Friday, 15 January 2016
Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey by Özge Samanci [Graphic novel]
by Özge Samanci
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015
I learned a huge amount reading this graphic memoir. I can't believe how little I knew about Turkey's history. This was the most entertaining history lesson ever - a beautifully constructed graphic novel that incorporates not just drawing but collaged papers, photographed objects, pencil scribble and perfeet spot colouring; set in the good quality white pages. The flaps on the paperback jacket give an added feeling of value too, I really like this touch with gives a feeling of the weight of a hardcover without the cost.
The author lives in Chicago now, but the book follows from her childhood years through to university, beginning with her sneaking in to school with her big sister whilst a pre-schooler. (I'm very familiar with this desire, as I left home by tricycle myself, as a four year old, determined to go to school, but was eventually returned home by the police, after a dangerous journey into the middle of town).
As well as her own story she tells the story of Turkey's history from its days as part of the Ottoman Empire, becoming a republic in 1923, headed up by Ataturk. In just one page I learned that prior to this time people in Turkey didn't have last names, there was a clothing revolution where fezzes and veils were replaced by modern clothing, and the Ottoman alphabet was given the boot in favour of the Latin alphabet. This is just the beginning... the story up to modern day is part of the story of Özge's own life. The restrictions about what women were expected to do with their lives, beginning with what girls could do at school; the struggles to get into a good school or face a lifetime of misery... Religion is also a major component of life at school and causes many rifts between Özge and her friends, and authority figures.
Özge has her own personal battles to fight. She's nowhere near as brainy as her big sister who qualifies for one of the best universities in Istanbul. Özge is determined to also go to Istanbul but can only qualify for a degree in mathematics which she struggles with continuously, but can't give up because of the pressure her father puts her under to study and get qualified so she won't have a miserable life. The two parents - the mother nurturing and encouraging and the father strict and rather forbidding, each have their influence on her and she eventually has to work out what she wants to do with the rest of her life herself. The title directly references the fact that she is going to have to disappoint someone in making her own choices for her life's path.
This book is evidence of the path she finally chose, and it can't have been easy. I felt as if I'd got to know Özge well, in addition to learning so much about life in Turkey.
There is quite a realistic take on some dramatic events, including the execution of a teacher and a near rape so this isn't for younger readers, but intermediate and up should take to this multilayered story.
Take a look at Özge's blog where she documents her observations of life in illustrations.