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Engin Geçtan

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A critical literary biography of the psychiatrist novelist Engin Geçtan in Dictionary of Literary Biography vol 379
Engin Geçtan
( January  – )
Burcu Alkan
Bahçeşehir University
BOOKS: Çağdaş Yaşam ve Normaldışı Davranışlar (An-
kara: Ankara University Press, 1975); repub-
lished as Psikodinamik Psikiyatri ve Normaldışı
Davranışlar (Istanbul: Remzi, 1988);
Psikanaliz ve Sonrası (Istanbul: Hürriyet, 1981);
İnsan Olmak (Istanbul: Adam, 1984);
Varoluş ve Psikiyatri (Istanbul: Remzi, 1990);
Kırmızı Kitabın Öyküsü (Istanbul: Remzi, 1993); repub-
lished as Kırmızı Kitap (Istanbul: Metis, 1998);
Dersaadet’te Dans (Istanbul: Metis, 1996);
Bir Günlük Yerim Kaldı İster Misiniz? (Istanbul: Metis,
Kimbilir? (Istanbul: Metis, 1998);
Kızarmış Palamutun Kokusu (Istanbul: Metis, 2001);
Hayat (Istanbul: Metis, 2002);
Tren (Istanbul: Metis, 2004);
Kuru Su (Istanbul: Metis, 2008);
Zamane (Istanbul: Metis, 2010);
Mesela Saat Onda (Istanbul: Metis, 2012);
Rastgele Ben (Istanbul: Metis, 2014).
OTHER: “Çağ ve Psikoterapi,” in Kişilik ve Psikoterapi
Yazıları (Istanbul: Alan, 2000), pp. 7–24;
“Çağrışımlar,” Personal Blog on, 20 August
2013 [Web, accessed 30 January 2016].
One of Turkey’s foremost therapists and a
doyen of psychiatry, Engin Geçtan is well known
for his writings on psychology as well as his literary
works. Informed by his outstanding medical training
and intellectual formation, he shows a playful aware-
ness of the myriad possibilities of fiction, creating
complex narrative structures that exhibit his diverse
interests, from Taoism to physics. With its cyclical
and fragmented constructions and self-referential
intertextuality, his fiction is marked not only by the
attitudes of postmodernism but also is by its local and
international color. His writing explores human exis-
tence through the fantastic, the surreal, and the self-
consciously fictitious.
An only child, İsmail Engin Geçtan was born
on 12 January 1932 in İzmir. His father, Ahmet Refik
Geçtan, was a notary public, and his mother, Seba-
hat Geçtan, remained at home until her son grew up,
after which she had a successful business career in
fashion. Geçtan’s childhood was spent in Karşıyaka, a
district in the province of İzmir. He remembers this
time fondly. The beautiful architecture of the district
made a great impression on him, and later as a uni-
versity student he briefly considered studying archi-
Engin Geçtan (courtesy of Metis Publishing)
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DLB 379 Engin Geçtan
tecture. The cosmopolitan population of the region
shaped his social, political, and cultural views that he
carried on to adulthood and prepared him for trav-
eling, especially abroad. He has noted that he had
little sense of class dierence as people of dierent
backgrounds and economic levels lived seamlessly
together in the İzmir of his childhood. The world of
Karşıyaka was such that, when he first visited Istan-
bul as a teenager, he thought the city was rather “alla
Most of Geçtan’s childhood and adolescence
was spent in a house near the sea. In the summers
especially, he swam and played by the water with the
other children of the neighborhood. His father took
him to “the city,” or downtown İzmir, on discovery
trips that fed his curiosity for urban exploration. His
mother, who was originally from Istanbul, was fond of
reading Ottoman and Turkish literature. As a young
boy he often listened in as she discussed books with
one of her neighbors.
