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Adalet Ağaoğlu: Üç Beş Kişi (Curfew)

The Turkish title means Three or Five but it is the English title that gives away what this novel is about. The novel is set in 1980, three months before yet another Turkish coup. As a result, there is a curfew as from 2.00 a.m. We follow a few characters in the few hours before one specific curfew. Of course, we also follow their back stories. There are seven chapters, each one devoted to one of the main characters, and all seven characters are linked to the others in some way.

Murat Kaymazli and his sister, Kismet, are from a bourgeois family from Eskişehir, a town about half way between Istanbul and Ankara. Murat currently lives in Istanbul, while Kismet is married (an arranged marriage) to Orhan and still lives in Eskişehir. At the start of the novel, Murat has received a telegram from Kismet, announcing that she is coming to Istanbul. She does not say why.

Murat has a friend, Ufuk (whom he has not seen for a year) who used to be Kismet’s boyfriend. Last time they met, Ufuk asked him to let him know if Kismet ever came to Istanbul. The night before her arrival (soon after he received the telegram) Murat sets off to find Ufuk, with the intention of surprising Kismet and making both Kismet and Ufuk happy. Of course, he has to do this before curfew and he does not seem to have allowed a great deal of time.

Ağaoğlu’s technique is to use a stream of consciousness approach, so in the case of the first chapter – Murat’s – as will happen in some (but not all) of the subsequent chapters, we follow his thoughts which jump backward and forward. We see details of his early life but also his concern about finding Ufuk and meeting Kismet as well as the specific problems of locating Kismet’s house. More particularly, one technique she uses is to seemingly describe an event and we only realise later that the event has not actually happened but is merely imagined as a possibility by the character.

We learn how he left Eskişehir and, more particularly, why – not to pursue his studies as his mother thought, but to be with Selmin, the love of his life. Murat wants to be a musical composer and had written a song which Selmin had sung. They had met and, though she is much older than him, started an affair. We now learnt that the affair is over, to his disappointment, and that he is now something of a lost soul in Istanbul, with his musical career not advancing.

The next chapter concerns Kardelen, a working class woman who had become friends with Kismet and had fallen for Murat and is now engaged to Tahir, though not with any great enthusiasm. Like Kismet, she too was attracted to Ufuk. It is she who had introduced Kismet to a lawyer to enable her divorce from Orhan. She also has to look after her wilful teenage brother, Özgur.

We subsequently follow Kismet, who is fleeing to Istanbul after divorcing Orhan. She has told neither Orhan nor her mother. Her mother, Türkan, tends to take Kismet for granted. (Kismet and Orhan live in the flat below Türkan.) Türkan very much misses Murat and is looking after her dying father.

Ferit is Türkan’s brother and he represents the new industrialist trend in Turkey. He had fallen out with his father (the one now dying) over using the family lands to build an industrial area. He complains that the industrialised world wants to keep Turkey chained to agriculture and he sees Turkey’s future as industrial rather than agricultural. He also recognises that young people are not happy in modern Turkey and that there is a lot of anger.

Our next chapter is a bit of a change as it concerns Neval, mother of Selmin. She and her elder daughter, Belgin, are a pair of old drunks. Belgin has had three husbands. Neval had only one, now deceased, though she cheated on him. Ağaoğlu is vicious in her treatment of this old-fashioned, self-styled aristocratic family. There is a wonderful portrait of Belgin sloppily eating spaghetti, with it falling out of her mouth. We had met them before when Türkan had visited and saw how they treated Murat as a servant, which shocked Türkan.

We next move on to Selmin, who is doing no better than her mother and her sister. She seems to be working in a girlie bar and has a lover who is not exactly tender. She also seems to be a heroin junky. We end with Kismet who is very worried about her running away, both the consequences with her family and also the danger a single woman faces alone in Turkey. Kismet has always felt that she is ignored by people, with the possible exception of Ufuk.

Ağaoğlu is clearly showing the tempestuous situation in Turkey at that time, namely June 1980, with, as she and her readers know, an imminent coup d’etat. The technique of stream of consciousness, with the character’s thoughts jumping backwards and forwards in time, from paragraph to paragraph, as well as the impending deadline of the 2 a.m. curfew, both heighten the impression of chaos and disruption.

As regards the characters, none of them seems to be happy and not just because of the political situation but just as much because of their personal lives, which in several of the cases have clearly gone wrong. As we run up to the curfew that early morning, things seem to get worse, at least for some of the characters.

Ağaoğlu tells an excellent story, both political and personal, about a group of Turkish people, all all call come from relatively affluent backgrounds. While money is an issue, certainly for Selmin and her family, it plays a relatively minor role in this book. What happens next, we, of course, never know, but it seems reasonably clear that things are not going to get better, even forgetting the imminent coup.

Publishing history

First published by Remzi Kitabevi in 1984
First published in English by Center for Middle Eastern studies, University of Texas at Austin in 1997
Translated by John Goulden