Jailed journalist Altan’s memoir symbolises imagination as form of freedom - review

Jailed journalist Ahmet Altan’s memoir about his captivity, “I Will Never See the World Again,” narrates the dissident author’s take on freedom, which is epitomised by the exercise of imagination, wrote Simon Callow in the Guardian.

Altan, who has been behind bars since 2016, is facing an aggravated life sentence over alleged links to plotters of Turkey’s July 2016 coup attempt targeting Turkish President Erdoğan.

His memoir about his arrest and captivity is divided into brief chapters, which ‘’never lose their limpidity and translucence,’’ Callow said, ‘‘maintaining a dreamy, wide-eyed quality’’ that is quintessential to the 69-year-old.

Altan comes from a line of dissidents, the Guardian article stressed, pointing to his father Çetin Altan, ‘’a polemical journalist, novelist, editor and MP, had been apprehended nearly half a century before by an earlier repressive regime.’’

Altan himself has suffered for sharing his ideas. In 1995, a popular piece he penned titled ‘’Atakurd,’’ for Milliyet newspaper, which argued for equal status for Kurds, landed him a suspended 20-month sentence and $12,000, Callow recalled.

The dissident journalist writes on how there is no chance whatsoever of a fair trial as he faces life behind bars, the article said, quoting Altan as saying, ‘’Never again would I be able to kiss the woman I love, embrace my kids, meet with my friends, walk the streets … I would not be able to eat eggs with sausage or drink a glass of wine or go to a restaurant and order fish. I would not be able to watch the sunrise.’’

Despite Altan’s efforts to maintain his liberty and independence, salvaging his inner fortitude, he shares the crippling nature of prison in his memoir.

“In a matter of 5 hours I had travelled across five centuries to arrive at the dungeons of the Inquisition,” he writes, adding,” The air and the light in our cage never changed. Each minute was the same as the last. It was as if a tributary of the river of time had hit a dam and formed a lake. We sat at the bottom of that motionless pool.”

The dissident author at times realises he is living out the very scene that he wrote years earlier, Callow says, such as the novel Like a Sword Wound, where a character waits for a verdict.

“Years ago as I was wandering in that unmarked, enigmatic and hazy territory where literature meets life. I had met my own destiny but failed to recognise it; I wrote thinking it belonged to someone else. I feel I am being dragged into a vertiginous, wuthering vortex in which novel and life are entangled, where what is real and what is written imitate one another and change places, each disguised as the other,” Altan wrote.

But just when Altan feels lost, his imagination comes to his rescue.

“Like Odysseus, I will act with heroism and cowardice, with honesty and craftiness. I will know defeat and victory, my adventure will end only in death … a ship stands in the middle of the cell; its timbers are creaking. On its deck is a conflicted Odysseus,’’ he writes.

Translated into English by Altan’s friend Yasemin Çongar, I Will Never See the World Again is compiled from papers found among notes Altan gave to his lawyers.

“Its account of the creative process is sublime, among the most perfectly expressed analyses of that perpetually elusive phenomenon. And it is a triumph of the spirit,’’ the Guardian article said on the work.

“You can imprison me but you cannot keep me here. Because, like all writers, I have magic,” Altan concludes in his memoir. “I can pass through your walls with ease.”