Because books were not readily available, he
often rented them—a common practice in Turkey at
the time—and read whatever he could find, which
was not much. Novels such as Jules Verne’s Around the
World in Eighty Days (1873) and Reşat Nuri Güntekin’s
Çalıkuşu (1922, The Wren) are examples of his ear-
liest reading experiences. When he was eight years
old, with his mother’s encouragement he began tak-
ing private English lessons, which introduced him to
writers such as Charles Dickens. In his interview with
Mustafa Arslantunalı and Orhan Koçak, he men-
tioned that when he was young, he had strong writ-
ing skills. Once when he was asked what he wanted
to be when he grew up, to the approval of his mother
he replied that he would like to be a writer. His inter-
est in reading lessened during high school, however.
His aptitude for the sciences led to his enrolling in
the science department.
His family had a diverse social circle, and
Geçtan often was privy to interesting conversations.
For instance, one of his father’s friends, a doctor
trained in Berlin, was a Nazi sympathizer. During the
war years, the two adults’ long discussions on poli-
tics at the dining table enriched Geçtan, introducing
him to international politics and critical thinking.
The doctor became a professional—but not a politi-
cal—example for him.
After graduating from high school in 1949,
Geçtan left Karşıyaka and moved to Istanbul for his
university education. Members of his mother’s family
were settled in this city, so he spent time with them
and their social circle, which was made up largely
of Europeans and cosmopolitans. Geçtan initially
enrolled at the architecture program of the Tech-
nical University (now Istanbul Technical Univer-
sity), while also registering at the Medicine Faculty
of Istanbul University. He made this latter decision
somewhat by chance, as he was attracted by the short
queue outside the medical department. He was dis-
appointed with the architecture program, which did
not oer the aesthetic and design perspective that he
was hoping to study. The decision to switch to medi-
cine, made during a ferry ride, did not come easily
either, as he had mixed feelings about what path to
Geçtan was also dissatisfied with the education
at the medical school. At this crucial period in his
life and professional training, the lack of sucient
student-lecturer relationships and guidance caused
him to drift away from academic work. He was not
in class much and was thus dubbed one of the “çok
gezenler” (wanderers). During these years he wit-
nessed the 6–7 September 1955 pogrom in Istanbul,
whereby the houses and shops of the non-Muslims,
particularly the Greek population, were attacked
and plundered. He was profoundly shocked by these
Geçtan completed his studies in 1956. Upon his
graduation, his parents contacted a doctor acquain-
tance, Sabri Bilsel, in the United States, which
opened the way for him to do his internship abroad.
That year he moved to New York and became an
intern in the Bronx. He specialized in general and
psychoanalytic psychiatry between the years 1957 and
1959 in a program aliated with Columbia Univer-
sity. His decision to focus on psychiatry was primar-
ily intuitive, as the unknowns of psychiatry attracted
his curiosity. His choice was strongly supported by
his parents as “the profession of the future,” which
encouraged him. He pursued further specialization
in neurology at New York University in 1959–1960
and children’s psychiatry in an institution aliated
with Columbia University in 1960–1961. Realizing the
quality of education he was receiving, he made the
most of his opportunities, laying the foundation that
later allowed him to establish a personal methodol-
ogy in psychiatry.
Geçtan’s time in New York was crucial to his
development. He trained in psychoanalysis at an
exciting time, and he had the chance to work with
intellects such as Alfred Messer, Lauretta Bender,
Morris Bender, and Nachum Katz. In his memoir Rast-
gele Ben (2014, Haphazardly Me), he emphasizes how
much he was enriched by the cultural diversions of
the city, such as attending Broadway and O-Broad-
way productions and visiting the Museum of Modern
Art and the Guggenheim. He saw Broadway hits such
as West Side Story and Two for the Seesaw.
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Engin Geçtan DLB 379
Covers for Geçtan’s first novel (top), published in 1993, and the revised version (bottom),
published five years later (Collection of Burcu Alkan)
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DLB 379 Engin Geçtan
Geçtan returned to Turkey in 1962 and did his
compulsory military service at Konya Military Hospi-
tal in 1962–1964. He also practiced therapy privately
during his time in provincial Anatolia, where he was
exposed to the rural population and learned about
their customs. After his military service, he moved to
Ankara and opened his oce. He also began work-
ing with the ministry of health and in cooperation
with the World Health Organization on developing
a program in mental health planning in Turkey, a
first in the country. A change in politics, however, led
to its abandonment. Still, the 1960s in Ankara was a
time that he flourished professionally.
