Romance in Turkey

Photo, Couple, 28 March 2006, kosare, Flickr, creative commons
kosare, "Couple," Flickr, 2006.

I am a published novelist and storyteller, and for more than two years I have provided editorial support to Harlequin Turkey. During this period, I have had the chance to translate many Harlequin books written in English into my language and to compare their content with popular romance novels written by Turkish writers. I found several interesting cultural differences.

In the Harlequin romances written outside of Turkey, for example, love and passion are portrayed in dialogue or as events happening between the hero and the heroine. Turkish writers generally express this by letting each character describe his or her own feelings or by sharing the characters’ inner voices, giving the Turkish texts a poetic tone. In this example from Canan Tan’s novel Yüreğim Seni Çok Sevdi (or My Heart Loved You So Much, with this excerpt translated for the post), the heroine speaks to herself:

If I had the chance to go back to those days, I am not sure whether I would do the same or not. Me, Aslı, as a woman whose intelligence and logic goes one step ahead of herself, her heart closed to the voice of her emotions, only in love with her freedom, full of life, vivacious as well as being volatile, could she surrender her future to a madly passionate lover?

Do you say “Yes”?

Unconditional absolute acceptance, submission, resignation. . .  That wouldn’t fit you, Aslı. Totally contradictory with your personality.

What about “No”?

Resistance, rebellion and obstinacy. . .  The words exactly define you, Aslı! But isn’t it too severe? Don’t you think that a sharp-edged knife that would cut out everything and throw away could easily injure the one who uses it?

There should be a moderate way between “Yes” and “No.” Why didn’t you think of the word “Maybe,” Aslı? That might be the magical word to avoid and discourage the word “If only” which would for sure capture you afterwards.

Photo, İrem Yerlikaya, Image provided by author

İrem Yerlikaya, courtesy of author.

In another example, most Turkish romance novels, parents of the main characters are very involved in their children’s relationships. Since the concept of family is very important in Turkey, it is extremely popular to chronicle familial details in every story. Parents have a direct and significant effect on the lives of the heroes and heroines. In many Turkish romance novels the heroine says, “My father was my first love!” Sometimes, you can even get confused about whose story is being told—the parents’ or the child’s. In Harlequin novels, in contrast, parents influence the romance indirectly if they are mentioned at all.

In Harlequin novels, stories typically do not deal at length with the details or events of a terrible marriage. If there is a bad marriage, the couple divorces quickly, and then the main love story begins. Love and passion are the focus of the plot. In many Turkish romance novels, however, a marriage full of troubles and contradictions often consumes the time and energy of the beginning or entirety of the novel.

In Harlequin romances, I found heroines who run away from a potential relationship out of fear more often than heroes. In Turkish romance novels, it is generally the heroes, not the heroines, who would run unless there was a good reason for the heroine to sacrifice her happiness.

Turkish people love to think and decide for their loved ones, reflecting a protective and close-knit culture. You can find various reflections of this throughout our novels. Harlequin novels are much more likely to emphasize individuals acting with free will and passion in regard to personal desires.

In Harlequins written in any country, people from different nations can find each other and fall in love. I did not find any relationships that were troubled because of differences in nationality. Novels written in Turkey portray this interaction very differently. If a woman somehow falls in love with a man from another country, he is referred to as a foreigner. His “foreignness” is an obstacle to overcome on the way to perfect love.

Ascribing deeper meanings to objects often takes place in Turkish romance novels. Imagine that two people are drinking tea by the seaside and talking about their relationship. Turkish writers can easily describe the moment by focusing on the heat, color, and taste of the tea. They can spend many pages talking about how the seagulls fly, the intensity of the air under their wings, or the freedom they display. In contrast, I see many more descriptions of physical environments in Harlequins and less attention to objects. Non-Turkish writers really love to describe places in great detail—whether they be rooms or cities.

Harlequin books were first sold in Turkey more than 20 years ago under the name “Beyaz Dizi” which translates literally as “White Series.” The name referred to the emphasis on romance because the books came from the Harlequin romance series and did not include mysteries or other subgenres. Today, although a range of Harlequin series are translated into Turkish, readers still know them as “Beyaz Dizi.” Both names appear on the Harlequin Turkey website.

These are all reflections on cultural differences and there are many more details like this. I believe that a highly skilled writer can easily write about every culture that he or she has had the chance to observe and with the help of this knowledge, identify with heroes and heroines in the novel. While translating, I sometimes need to make adjustments to make the text understandable in Turkey so I don’t lose the meaning of idioms or humor. Besides these cultural differences, however, all kinds of romance novels sell across cultures and languages since love is something universal! It is the perfect mirror of the human soul and each of us needs that reflection throughout our lives.

Irem Yerlikaya

İrem Yerlikaya was born in İstanbul. She graduated from İstanbul Technical University's department of geophysics engineering. Her affection for literature arose when she was in high school, when she primarily began to write short stories and essays. Her first novel Kumrular Zamanı (Doves' Time) was published in 2008. The second one Aynadaki Yalnızlığım (My Solitude in The Mirror) was published in 2010. She works for Harlequin-Türkiye as an editor and translator. She lives with her family and two cats.

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