Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar Review

The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar is a magical and engaging book.  Like many writers, past and present, Tanpinar uses satire to make larger political points.  The story works read straight but the meanings behind the simple words are so much more compelling.

Tanpinar wrote early in the 20th Century in Turkey as the country was undergoing it's forced modernization and westernization.  That rush into a new culture can't and doesn't ever happen seamlessly and Tanpinar was not in support of the process.  He's widely respected in his homeland (and called the greatest Turkish writer by Orhan Pamuk, a favorite of mine) but suffered during his life due to his politics.

For some reason this book made me think of Joe Saramago's Blindness in which political criticism is also hidden under satire.  In Saramago's book a form of blindness stands for so much more.  Tanpinar regulates time, the ultimate thing over which man has absolutely no control.  Futile to pretend government can do all, ignoring the dictates of nature.  His main character, Hayri, aptly labeled an anti-hero, is part of an effort by the government to fine all those whose clocks and watches aren't exactly on time.  Through an odd scheme by which repeat offenders pay less, the punitive government action becomes a highly coveted fine and tourists even yearn to interview and meet those who put it in place and pay their own fine.

The Time Regulation Institute founders are heralded and admired until they aren't.  And the government and society turns opinion wise as people struggle to find values in a world modernized too quickly and in ignorance of how people really are.

Magical, compelling and beautifully written, I absolutely loved this book.

The translation is both lyrical and a bit awkward at the same time.  I also really enjoyed the introduction that describes the steps Turkey took to modernize, including those that relate how the language was forced into a new set of symbols and rules that couldn't capture the original.

Recommended so highly to all those who want to read something distinctive, original and meaningful.

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