New Writings From Istanbul: Turkish Agent Nermin Mollaoğlu

In Feature Articles by Roger Tagholm

‘Frankfurt motivates us and helps our understanding of what we do,’ says Kalem Agency founder Nermin Mollaoğlu. She brings new voices from Turkey to the world stage in October, a pair of debuts.
A view across the Golden Horn, or Haliç, in Istanbul. Image: Roger Tagholm

A view across the Golden Horn, or Haliç, in Istanbul. Image: Roger Tagholm

At the end of August, we reported on the petition mounted by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association (Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels), PEN Centre Germany and Reporters Without Borders Germany. The petition calls for an end to Turkish limitations on expression following the July coup attempt in which 240 people were killed. Today, as we hear Istanbul’s Nermin Mollaoğlu, the petition has more than 78,400 backers. — Porter Anderson

By Roger Tagholm | @RogerTagholm

Voices From the ‘Republic of Fear’
Nermin Mollaoglu

Nermin Mollaoğlu

Istanbul’s Kalem Agency, which takes its name from the Turkish for pen, will celebrate its 10th anniversary at Frankfurt Book Fair next month. Kalem founder Nermin Mollaoğlu is a familiar face to many on the international publishing circuit.

In advance of the October 18-23 trade show, we spoke to her about the climate for publishing in Turkey and her hopes for Frankfurt.

Publishing Perspectives: What are you looking forward to at Frankfurt?

Nermin Mollaoğlu: I used to work only for adult and children fiction writers. But as Turkey changed, I changed, and I started to represent nonfiction writers. I’m looking forward to meeting many nonfiction editors at Frankfurt this year.

temelkuran-linedIt will be a new challenge for me. Our first big nonfiction success was Ece Temelkuran’s literary essays on Turkey, The Insane and the Melancholy, which has already been published in German and has just been published in English, with more languages to come. I was so happy that her English publisher became Zed Books. I always wanted to share an author with them.

Our second nonfiction success is Can Dündar, who was imprisoned because of what he published in the newspaper Cumhuriyet. He wrote a literary essay called #wearearrested. This is actually what he wrote on his Twitter account when the order was announced. I read the book in one sitting and I’m sure that thousands of people will do the same thing all around the world.

I’m also in touch with some academics and brave journalists for some possible nonfiction books that could work for international markets.

PP: Who are some of your most successful novelists?

tampinarNM: Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar is published in 46 languages, although curiously we are still missing Finnish and Danish for his masterpiece The Time Regulation Institute.  Ahmet Ümit, Mario Levi, Oya Baydar, Ayfer Tunç, Aslı Perker, Tuna Kiremitçi are all translated into more than 20 languages each.

The new novel by the 2016 Prix Medicis winner Hakan Günday is coming, and at Frankfurt I’ll also be talking about the new novel from Burhan Sönmez whose previous title İstanbul İstanbul will be published by Gallimard next year.

PP: We’ve all read about the recent troubles in Turkey. Can you summarize the situation please?

NM: As you know, our beautiful, wonderful country is called the Republic of Turkey. I feel–and I am sure most of the population feels this too—that it’s now the “republic of fear”: fear of recession, fear of the future, fear of life. That’s the shortest summary.  I really believe that the future is quite bright—we just need to keep working hard and believe in the power of literature.

PP: Is it easier to be a writer in Turkey today than it was 10 years ago?

NM: It has been never easy to be an author in this part of the world, nor unfortunately will it be in the near future. This country’s destiny is both a source of inspiration and a weakness for a writer. The Anatolian land is incredibly rewarding, but you have to dig deep and get used to having deep scars all around your body and spirit.

‘Before You Go Into Your Dreams’

PP: With Frankfurt ahead, how do you see international markets?  Where are you seeing growth?

peace-machineNM: Frankfurt motivates us and helps our understanding of what we do every day in our office. For example, I’ve been working with Dutch publishers and I’m looking forward to seeing their Guest of Honor stand. Also, the gate of India has opened for me, I have a meeting at Frankfurt.

PP: Can you tell us about some of the titles you’re offering at this year’s show?

NM: I’m excited to have two new debut novels in our highlighted list.

The first one is called Peace Machine (Barış Makinesi) by Özgur Mumcu, which I really enjoyed reading. It’s set in the early 1900s, a time when new inventions were shaping the modern world prior to the outbreak of World War I. The novel deals with the question of whether a peace machine could ever bring an end to all wars. It’s been a bestseller since its release, and it intertwines the themes of free will and destiny, philosophy and science, past and future.

bin-yillik-hemsehriThe other debut is by Halil Babilli, The Thousand-Year Hometown (Bin Yıllık Hemşehri) from April Publishing  The main character is called Theo, and he’s a crafty Byzantine detective who’s actually a weasel. He shape-shifted to this form in the Byzantine times, during the siege of the city by the Turks. Nobody knows why this happened.  Theo struggled to get used to his new body and to the new owners of the city. And as time passed he adapted, just like everybody else, as there is no situation that a human mind cannot adapt to, regardless of whether he has a human body or not.  His adaptation is also a reflection of the city’s adaptation. Istanbul has a new body now.

From our backlist, I have the complete English translation manuscript of Ayfer Tunç’s crazy and wonderful The Highly Unreliable Account of the Brief History of a Madhouse (Bir Deliler Evinin Yalan Yanlış Anlatılan Kısa Tarihi). It’s a literary palimpsest of Turkey that moves at a giddy pace.  Since I read it, I’m mad about this crazy novel.  It’s a modern version of the 1,001 Arabian Nights stories, or a literary form of Facebook, or the six degrees of separation theory.  She relates dozens of tales, some entertaining, others unpredictable or tragic in a pen portrait of the country.

I’ll also be talking about Nermin Yıldırım’s novels, which we’ve sold in China, Poland and the Balkan countries.  Her work has been translated into English now, including Secrets Dreamed in İstanbul.  If you remember your dreams in the morning, or always forget your dreams and wonder why, this is the perfect novel to read before you go into your dreams.

About the Author

Roger Tagholm


Roger Tagholm is based in London and has been writing about the book industry for more than 20 years. He is the former Deputy Editor of Publishing News and the author of Walking Literary London (New Holland) and Poems NOT on the Underground (Windrush Press).