In 1964 he introduced a set of programs to
Ankara Radio for the promotion of mental health
care services. There was a great need and thus inter-
est in the subject, and the show quickly became pop-
ular. He wrote brief sketches that were performed
by the state radio artists as well as explanatory com-
mentary. This show ended after the departure of its
producer. A few months later he returned to Ankara
Radio and worked with Adalet Ağaoğlu, a prominent
novelist of the time. In these shows he participated in
the studio as a speaker alongside guest experts.
Geçtan was chiefly involved in his practice dur-
ing these years, but he did do some writing, includ-
ing a study on the “identity crisis” that later was seen
as having anticipated an aspect of the student unrest
of 1968. The same year he began teaching at the
Middle East Technical University; the following year
he also started to teach at Ankara University. He had
been invited back to the U.S., and the oers from
these universities came when he was considering
whether or not to stay in Turkey. The teaching posts
enabled him to plan state-supported projects while
he also continued his private practice. In summer
1968, while he was visiting Prague for a conference,
the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. He found
himself in the middle of the clashes and escaped
the country by train after witnessing history unfold
before him.
In the midst of a successful medical career,
Geçtan published his first book, Çağdaş Yaşam ve
Normaldışı Davranışlar (1975, Modern Life and
Abnormal Behaviors). An early work of its kind
in Turkish, it lays out the terminology of so-called
abnormal behaviors, categorizes and explains them
through examples, and clarifies their possible causes
and symptoms. Detailed and informative, the book
was well received and was one of the reasons for his
being elevated to the rank of professor that year. It
immediately became a textbook in the field and was
often republished, being edited and updated as Psiko-
dinamik Psikiyatri ve Normaldışı Davranışlar (1988, Psy-
chodynamic Psychiatry and Abnormal Behaviors).
Meanwhile, Geçtan realized that his methods
were moving away from the orthodox therapeutic
approaches. He had read about existential psychia-
try when he was a student, and in 1976 he traveled
to New York to meet Leslie Farber, a leading name
in the field at the time, to whom he was directed by
Rollo May. He also visited the Mexican Institute of
Psychoanalysis, where he had the chance to observe
the commingling of Zen, existentialism, and psycho-
analysis in practice. He was not too impressed by
the Mexican Institute, but his meeting with Farber
proved highly valuable. In preparation for an even-
tual move to Istanbul, Geçtan closed his practice in
Ankara in 1980.
Recognizing that there was little in Turkish
on psychoanalysis and psychodynamic approaches,
Geçtan wrote Psikanaliz ve Sonrası (1981, Psychoanaly-
sis and After), a work that opens the complex world
of psychoanalytic theory and its aftermath to a gen-
eral readership. His next work, İnsan Olmak (1984,
Being Human), brings together his knowledge of and
experience on psychology in an accessible style and
format to examine how the individual is perceived by
himself or herself and by the society. Geçtan’s deci-
sion to write with less academic formality allowed
him to reach a broader readership in his third book.
He thus began to be known beyond specialized cir-
cles and was perceived by the broader public as an
important intellectual.
Geçtan finally moved to Istanbul in 1985 and
took up teaching posts at Boğaziçi University’s
Department of Psychology and Marmara University’s
Department of Psychiatry. His earlier explorations
on existential psychiatry resulted in his next nonfic-
tion work, Varoluş ve Psikiyatri (1990, Existence and
Psychiatry), in which he brings together his knowl-
edge on psychodynamic theories with personal and
professional recollections and commentary. In 1992
he quit his teaching position at Boğaziçi University.
In 1993 Geçtan brought out his first novel,
Kırmızı Kitabın Öyküsü (The Story of the Red Book).
He notes in the preface that the writing process of
this work began several years before its publication.
Initially, he was merely recording thoughts to try out
a new computer, an activity that later turned into a
form of automatic writing. After a while this writing
became a way to relax within a busy schedule. One
day the Turkish director Atıf Yılmaz, who had visited
Geçtan to consult on a film, saw and wanted to read
what was then twenty pages of writing. The next time
they crossed paths Yılmaz said he was curious about
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Engin Geçtan DLB 379
the ending of the story, an interest that became an
incentive for the writer to complete the work.
