputy.

Sevda Müjgan Yüksel, author, Unwanted Students Start Their Own School, BirGün Newspaper book supplement, Issue 143, 7-20 March 2014

A family that packed everything they owned, their beds, pots and heaters and moved from their homeland (a village in Diyarbakir) where they didn’t even had a plot of land to sell, to someplace else. The father tells his son “Look Levo, we left our home and came here”. “Here” is a village outside Izmir. Because Levent will have a chance to go to a good school, not in the village they left behind but here. This means he will have a good job. A hope that “you will not end up like us”. However, it doesn’t take long for Levent to figure out that the good schools he was hoping to attend don’t exist here as much as they didn’t exist back in their village in Diyarbakir.

Levo is facing a patchwork of Turkish that approximates a language, some acquired in his native village, some used by the villagers that currently surround him and mixed with words that emanate from TV. He tries to understand his teacher but can’t manage. He suffers while trying to read books. People make fun of the way he talks. He can’t figure out how not to stumble and fall when he was born into another language and now being forced into growing up and understanding another.

As the author Miyase Sertbarut aims to highlight, the problems of education in the country transcends living in Diyarbakir or Izmir. This problem that awaits solution from parents, teachers and most of all decision makers on a policy level is standing in the way of children like a mountain. Anyone who strives to summit this mountain can find a foothold on the pages of the book Unwanted Students Start Their Own School.

Betül Dünder, poet, The Dark Side of Kapiland, Iyi Kitap Newspaper, Issue 57, November 2013

Hayri (aka Marginal) and Mehtap, students of the Aydınlıkevler High school who spoiled the plan of the dominant forces in the first book (Kapiland’s Guinea Pigs), take centre stage in The Dark Side of Kapiland. We join the action in a setting reminding us of Orwell’s “Big Brother”, where these rebelling high school students are being watched by shadowy forces at every turn and are brought to the doors of Kapiland as a result of a rigged exam that was publicised as a triumph. Documenting the machinations of this overarching government will be easy for the reader. Kapiland is a place where people become willing slaves that organise their entire lives around paying their debts to banks in order to keep buying things. A place where the homeless are kept in ghettos and every time they wander out of those gates, they are looked at as visual pollution, a place where scientists have lost all their standing and are used merely for state-sanctioned experiments and where any defiance is immediately ruled to be crushed! Kapiland itself is not a word chosen by coincidence. The word seems like an allusion to Disneyland, the heart of spectacle,carrying a stronger transparency than its various connotations with capitalism alone.

Mavisel Yener, author, editor, critic, Pepper the Fugitive Dog, Cumhuriyet Newspaper book supplement, 11.07.2013

Pepper the Fugitive Dog, through the character of Pepper who does not want to become a police dog, offers a look at issues such as freedom, love, productivity, change, sharing and independence. When Miyase Sertbarut was writing this story, the spirit of Gezi had not yet emerged and she is not a sage but an author who has deep insight and can render visible what is not seen. The novel contributes to the thinking process of the young reader with the story of Pepper.

Pepper’s mother is a police dog, but that does not mean Pepper has to become one himself. He was born in a training facility and he is very talented. But, he is a dog with a free spirit. As he grows up, he becomes more aware and as his awareness grows, he becomes enlightened. Although the police officers think he can be tamed with “some cookies and lots of training”, Pepper already knows the requirements to live independently. By escaping from the training facility that is well outside the town, he takes his first steps towards realising his dreams. After walking for a day and a night, he arrives in Ankara and befriends other street dogs that are living as freely as he is. Their voices are also reflected in his story.

The novel does not prescribe answers to its young readers about what is “good”.  While certain moral values are evaluated, the young reader is encouraged to consider various options in the spirit of democracy and without haste. The author manages to convey these lovingly and always keeping up a smile, often veering into the frame of laughter. The fast paced and solid construction of the text contributes to it being such an easy read.

Ömer Faruk Çınar, reader, middle school student, Hidden by the Fog, Cumhuriyet Newspaper book supplement, issue 1098, March 2011

I would like to introduce you to a book that I have read upon recommendation of my language teacher. The book is titled Hidden by the Fog, the author is Miyase Sertbarut, published by Tudem. The book covers the experiences of Ilay, who travels to the Kunduzlu village to join her aunt (unwillingly at first), the fog covering the village and the truths hidden behind that fog. Suspicious about the mine near the village, Ilay investigates and uncovers what is hidden behind the fog. My favourite character in the book is Ilay’s aunt, because she is a very intelligent and skilful woman. In this book, I have seen that city life is not inherently better than country life and that we shouldn’t forget about our relatives. One thing I would change about the book is the generally very brief length of the chapters. The author shows us country life can be as pleasant and interesting as life in the city. My favourite section in the book was titled “The Fog Clears” because many of the mysteries of the book are resolved. I would have named this book “Yellow Fog Dissipates”.  If I were the author, I would end the book by portraying Ilay’s return to the city and her attempt to tell her mother what happened. The book is very beautiful and fun to read, apart from some of the sections that were too short. Recommended for all those who want to see the reality behind clouds of fog.

