The following is taken from the forthcoming novel by Zülfü Livaneli
the last island, which revolves around a former president who moves to a remote island. Hoping to bring order to island life, the president seeks to rid it of its “anarchic” components. As he begins to act more and more like a dictator, the once utopian island life begins to turn into a dystopia. Originally published in 2008 as a condemnation of the authoritarian Turkish regime, the last island the themes of protest and power have only grown in relevance today.
There was a time when we peacefully lived our lives in this paradise on earth, the one we thought was a well-kept secret. Until the day when “He” appeared.
How to describe this paradise, even to attempt to describe it, is simply beyond me. If I were to talk about the pine forests of this small island, its cerulean sea as clear as nature’s aquarium, its alluring coves with their brightly colored fish that mesmerized us looking at them, and its flying seagulls always around us like white ghosts… this could be a scene that would be nothing more than a tourist postcard.
Far from any continent, it was a world apart, its nocturnal air giving off the delicate sweet scent of jasmine, enveloped in the same mild climate whatever the season, it existed in complete independence with its forty houses nestled among the trees.
It was as if a sacred secret was hidden in the quiet nature of the island. How to describe the milky white mist of the morning above the sea, the light breeze of the early evening licking your face, the murmur of the wind among the cries of seagulls, the scent of lavender? Or the spell cast each morning by the misty twin island that would appear before us as if suspended from the sky as we still rubbed sleep from our eyes? Or the seagulls, swooping in and out of the sea in their hunt for prey? Or the purple bougainvilleas that hugged our homes?
The thing is, we didn’t even think about how beautiful that life was anymore. We had gotten so used to it that we were going about our business as usual, really. You don’t think the sea is beautiful; nor do you think of a seagull landing on a rocky cliff in front of your house as beautiful, when that is something you see every day. Neither of the way the branches of the trees meet and intertwine in a canopy as one walks along the dirt road through a grove, nor of the quiet conversations amidst the gardens, where morning glories bloom like a miracle suddenly, nor whispers of love that emanates, almost inaudible, from a house here and there. A person simply experiences them. But being neither a professional writer nor a good writer, I chose to tell you everything through a series of descriptions. In truth, it is my friend the Writer who should tell you this story. But unfortunately for all of us, his fate made that impossible. He was my closest friend on the island for years, and who knows what clever metaphors he might have incorporated into the text as he told you the story. It is therefore unfortunate that you have no choice but to learn of the horrific events that have befallen the island and my friend from me. Put up with me, the vulgar writer that I am, ignorant of all forms of modern romance and elaborate techniques of exposition. The thing is, at the time, we didn’t want any of that to come out. We would keep our island a closely guarded secret, given that in our increasingly crazy world, it would hardly have served our interests if others found out that a place like this even existed. We were the forty resident families of the island who, in one way or another, had been lucky enough to have entered our lives.
We lived in peace, with no one meddling in other people’s affairs.
Having already suffered considerable disappointment and deep grief, I deeply felt that the new friends we had all made on the island were precious beyond words, and I sincerely loved them. So much so that I nicknamed this place “the island of angels”. Yes, we really were living on an island of angels now. The only thing we wanted was to continue to lead this life of peace.
As we had no television, the newspapers brought by the weekly ferry were the only means we had of knowing what was going on in the world. With half-closed eyes as we were about to doze off after a wine-laced lunch, we read the news on our quiet little planet, seeing reports that madness on this other planet was on the rise. But I have to admit, this news might as well have been about space wars, for all that concerned us. It was all so far away from us.
We were wrong, however, as we discovered in the end. Far from being a separate planet, what we were was an island in the very belly of madness – a reality we didn’t see even when the president moved to our island after reluctantly concluding his term. at the head of the state.
I should tell you about some of the history of this island. Years ago, when it was deserted, the island was bought by a wealthy businessman. In his old age, he built a magnificent country house, where he settled with a team of servants. He lived the last years of his life away from the struggles of the world, spending his time fishing and taking afternoon naps in his hammock.
To relieve his boredom, he invited a few acquaintances to his home and encouraged them to build their own houses. They came and built houses that were smaller than his, so he didn’t ask them for any payment for the land. The houses were built with natural materials by the islanders, using the island’s forests for the log cabin-style homes, so only a minimum of building materials had to be shipped from elsewhere. Over time, as the news spread among friends and acquaintances, the number of houses on the island reached forty. It was then that the wealthy man put an end to the arrivals and the construction of new houses, so as not to deteriorate the natural beauty of the island, its serenity and its forests sparkling with a thousand and one shades of green.
When this man died, he bequeathed the house to his eldest son. Being somewhat idle, the son preferred to spend his life on the island at leisure rather than taking on the more complex task of governing the island. Over time, he came to forget, like the other inhabitants of the island, that the island actually belonged to his family, whom the islanders considered to be no different from the others – they simply lived in a house more big.
We called him number 1. It wasn’t because he was the chief, or that he was particularly distinguished, or even that he was descended from the original owner of the island, but because of a strange tradition here: we tend to address people by number. of their house.
My family number is 36. My father found his way to this island quite late in the order of ownership of the forty houses. Thanks to the invitations of some acquaintances, he managed to seize the opportunity, despite a history of previous personal disappointments, to seize the penultimate house.
As for my friend the Writer, although neither he nor his family owned a home here, he had a close friend who was a fan of his books and let him use his house at a time when the Writer was looking for a place calm. for writing. It was number 7. It was one of the first houses on the island, at the start of a dirt road that ran along a shady tunnel woven with majestic trees.
The row of houses begins at the tip of the island where a dilapidated pier stands. A weekly ferry approaches it, but it can never touch the pier because this ferry is so huge it has to be anchored offshore while small boats ferry supplies to the island. From there, the houses are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on, in continuous progression until they reach 40. Next to the pier there is a small grocery store that caters to all our needs, and a simple garden café run by the same man, which offers fresh seafood and fish daily. We simply call this old veteran “the grocer”. It’s because he doesn’t have a number. He lives with his wife and their son, a young man, in the two-room annex behind the shop. He had arrived and settled on the island with his family years ago, and is now an integral part of it.
So I hope at this point that I have provided the necessary information about the island before I start telling you the story. I hope I haven’t forgotten anything! Rest assured, I would have liked to report all this to you in a way full of literary flair, that is, more like a pro. Yet, being an ordinary storyteller, I can’t help but tell the story in layman’s terms. All these hours spent on my notebook, I keep berating myself: do as modern writers do and try to create a work where what matters is not the content, but the style. Be bold!
But those things don’t really matter to me, when all is said and done.
Extract of the last island by Zülfü Livaneli, translated by Ayşe A. Şahin. To be published by Other Press.