A Q&A with Perihan Magden, author of Ali and Ramazan
Question: What inspired you to write this story?
Perihan Magden: Ali and Ramazan is based on a true story. I first met these boys as third page news in a rather short article. Then, three more short news items depicting their tragic ending followed. They were forgotten, nobody. Two orphan lovers--gay street-boys, a male hustler and a glue sniffer--who cares? I couldn’t forget them, but it took me many years to go back and read the papers again and write about them. No writer would dare to make up such a tragic end (unless you’re Shakespeare, but no one is).
Q: Is there any character you most identify with? Why?
PM: I take that restlessness within me and magnify for my character--namely Ramazan. The impatience, the aggression, the anger--I know about all those, though through association.
Q: In 2008, the Turkish Writers Association awarded you the Grand Award of Freedom of Speech. As an outspoken writer in Turkey, what challenges have you met with? What keeps you in Istanbul, where writers may not be as free to express their views as in some other countries?
PM: All through my column-writing years I was sued. Keeping you coming and going to and from the courts is the Chinese-torture-strategy of the Turkish "justice" system. Any court case takes years to resolve, and they threaten you with many at once--at least that’s what they did to me. I’ve received many prison sentences for my essays, but they have all been postponed or converted to fines.
I left my column three years ago, but wrote a couple of essays recently for a daily called "Taraf," and right away I was sued by Erdogan--our prime minister--for two articles. He accuses me of "Insult"--and mind you, Turkey offers prison sentences for that! Anything can be regarded as an insult by Turkish judges--for instance, a Jay Leno joke. Everything is open to interpretation and that is unnerving.
I still live in Turkey because I am scared of being the "foreigner." I’m already a foreigner in my own country and that much is enough for me to deal with. Also, I want to live where I excel in (my own) language, and where I can read people inside and out. When I was seriously threatened by the fascist mob after writing a column defending conscientious objection (I was tried and acquitted) I considered moving abroad to New York, a city I knew as a young woman. I looked at some homes on the internet, but I can’t now -- it's too late to start over.
Q: What books would you recommend to Amazon customers?
PM: Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles--this is a pearl of a book--an all times favorite! My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike by Joyce Carol Oates, Waiting by Ha Jin, Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolano, and Seduced by Madness by Carol Pogash. I am a true crime addict; rarely are they this well-written, or this enlightening--for the sociopaths are taking over. It’s an epidemic.
From the instant they meet in an Istanbul orphanage at age 13, Ali and Ramazan fall "as far as it was possible to fall" in love. Handsome Ramazan, found in a mosque courtyard as an infant, reassures himself with fantasies that one day famous parents will rescue him "like a child in a Turkish film." Naive, sweet Ali, an Arab, watched his parents die horrible deaths--something that haunts his dreams at night. Conditions at the orphanage are appalling, and Ramazan is forced to perform sexual favors for the orphanage’s principal. After the boys turn 18, they are released by the state onto the mean streets of Istanbul. With no job prospects, Ramazan turns to prostitution and Ali to pills and inhalants. The cycle of men and drugs spirals out of control, fueled by their co-dependence and obsession with one another. The writing is choppy at times, perhaps owing to the English translation from the Turkish, and is characterized by short, simple sentences. Magden’s novel is slim but affecting, raw and tragic by most counts but punctuated by moments of sheer beauty. --Ann Kelley