I Will Never See the World Again: The Memoir of an Imprisoned Writer by Ahmet Altan

To review certain books seems like an impertinence. This is one of them. It speaks for itself with such clarity, certainty and wisdom that only one thing needs to be said: read it. And then read it again. It is a short book, divided into brief chapters, some no longer than two pages, each recounting some incident from the author’s prison experience. It is wonderfully distilled, but not sententious; even in extremis, Ahmet Altan never loses the limpidity and translucence, vivid with the vividness of dreams, which is characteristic of his other writing – as far as one can judge from the only other books of his available in English translation, Like a Sword Wound, the superb first volume of his Ottoman Quartet; and Endgame, a phantasmagorical crime story. Even the latter has, at the heart of all the violence, a dreamy, wide-eyed quality that seems to be quintessential Altan. To judge by I Will Never See the World Again, it has been and will be his salvation.

Altan’s arrest was no surprise to him. He was in the frontline. As the author of Atakurd, a much-read piece in Milliyet newspaper arguing for equal status for Kurds, he had, as early as 1995, received a suspended 20-month sentence, and been fined $12,000. In 2007, he founded and edited the satirical newspaper Tara, in which, a year later, he wrote a piece called Oh My Brother. For this, he was charged under the draconian Article 301 of the Turkish penal code that criminalises “denigrating Turkishness”, though not, at that time, imprisoned. Knowing how exposed his position was, he habitually carried a gun.

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