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Book Review - Like A Sword Wound

Ahmet Altan, an award-winning Turkish novelist and journalist, is serving a life sentence on spurious charges following the attempted coup of 2016. He has written about the absurd and petty restrictions of the Ottoman empire and finds himself the victim of the absurd and petty repression of Turkey’s current government. He commented from prison: “I am living what I wrote in a novel.” He is referring to Like a Sword Wound, first published in 1997 and now published in English. This is the first volume in a quartet encompassing the decline of the Ottoman empire at the end of the 19th century and the rise of Kemal Atatürkin the 1920s.

It is a brilliant critique of an authoritarian regime on the verge of collapse. I was teaching English in Istanbul in 1993 (having worked as director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee before and afterwards). Political suppression was widespread, the economy was shot and state suspicion was rife. Although Altan was writing about the late Ottoman per…