Ece Arar Emener, author, columnist, Hidden by the Fog, Radikal Newspaper book supplement, 03.06.2005

Hidden by the Fog has such a strong narrative that one is curious to know which method the author used while working on it. As if a great ball of yarn slowly unties itself in front of you and then re-ties itself all over again. This book is truly like a ball of yarn. Take Ilay, our protagonist for example; she feels completely genuine. There are many children like Ilay, who can’t eat their omelettes without ketchup, who desperately desire a cell phone and derive the greatest joy from going to the movies and chatting with their friends and know of Anatolia and its villages only through movies and make fun of them. I was one of those children once and therefore I kept wondering how Ilay wouldbe transformed.

We learn so much about crows through this book, just like we did when reading Samed Behrengi, we learn to love and care again about crows thanks to Miyase Sertbarut. The events that unfold in Sisbağ where genetic research is taking place, is so exciting that one does not need to be a child to keep turning the pages in anticipation. Hidden by the Fog is a gripping work and also a novel that is contemporary and in tune with the times and the youth of today.

Burhanettin Duzcay, editor, Junk Plaza, Iyi Kitap newspaper, issue 39, March 2012

Junk Plaza features a beautifully flowing narrative. With her artist’s sensibility, Miyase Sertbarut transforms poverty into the very air we breathe while we read, without turning it into emotional exploitation. She questions, and leads us to question, income inequality, the ethics of capitalism and the endemic problems of the system without ever becoming didactic.Junk Plaza is a book that will grab you with its exciting story and tension of a thriller.

Mavisel Yener, author, critic, editor, Junk Plaza, Cumhuriyet newspaper book supplement, 28 June 2012

At first, I was unsatisfied with the way the author wrapped up the story with a happy ending. Then, I jumped at the next sentence, “You would have liked the novel to end this way, wouldn’t you, dear reader? With a happy ending, like a fairy tale…” Here was a great surprise that gave the novel an entirely new ending. I once again bowed in front of Miyase Sertbarut’s storytelling prowess. I have never looked this closely to the “vampire people”. I have read much about them, but now I feel like I know them. Children will be surprised by the truth while reading this exciting novel that is half-fantasy.

Yıldıray Karakiya, author, children’s magazine editor, The Shadow in the Cemetery, Iyi Kitap newspaper, issue 72, March 2015

While The Shadow in the Cemetery takes us inside an old Turkish film by teleporting us into a neighbourhood we might have grown up in, it also portrays through a humorous perspectivethe endemic lynch mentality that exists in neighbourhoods and how this is expressed in social media. If we open our eyes, it becomes evident that this lynch culture has helped normalise rape and wasted our years and delayed progress by oiling the gears of the mainstream political stance. Hasn’t our entire country been run on a lynch mentality for many years? How are we finally going to break free of this? Miyase Sertbarut offers a venue for children to think about lynch mentality and for considered adults to discuss it with children.

M. Sadık Aslankara, author, critic, Start Over Love
(Growing up with the Reality, Walking with Dreams),Cumhuriyet newspaper book supplement, issue:771, 25 November 2004

Miyase Sertbarut plots her novel Growing up with the Reality, Walking with Dreamswith a dramatic and strong through-line. She introduces an interweaving structure into her plot that might be one of the best implementations of the structure in modern Turkish writing. She provides a joyous airiness in her sentence structures, her detailing and the way she implies secondary meanings. All these lead to a novel that can be read eagerly.

Sedef Pekin, critic, The Kid who Flew on the Fire Extinguisher, Iyi Kitap newspaper, issue: 60, February 2014

Miyase Sertbarut manages to cover many different themes while portraying Samet and Sinan, two passionate, daring and playful boys. Some of these themes are cruelty, honesty, making mistakes and justice. For example, in the story “That Kid”, we hear from a girl complaining about the cruel new boy who arrived in her class. We get angry listening to her story, we feel her plight and we wonder what can be done. Then, following a clever turn in the story, we set aside cruelty and start considering justice. The Kid who Flew on the Fire Extinguisher has been a book that made me laugh, surprised me and made me think.

Ayşegül Utku Günaydın, researcher-editor, Who are You?, Iyi Kitap newspaper, issue: 27, May 2011

Who are You? by Miyase Sertbarut focuses on the experiences of Elif, who is transitioning from being a teenager into adulthood, and through Elif, the novel highlights the limits of our perception, reminding us that despite the limited colour spectrum we can see through, there is infinite diversity out in the world. Elif’s perception of herself, her family and her friends evolve with her experiences. The notion of experience plays a large role in this evolution. This is because the idea of experience puts into contrast the notion of perception, the ‘reality’ that we see and what remains hidden as well as having empathy. This period when Elif questions herself as well as life in general, and occasionally feels alienated from it all, leads to moments of self-reflection and the discovery of self-expression.