Combining fantastic elements with mystery, this
novel has a complex structure that both crosses the
boundaries between reality and unreality and points
to its fictiveness simultaneously. The story is about
a “red book” that “changes each time it is read.” It
begins with the chance encounter of two characters,
Ra and Te, at a coeehouse. Te’s attention is drawn
to Ra and the red book in her hand. He later real-
izes that he recognizes her from a photo published
in the newspaper, for which he is working. She is the
woman who was recently found dead. As the narra-
tion is interrupted with the word “Stop!” the scene of
a movie set is revealed. This first instance of a story-
within-story narrative structure hints at the questions
the text poses. The characters and the actions in the
film not only intermingle with real life but also paral-
lel the mystery of the actual “red book.” As the plot
thickens with the involvement of thugs, Romani peo-
ple, kidnappings, and murders, the many characters
of the novel find themselves in a mystery that they
will unravel together.
In addition to its cinematographic language
and multilayered narrative structure, the novel refers
to its own fictionality and questions the authority of
the writer, blurring boundaries at every turn. Geçtan
also contrives to explore existential themes, which
becomes a more decided tendency in his later works.
Additionally, he embellishes his surreal narrative
with a playful point of view. In her review of the book
in the Sunday supplement of the newspaper Milliyet
(Nationality, 1–7 March 1998), Ayşe Önal defines this
novel of “lives” as being “iddiasız ama inatçı, soyut
ama gerçek, mahcup ama arsız bir kolaj” (a collage
that is unpretentious but stubborn, abstract but real,
shy but impudent).
Geçtan improved the literary quality of his
material when he revised his novel as Kırmızı Kitap
(The Red Book) in 1998. He altered some charac-
Covers for Geçtan’s second and third novels, published in 1996 and 1997 (Collection of Burcu Alkan)
DLB379.indb 112 8/30/16 11:38 AM
DLB 379 Engin Geçtan
ter names, removed over-explanatory passages, and
switched the tense from simple present to simple
past. There was interest in turning Kırmızı Kitap into
a movie both in Turkey and abroad, but no film was
made. The playwright Anthony Shaer encouraged
Geçtan to translate the novel into English for this
purpose, but the impetus for adapting the book into
a movie ended with Shaer’s death in 2001.
In his second novel, Dersaadet’te Dans (1996,
Dance in Dersaadet), Geçtan continues in the vein
of his first novel by playing with the boundaries of
the real, here through a dual plot structure of paral-
lel worlds that develop separately and then merge.
It begins with Zeus, a pop celebrity, being attacked
by Azize, a dancer whose mental state is dubious, in
an elevator. An act that initially appears to be ran-
dom triggers a train of events that changes the lives
of the many characters in the story. The storyline
that begins with this attack is paralleled by another
one that is set on “the other side of the world,” in
which Oro, a fan of Zeus, is the lead character. While
the main narrative is largely set in the world of Zeus
and those around him, stories of many characters
are presented by means of a network of relationships
and random encounters as their lives intermingle.
Radical life decisions and selves lost and found in
the backstreets and crowded squares of the city are
portrayed through a dark sense of humor. Scenes
include shots being misfired, mafia involvement, and
a fortunetelling session.
While the plot edges toward the surreal with the
traveling of the characters from one side of the world
to the other, an extended metaphor of life through
dialectical oppositions and probabilities within chaos
is constructed. As the characters face their loneli-
ness, existential crises, and self-questionings through
their interactions with one another, they begin to
change, which is epitomized in the matter-of-fact
fluidity of their switching names. Each character is
yanked from a habitual form of existence and thrown
into his or her own world of unknowns, confusions,
and uncertainties. Their authentic connections with
one another—or lack thereof—pose questions on
selfhood and self-realization. In a rather clever fash-
ion, the narrative becomes a metaphor for the Chi-
nese yin-yang symbol. The immigration of the people
from the light side of the world (that of Oro) to the
dark side of the world (that of Zeus) and their inter-
penetration of each other’s lives emulate the flow of
the white and black as represented in the familiar
Chinese image.
