The Great Untranslated: Tutunamayanlar by Oğuz Atay


When it comes to Turkish literature, we are lamentably deprived. The gaping lacuna is what is considered by many to be the greatest 20th-century literary achievement in Turkey: Oğuz Atay’s experimental, linguistically complex novel of ideas Tutunamayanlar (The Disconnected). It has been quite a while since it was put up on the UNESCO site as an important literary work in need of English translation, and, just like Germán Espinosa’s masterpiece The Weaver of Crowns, it still remains unavailable for a host of the prospective readers. Granted, the author’s use of different varieties of Turkish such as the heavily arabicised Ottoman Turkish and the purist, reformed Turkish, the so-called Öztürkçe, renders the job of the translator extremely demanding, but not unfeasible. The conclusive proof of that is the Dutch translation of the novel published four years ago. At the moment it is the only translation of Atay’s book into any other language, so, I guess, we should congratulate the Dutch on having the privilege to read the cult classic.

HetLevenOtayThe plot of the novel focuses primarily on the quest of engineer Turgut Özben to find out the reason for his friend’s suicide. The investigation leads the main character to the array of different texts left by the deceased, and the further  Özben proceeds with his inquiry, the closer he approaches his own radical transformation. If it sounds like something written by Orhan Pamuk, you should not be surprised as Atay has exercised considerable influence on the Nobel Laureate. Within the context of Turkish letters, Atay was a trailblazer whose innovative techniques left a lasting impression on the next generation of writers. The manner in which the story of Özben’s search is presented took the Turkish reader at the time by surprise, which partly explains why Atay’s novel received due recognition much later, already after the writer’s untimely death at the age of 43. As one of the Dutch translators of the novel Hanneke van der Heijden writes:

The literary form of Atay’s novel was not exactly what readers were used to either: the unbridled stream of consciousness, all kinds of short texts in different genres, that cut across the story, such as a poem of 600 lines plus commentary, a chapter of 70 pages, written without a single comma or full stop – it may remind us, the readers of today, of James Joyce, of Nabokov, Virginia Woolf and other western modernist writers – writers Atay was very familiar with. But, as the critic Ahmet Oktay once remarked, the number of Turkish readers that in the beginnings of the seventies had read Ulysses, was no more than ten.

The more pity that most of us who have read Ulysses and seem to be ready for this seminal text of Turkish modernism have to live with our frustration for an unknown period of time. Maybe learning Turkish or Dutch could be a more realistic alternative to waiting for a quality English translation to materialise in the foreseeable future.

Hanneke van der Heijden has her own blog dedicated to Turkish literature. Most of it is in Dutch, but the written version of her talk on the translation of  Tutunamayanlar is available in English. It’s the best article about Atay’s novel in English you will find on the Web, and I urge you to check it out.

This entry was posted in Fiction, The Great Untranslated and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to The Great Untranslated: Tutunamayanlar by Oğuz Atay

  1. Where do you keep finding these gems?

  2. It depends. In most cases it’s pure serendipity: when looking for something else I encounter a mention, a vague reference to an author I’ve never heard of, and then Google does the rest of the job.

  3. Scot Roberts says:

    Contra Mundum Press lists a forthcoming title by Oguz Atay titled, “While Waiting for Fear.” There is no date of publication listed yet or any further details about the book, but your overview leaves me excited to read it–whether it happens to be a translation of the book you reference or another book entirely.

  4. T.K. says:

    This book has also been translated in German! “Die haltlosen”.

  5. Olric says:

    A translation by Sevin Seydi, as The Disconnected, is scheduled to be published by Olric Press early in 2017 (ISBN: 978-0-9955543-0-6):

  6. Hello folks, I am happy to announce that the English translation of this amazing book (my lifetime favorite) will be published ad 1st of Marchi 2017!

    You can preorder the book here:

    • Thanks for the heads-up!

    • olricpress says:

      The Book Depository actually can’t supply it. It can only be bought direct from the publisher, at

      • Olric Press says:

        We’ve nothing against the Book Depositiry, who sell new books at slightly discounted prices on the basis that they can get a 40% discount from the publisher. The Disconnected is an expensively produced limited edition of 200 copies, and these terms would mean selling at below the cost of production. The book has been selling quite well, but there are still copies available.

      • tonymess12 says:

        My copy has arrived and I’m immersed in the journey, and am planning a blog post soon – are their copies left, just so I can let my readers know?

  7. tonymess12 says:

    Now another to add to the great “I started this but haven’t quite finished it” pile.

    • Greatness often requires too much time and effort. But we can always return to it when the time’s right. I might give a go to the German translation, which is cheaper, but I’m not sure yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.