Tag Archives: Orhan Pamuk

‘The Time Regulation Institute’ by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar

The Time Regulation Institute

Years ago, I came across the name of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar (1901-1962) for the first time. I was reading Orhan Pamuk’s book about Istanbul and Pamuk refers to Tanpinar as his most important teacher as a writer and novelist. That’s a sufficient reason to have a closer look at this author and his novel The Time Regulation Institute, first published in book form in 1962.

Tanpinar belongs to a generation of Turkish authors that grew up in the Ottoman Empire and lived through the first decades of modern Turkey with its Kemalist reforms that deeply affected every aspect of life. It is important to keep in mind that – while the book is clearly a modern novel, written by a university professor that was very familiar with modern European literature – the author was at the same time deeply rooted in the pre-modern Ottoman traditions; and the same is true for his characters in The Time Regulation Institute.

The novel is the first-person narrative of the life of Hayri Irdal, a loafer, a man who grows up in rather poor circumstances and with limited school education, but who shows at an early age a talent in repairing watches, a craft he learns at the workshop of Nuri Efendi, whose thoughts about the role of time and about how important it is to make good use of it will play an important role later in the novel.

We see Hayri Irdal being a rather weak person, with a problematic second marriage (after his first wife died early) and with children that are not really close to him. He is spending most of his time with a strange circle of friends, alchemists, spiritualists, fortune seekers, project makers. This collection of characters gives Tanpinar an opportunity to unfold his satirical talents. The first part of the novel takes place in the time before and during WWI, and this part frequently reminded me of a Karagöz performance, the Turkish version of the Commedia dell’arte; the tales of Nasreddin Hoxha came to mind as well. Not only the men are shown as objects of the author’s wit, also the female characters get their fair share of satirical treatment, particularly Hamdi’s aunt, but also his second wife and her sisters with their obsessions regarding cinema or singing.

A change of luck for Hayri happens in the moment when he gets acquainted with Doctor Ramiz, a psychoanalytic who has just returned from Vienna and who applies his newly acquired (and superficial) knowledge of modern psychotherapy to cure his patient, with analysis of dreams that the doctor “orders” his patient to have, and discussion of German-language brochures on psychoanalysis inclusive (Hayri speaks of course only Turkish). Once Hayri is released from the hospital, Doctor Ramiz introduces him to Halit Ayarci, a modern project maker who understands to utilize Hayri’s potential and who – thanks to his connections in important circles – is also able to find the funding for a revolutionary idea: the creation of the Time Regulation Institute. The institute, a (fictitious) part of the reforms in the 1920’s in Turkey is supposed to ensure that all clocks and watches in the country show the correct time, and a mechanism to ensure that – and of course also a sophisticated system of fines – is quickly developed.

A big part of the second half of the novel deals with the finding of financial backing of the project, the creation of a bureaucracy and the erection of a suitable and representative office building of the new institute, so that the big number of employees – all of them of course relatives and friends of the director, Halit Ayarci, and his deputy, Hayri Irdal – have excellent working conditions. A special task assigned to Hayri is the writing of the biography of Ahmet Zamani Efendi, an Ottoman predecessor of the idea of measuring time in the modern way; and the fact that this person never existed gives Hayri a perfect opportunity to bring his storytelling talent to good use. Too bad that a Western scholar shows up one day, who is looking for further evidence, and that on top of it, a visiting commission questions the work and the usefulness of the Time Regulation Institute…

Bureaucracies seem to have a great fascination for novelists. But while Kafka or Ismail Kadare (in his Palace of Dreams) focus on the dark, nightmarish implications of such bureaucratic institutions, Tanpinar offers his readers the satirical version, a farce. Hayri represents the old generation of people who don’t really believe in what the institute stands for, but who seize the opportunity to employ a lot of friends and relatives, or who take advantage of it in any other way; Halit Ayarci on the other hand is a ‘modern‘ character, someone who clearly understands that the institute can be an instrument to satisfy his personal ambition, and who is very clever in using his contacts in political circles to find the money and public recognition for his project. And of course, a bank and a housing project are also needed in this context…

I mentioned already that Tanpinar was very familiar with modern European literature; and I can’t help but thinking about Italo Svevo’s Zeno Cosini, or the “heroes” of the novels of Robert Walser that seem to come from the same mould as Tanpinar’s characters. Halit Ayarci and his project also reminded me a bit of the Parallelaktion, and the character of Arnheim in Robert Musil’s Man without Qualities.