Geçtan had read Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Phys-
ics (1975) in the 1990s and grown interested in the
parallelism between quantum physics and Eastern
spirituality. The traces of his interest in the fusion of
the material and spiritual worlds can be discerned
in both the storyline and the narrative structure
of the novel. He pointed out in his interview with
Arslantunalı and Koçak that this work was his coming
to terms with the changing face of the world around
him in Istanbul, as it entered what he dubs the “New
Middle Ages.” His perspective, however, is not one of
nostalgia or discontent but one of acceptance, “kao-
sun kıyısında yaşayan bir dünyaya katılıyor olmanın
keyfi” (the pleasure of joining a world that lives on
the edge of chaos). Azize, whose unstable mental
state gives her the freedom to transgress the bound-
aries of established orders, becomes the personifi-
cation of the cosmic dance within chaos. After this
novel, chaos and its patterns become a prevalent
theme in Geçtan’s works. It was also with this book
that the writer settled down with his current pub-
lisher, Metis, after trying several dierent houses.
Geçtan’s third novel, Bir Günlük Yerim Kaldı
İster Misiniz? (1997, I Have a Place for One Day Left,
Would You Like It?), is a shorter work than his first
two novels. Its two major settings are a fairytale-like
village by the desert and a modern city in contempo-
rary times. The temporal distance is bridged by one
of the characters of the novel, Azima, who travels in
time from her pre-modern village to the center of
a modern city through the screen of an anachronic
television. A girl from an auent family, Azima is in
love with a young man who is below her social sta-
tion. She hopes to attract his attention through
witchcraft; however, she is herself bedazzled by the
modern world that she does not belong to or under-
stand. Azima’s story not only challenges conventional
perceptions of time but also presents some probable
consequences of following temptation into the unfa-
miliar realm of chaos.
Another plotline involves Hektor, a character
in the modern setting who has had a nearly fatal acci-
dent. In the afterlife, he is given a second chance to
spend a single day in life but as someone else. He
is originally a famed writer but he comes back as a
celebrated television figure. This experience allows
him to reconsider his attitude toward living by con-
templating his old life and newly encountering the
lives of others. As in his previous novels Geçtan again
introduces a range of other characters to the story.
Through their interactions with one another—all
under the overshadowing gaze of death in the guise
of an old woman—the meaning of life and existence,
as well as the loneliness that results from the lack of
authentic connections in modern life are explored.
After Kimbilir? (1998, Who knows?)—another
nonfiction work in which he uses his knowledge
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Engin Geçtan DLB 379
Covers for the novels Geçtan has published to date since 2000 (Collection of Burcu Alkan)
and experience as a psychiatrist to view the changes
in society—Geçtan brought out his fourth novel,
Kızarmış Palamutun Kokusu (2001, The Scent of Fried
Bonito). For the first time he employs a first-person
narrator as his central character. The story begins
with the narrator’s return to his home country after
having lived abroad for many years. The remem-
brance of the scent of fried bonito impels him to
return and seek a reconnection with a past that is
long lost. Immediately after he arrives, he finds him-
self in the middle of a mystery, pursued by people
unknown to him for initially unknown reasons. A
random encounter in front of his hotel triggers a
series of events that opens up a world of fantastic
adventures. In this novel, Geçtan develops his previ-
ous theme of time travel in a more intricate fashion.
The city of Istanbul becomes an anchor, and not only
the narrator but also others—his pursuers as well as
friends and acquaintances—travel in time to take
part in its various historical narratives.
