Perihan Magden: 'Luckily, no one knows my face'

September 2008 -

Perihan Magden (1960) is both loved and feared in Turkey. Her column in Radikal is the most important reason why Istanbul's intellectuals buy that newspaper. She unleashes unreserved criticism of the Turkish army ('no, dear sirs, not all Turks are born as soldiers'), colleague columnists ('brainless idiots') and Turkish men ('mother's darlings'). She shakes her readers awake every morning with dead-sharp analyses and witty remarks. However, she must also pay the price.

Three years ago, her support of a conscientious objector resulted in criminal charges being brought against her. She could have been sentenced to three years in prison, but was acquitted. "I feared for my life. In the court building, a mob was calling me a whore. That was very frightening. It was in the same period that Hrant Dink was murdered. I thought about relocating from Istanbul to the United States. But I stayed. It comes and goes in waves, and the tide has since changed."

In her first (autobiographic) novel, The Messenger Boy Murders (original in Turkish 1991, English translation 2003), recently published in a Dutch translation, Magden seems to know what is coming. "You are observant", an old man says to the narrator. "You are suspicious. Those are great virtues. But if you do not use them wisely, they will poison your life."

The fear that Magden felt at the time of her trial, the fear for her own life and the life of her daughter, who is fourteen now, is tangible in her newest novel Who are we running from, mother? (2007), in which a woman is on the run with her daughter and the mother is ultimately murdered and mutilated. "It still sends shivers down my spine when I think about it", says Magden. Despite the fear, she continues her sharp-edged columns and refuses to censure herself. "Luckily, no one knows my face because I never appear on television and do not look like the woman in the pictures they have of me. I can walk down the street again without any problems." Magden hopes that her work will contribute to the continued democratisation of Turkey. "It is like I am scratching away at a large block of ice. One day it will crack."

An extended version of this interview is available in the special Fake

Perihan Magden will be present at  Winternachten 2009 (January 15-18). Winternachten is supported by DOEN Foundation and the Hivos NCDO Culture Fund.