What is the message of Tanpinar’s novel? Maybe this one: you cannot transform people that are deeply rooted in a medieval society into modernity just by enforcing some radical reforms, like the Kemalists did in the 1920’s and 1930’s. All these reforms will be superficial and will not change the mindset of people. Tanpinar mentions the paintings of Osman Hamdi Bey, and the tortoise of Hayri’s dervish friend is also an obvious reference to the most famous of Osman’s paintings, The Tortoise Instructor; the tortoises being a symbol for the Turkish people as seen by Osman. Can you really teach or instruct a tortoise? Tanpinar ends on a slightly more optimistic note. Hayri’s estranged son is supporting his father in the end with his construction project; and while he clearly sees his father’s limitations – and that of his surrounding -, this son who distanced himself geographically, and also by name (choosing a new name for himself), seems to look at his father with mild irony and understanding. Several generations need to pass probably until a modern Turkish society will evolve. In the meantime, Hayri, and also Turkish society in general still struggle with the Father complex that was diagnosed by Doctor Ramiz in the novel. But I am quite sure, Tanpinar had not only Turkey in mind when he wrote about bureaucracies, and about how a certain category of men is using projects like the Time Regulation Institute to re-write or plainly invent the past and turn such projects into a kind of machinery for self-promotion, generation of media attention, influence, and money. Therefore, it is easy to relate to this novel, even when the reader may not be familiar with the Turkish setting and background.

Overall, I can say that I liked and enjoyed this book very much. It is a fun read thanks to the ability of its author to combine satirical criticism, traditional ‘oriental’ storytelling, and a very accomplished use of the form of the modern novel, with an unreliable narrator. If Tanpinar had lived longer and would have had an opportunity to edit his novel more diligently, he might have cut some passages that are redundant, but that’s a very small criticism of an otherwise truly important and enjoyable book.

The translators of this edition made an obvious effort to render the author’s multi-layered style into a similarly multi-layered English. I cannot really judge the quality of the translation since I don’t know Turkish, but it was a smooth read that didn’t create any challenges for me as a reader.

Bibliographic Information:

‘The Time Regulation Institute’ by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, translated by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe

Publisher: Penguin Classics

Publication Date: 2013

432 pages

ISBN: 978-0143106739

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar was a Turkish poet, novelist, literary scholar and essayist, widely regarded as one of the most important representatives of modernism in Turkish literature. In addition to his literary and academic career, Tanpınar was also a member of the Turkish parliament between 1944 and 1946.

The Istanbul Tanpınar Literature Festival (ITEF) is named in honor of Tanpınar and has been held annually since 2009. The Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar Literature Museum Library, is a museum dedicated to Turkish literature in Gülhane Park in Istanbul.  It opened in 2011.

Maureen Freely is an American journalist, novelist, professor, and translator. Born in New Jersey, Freely grew up in Turkey and now lives in England, where she lectures at the University of Warwick. She is the current President of English PEN, the founding center for PEN International. 

Her seventh novel, ‘Sailing through Byzantium,’ was chosen as one of the best novels of 2014 by The Sunday Times.  Freely is also an occasional contributor to Cornucopia; a magazine about Turkey. She is best known as the Turkish-into-English translator of Orhan Pamuk’s recent novels.

Alexander Dawe graduated from Oberlin College in 1996 with degrees in French and Classical Guitar Performance. He has translated several contemporary Turkish novels including Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s The Time Regulation Institute with Maureen Freely.  In 2010, he received the PEN Translation Fund to translate a collection of short stories by Tanpınar. He lives and works in Istanbul.