Having lived what appears to be an ordinary
life, the narrator feels that he no longer has a sense
of meaning. He has lost much of his family, including
his wife, to trac accidents; he is estranged from his
daughter; and he is suering from a form of amne-
sia. His circumstances, including his adventures in
the dark city of Istanbul, force him to face the void
he feels within. Moreover, through the narrator’s
journeys to the past, the novel challenges the reli-
ability of historical narratives by emphasizing their
constructed nature. Geçtan did ample research in
order to write Kızarmış Palamutun Kokusu and spent
a lot of time walking around the streets and districts
of Istanbul, tracing its history and culture. He estab-
lishes intertextual links between this novel and his
other works through the reappearance of Azize and
a Faustian pursuit of restricted knowledge. Feridun
Andaç praises Geçtan’s skill with language, describ-
ing the novel as “değişimin rengini, kopuşun ve
tükenişin dilini bu denli sıcak, yüreklice anlatan bir
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DLB 379 Engin Geçtan
yazarın kanatlarında olmak” (being on the wings of
a writer who describes the color of change, the lan-
guage of dissociation and exhaustion so warmly and
Geçtan’s next book, Hayat (2002, Life), is a
nonfiction work akin to İnsan Olmak that may be read
as a culmination of the writer’s thoughts on modern
life. With its discussions on spirituality, philosophy
and science, Hayat complements his fiction. In his
interview with Mesut Varlık, Geçtan stated that he
regarded his fiction as an alternative realm in which
to explore subjects that cannot be explored ade-
quately through a solely scientific approach with its
definitively regulated system of thinking.
Geçtan’s next novel, Tren (2004, Train), was
inspired by David Lynch’s 2001 film Mulholland Drive
and a news article he had read many years before.
In 1975 a group of South Moluccan terrorists had
taken over a Dutch train. When the Turkish national
news reported the incident, they used the phrase
“the terrorists were thought to be taking the train
to an unknown destination.” Geçtan was struck by
the ridiculousness of the phraseology, as the tracks
that a particular train travels upon lead only to
“known” destinations. He employed this absurdity as
a metaphor for life in Tren, a novel that he especially
enjoyed writing.
Tren is a fantastic story of a group’s journey to
an unknown destination. The many characters share
two compartments of one car and a dining car on
a train without a locomotive. Each of them “won”
his or her place on the train through a competi-
tion. There are two rules to the journey: they can-
not reveal their real names, and they cannot tell
each other about their pasts. At first strangers to one
another, they have to learn to get along as they try
to make sense of the journey in the closed space.
They are not allowed to leave the train; yet, they are
depicted doing so through dream-like sessions. The
writer’s style in these fantastic moments is reminis-
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Engin Geçtan DLB 379
cent of that used in Kızarmış Palamutun Kokusu, as
here too each of the characters leads more than one
life. This time, however, these multiple lives do not
result from time travel but are representations of the
multiple universe theory, which is epitomized in the
repetitive disappearance and reappearance of the
character Elyas.
Geçtan reworks his key themes in this fictional
world. Linear temporality is challenged through the
co-existence of characters from dierent periods in
the same car. The train journey manifests itself as an
allegory that questions the perceptions of being born
as a beginning, life as a progressively experienced
process, and death as an end. While the randomness
and the absurdity of the characters’ names—such as
Nevada, Zizi-King, Kedi-Bobo, Doremifasolasi, and
Roka—point to the constructed nature of the self,
the characters’ mentioning of the “teller, narrator”
of the story, referring to the writer, points to the
narrative itself as a construct. This metatextual self-
reflexivity is combined with the concept of the holo-
graphic universe at the end of the novel, as the char-
acters and their reflections pose for the curtain call.
The narrative endorses a definition of the
meaning of life that is not supposed to be sought
after: “Hayat sizi beklemediğiniz anlarda buluverir,
beklenti yüklediğinizde yanınıza uğramaz” (Life
finds you in unexpected moments, it won’t come by
when you burden it with expectation). It thus dis-
courages the search for meaning and instead encour-
ages discovering meaning through living, if “mean-
ing” is to be found at all. In interviewing Geçtan,
Ümran Kartal emphasizes that Tren is “okuyup
bitirdiğinizde kendinizi başka biri gibi hissettiğiniz,
başka evrenlere sürüklendiğiniz, kurgusu şaşırtıcı ve
sağlam romanlarından biri daha” (another one of
his [the author’s] novels that you feel like a dier-
ent person after finishing reading it, through which
you are dragged to dierent universes, one that has
an astonishing and strong narrative structure). Tufan
Erbarıştıran in the book supplement for the newspa-
per Cumhuriyet (Republic, 17 June 2004) likens the
novel to a multilayered mosaic that necessitates and
encourages an excavation of the complex totality of
the narrative to reach a refined essence.
