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Interview with longlisted author Ahmet Altan

Interview with longlisted author Ahmet Altan

Ahmet Altan tells us what it means to him to be longlisted for the prize for his book I Will Never See The World Again, translated by ​Yasemin Çongar.

What does it mean for I Will Never See The World Again to make the longlist for this year’s Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction?

At another time and in other circumstances my answer to this question would have been quite different for sure. But I heard about being longlisted for this year’s Baillie Gifford Prize in a prison cell. Prison steals one’s time, one’s life. Thrown out of life, you spend the time without living. This is the exact goal of your imprisoners. Being longlisted for this prize has been the biggest proof that they had not been able to steal my time or my life from me. It showed me that I was able to save my life, that I could live, that I was able to own the time by writing. This creates an almost unimaginable sense of victory. It’s such a strong feeling; it makes me forget I am in prison.

What do you hope will result from the publication of this book?

I hope the readers of this book can feel that there are always things people can do no matter how bad their circumstances are. Conditions might be harsh and beyond your ability to change them, yet there is always some space, which you can indeed alter and mark with your own will. Conditions are important but your will is important, too. Resistance makes one stronger. These aren’t new ideas, people have been saying these things for thousands of years, but I still hope a person’s story told as he’s living it can help increase the reader’s hope and ability to resist.

While I help the readers gain strength by my writing, the readers help me gain strength by reading what I write.

What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?

I like Stefan Zweig’s biographies, especially his biography of Balzac. Even though he is a fan, Zweig writes about Balzac’s strange and even ridiculous traits as well his extraordinary creative powers. And he does this mimicking here and there Balzac’s own style. But there is another reason why I have always liked this book since the first time I read it in my youth. Everyone’s description of “a good book” is different. For me “a good book” is a book that incites in me a desire to write. Whenever I read Zweig’s biography of Balzac I burn with the desire to write.

Do you have plans yet for another book? What will that be about?

I just finished writing a new novel and am revising it now. Set in today’s Turkey, it tells the story of an impassioned woman who laughs off matters of life and death even in the midst of troubles. She loves watching nature documentaries on TV and prefers the joys of the moment over long-term pledges. I must say as I wrote about her I have come to like this woman a lot.

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