Seyyar (2005, Itinerant) collects interviews con-
ducted with Geçtan by a variety of people at dierent
times. The conversations are grouped thematically
and are on a multitude of topics, including history,
politics, music, cinema, his books, and life in gen-
eral. In 2006 Geçtan, who has tried his hand at trans-
lating Kırmızı Kitap into English, was invited to the
Cunda international translators’ workshop. In 2008
he attended the Frankfurt Book Fair, of which the
guest country was Turkey. With Ayşe Kulin, they had
reading sessions for the public.
Geçtan’s next novel, Kuru Su (2008, Dry Water),
is set in Istanbul during a heavy snowstorm. It begins
with a Bosphorus ferry crashing into an international
cargo ship. Ulaş, who becomes the sole survivor of
the crash, faces death at the inconvenient moment
of needing the toilet, but his need to go outside hap-
pens to save his life. Once again, the writer utilizes a
staple plot device of his fiction, a random incident
that triggers a series of changes in the character’s
life. The rest of the narrative unfolds from the crash
onward as the setting of the story switches to Azize,
the restaurant in which Ulaş works. The restaurant
is nearly empty owing to the snowstorm, but a group
of armed people takes the employees and the two
customers hostage. The narrative thus moves on to
other characters and their stories in relatively brief
sections one after the other, which are similarly inter-
connected. The lives of the many characters either
intermingle with one another or are revealed to be
already connected. In the narrative’s network-like
structure, the restaurant serves as the center where
the lives of the characters intersect. Consequently,
the restaurant Azize becomes a spatial representation
of the core of the narrative in both content and struc-
ture. The reappearance of the character Azize—here
depicted as a free-spirited and auent woman who
is the mysterious owner of the restaurant—also estab-
lishes an intertextual link to the previous novels as,
as she was first introduced in Dersaadet’te Dans. The
story of another similarly central yet elusive charac-
ter, Ferit, provides the mystery of the plot, as other
characters look for him for dierent reasons.
Beginning with a calamitous snowstorm and
marked by its aftermath of floods, electric cuts, and
other forms of chaos, the action of Kuru Su con-
tinues through 20 December 2012, supposed to be
doomsday according to the Mayan calendar. The
idea of the end of the world is implicitly echoed by
references to issues such as the shifting of the poles,
global warming, and the consequent destruction
of land and agricultural production. As the severe
weather events wreak havoc in the city, the various
characters are forced out of their usual routines.
They are trapped because of either physical or emo-
tional reasons and must rework their perceptions of
their pasts, their selves, and what they are doing with
their lives. Geçtan often depicts his characters wan-
dering the streets to represent their confusion and
sense of being lost. With its many equally important
characters and stories of romance, loneliness, pain,
international politics and espionage, and under-
DLB379.indb 116 8/30/16 11:38 AM
DLB 379 Engin Geçtan
ground worlds, Kuru Su is a freighted, multi-layered
Even though his involvement with the faculty
grew less over the years, Geçtan was actively teach-
ing and mentoring at Marmara University up until
2010, the year he brought out Zamane (Of the Pres-
ent Time), a compilation of his commentary on the
social psychology of contemporary Turkey. Through
discussions on authority, fear, anger, individuation,
and belonging, this text shows how an in-depth
knowledge of psychology and psychiatry parallels
and complements other social sciences in the under-
standing of the public as well as the individual. In
2012, when the state passed the law that disallowed
doctors’ private practices, Geçtan decided to end his
practice and retire. As he said in his 2013 interview
with Ayşe Arman, he wanted to “içimizdeki harika
tembele daha fazla şans tanıma” (give more chance
to the wonderful lazy inside us).
Mesela Saat Onda (2012, For Instance at Ten
O’Clock), Geçtan’s most recent novel, is also one of
his best. Again working with a large cast of charac-
ters, he begins the story with the random encounter
of two people that triggers a process of transforma-
tion in both. Otuz, a twenty-nine-year-old man who
enjoys the company of much older women that he
calls “grannies,” comes across Karanfil, a middle-
aged, insignificant-looking woman, as he is trying to
sneak away from the building at which he spent the
night. Their uncomfortable encounter is rendered
more awkward with the unanticipated yet intimate
kiss they share. Karanfil goes on to explore and rede-
fine her selfhood; Otuz faces the void inside him
and feels lost. They keep coming across one another
throughout the novel on a tangential basis. Their
later meetings, however, do not seem to amount to
anything significant, and they go their separate ways.
Through such a pattern of interaction, Geçtan pays
tribute to the world of particle physics, as the charac-
ters emulate interactions at the subatomic level.
The plot grows more complex when another
character, Takiye, is introduced to the storyline, for
she is not only reading the story of Otuz and Karan-
fil in a novel but also sees Karanfil on the street the
way she is depicted in its earlier pages. She tries to
talk to her but to no avail; Karanfil does not seem
to perceive Takiye and just keeps walking. Thus, a
dual plotline of parallel worlds forms a complicated
narrative structure through the fusion of fiction and
reality. The rest of the multifarious characters are
introduced one by one in their relation to the two
storylines, highlighting the random, coincidental
connectedness of life. The network of many voices in
the text unite in a radio program, through which the
time dierence between the world of the initial Otuz
and Karanfil story and that of Takiye reading the
novel is revealed. Introducing a major earthquake,
volcanic eruption, airplane piracy, and the absurdity
of television pop-stardom alongside one another and
employing theories of parallel universes, time warps,
and butterfly eects, Mesela Saat Onda is a comical,
absurd, but insightful exploration of being human.
In his review of Mesela Saat Onda in the book
supplement for Cumhuriyet (24 May 2012) Eray Ak
writes that Geçtan “bin türlü renkle bizi yine bize
anlatıyor” (tells us about us in a thousand colors)
and notes how clearly he can capture topical issues.
Interviewer Gülenay Börekçi posits that the novel
maintains “keskin bir zekâ, mizahi ama sert bir
eleştirellik ve her şeye rağmen koruduğu bir iyimser-
lik” (a sharp intelligence, humorous yet tough criti-
cality, and a preserved optimism despite everything).
In his interview with Mesut Varlık, Geçtan described
his role as observing the lives of his characters within
their worlds without interference and with a certain
sense of acceptance, an attitude that can be linked to
his profession.
In his 2014 memoir Rastgele Ben Geçtan begins
with his years in the United States and continues with
his return to Turkey. Through his memories from the
various periods in his life, Geçtan looks beyond him-
self to discuss the transformation of Turkey in his life-
time. In 2013, when the protests broke out in Istan-
bul to prevent the construction of a shopping mall in
the central Gezi Park of the famous Taksim Square,
he was pleasantly surprised and enthusiastic about
the lively potential that underlies the society. In his
blog-post on the topic, which also serves the purpose
of a brief history of social politics of the country, he
celebrates the Gezi protests as an organic and excit-
ing autonomous model, in which the new generation
taught a great deal to the older generations with its
For Engin Geçtan, writing fiction is not “work
but “play,” as he told Börekçi. He writes the kind of
novels that he would like to read. It all begins with
one sentence that comes to his mind. Whatever else
might change in the work, that one sentence remains
the same. Even if he might want to change it, he
cannot. The rest he defines as a “kör uçuşu” (blind
flight), moving from a blank slate to the characters’
choosing their paths. Writing for Geçtan is thus a
personal creative process that has its own natural
flow, and all of his works, both fiction and nonfic-
tion, evolve from his synthesized life experience. His
real subject is the act of living. Geçtan’s professional
training in psychiatry permeates his texts in a way
that allows the writer and his readers the opportunity
DLB379.indb 117 8/30/16 11:38 AM
Engin Geçtan DLB 379
to rethink existence from a less judgmental perspec-
tive. While his central framework rests in science,
his narratives expand beyond real-life delineations
toward a creative chaos with its own patterns.
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Osmanlıca diye bir dil hiç olmadı
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Gölgenin olduğu yerde hayat vardır
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