Thomas Hübner is a German-born economist and development consultant with a life-long passion for books. He lives in Chisinau/Moldova and Sofia/Bulgaria. He is also the co-founder of Rhizome Publishing in Sofia, and translates poetry, mainly from Bulgarian to German (most recently Vladislav Hristov, Germanii, Rhizome 2017). He is blogging at www.mytwostotinki.com on books and anything else that interests him.

Isaac Babel meets King Kong

If you love Russian literature as much as I do, then Elif Batuman’s book The Possessed is a treat for you. The title refers to Dostoevsky’s novel (also published under the title The Demons) but also to the possessive love of many readers and scholars to the Russian literature in general. And of course to the Russian writers and many of their literary heroes as well.

Elif Batuman is of Turkish origin but grew up in an obviously wealthy upper middle class family in the U.S.. She fell in love with literature and more specifically with Russian literature at an early age. And when she took violin lessons later, her teacher was an enigmatic and somehow secretive Russian – this first Russian she met in real life left a mark on her. When she decided to study linguistics (in the vague hope to become a novelist later), she took up Russian lessons as well. And while linguistics proved to be a real disappointment, Russian language was not, although it took her a long time to learn it well.

When I started The Possessed, I had the expectation to read a book about Russian writers and literature. But it is first of all an autobiographical book by Elif Batuman on her intellectual coming-of-age. That was unexpected – I came across this book by chance in an antiquarian bookstore in Sofia, and since the good hard cover cost only about 5 Euro, I thought I give it a try. Despite my slight momentary disappointment (I had simply wrong expectations), I enjoyed this book very much because it is overall so well-written, funny, interesting, fresh. And it is also a travelogue, kind of.

Batuman describes her time in Stanford and her participation in some international conferences with a lot of (self-)irony and humor. How two well-known Babel scholars “give each other the finger” in a parking lot over a dispute regarding the last free parking space is hilarious. The Babel family (widow and two daughters of the great Isaac Babel) prove to be not easy to handle when they participate in an international conference to Babel’s honor. And also the Tolstoy conference in Jasnaya Polyana turns almost into a disaster because Aeroflot loses her luggage and she has to spend a week in her flip-flops, T-shirt and jeans – not because she is a “Tolstoyan” who prefers the most simple outfit, as most participants seem to assume. Also how she successfully collects travel grants on rather dubious scientific projects, or how the famous New Yorker magazine sends her to Sankt Petersburg without willing to pay her travel expenses, but expecting that she spends a night in the Ice Palace – a real palace made of ice, built according to an old design – these and other stories make for a very entertaining read.

On a more serious note, Batuman provides interesting background information on the writers and works she is covering: mainly Isaac Babel, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Pushkin. I didn’t know Ivan Lazhechnikov before, but her extremely interesting chapter on The Ice House, his book published in 1835 makes me curious to read this work (Batuman makes excessive use of her New Yorker reportage in that chapter).

Another part of the book that I found extremely interesting, was the description of her time in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. While she studied Uzbek language and literature there, she gives very interesting insights into the history and everyday life of people in this now independent country with an ancient literature of high level (especially the works of Mir Ali Nevai, sometimes also referred to as Alisher Navoi).

As I mentioned, this is also an autobiographical work. The author is also the main character, and it describes her changing private life as well. Boyfriends come and go, also interests shift somehow, but the love for literature and the wish to write are the interests which give the authors’ intellectual journey such a strength and continuity.

I enjoyed this book very much. It could have been almost a masterpiece. I say almost, because there are a few things that irritated me a bit and that could have been easily avoided.

Batuman mentions somewhere the fact that Tolstoy introduces in Anna Karenina many characters without a name, or he is using the same name (such as Andrey) several times. That can be a bit confusing when you don’t read Anna Karenina very focused. As if to make an allusion to Tolstoy, she is introducing a certain Matej, a co-student and friend from Croatia in an early chapter. In a much later chapter, a Matej, co-student from Croatia is introduced to the reader again, this time he is the boyfriend of the author. I suppose this is the same person, but then why to introduce him twice? The second time it was very confusing because unless it is an oversight by the author (and the editor), it doesn’t make sense to introduce him again. (I suppose that the two chapters were published before the book edition separately in some journal, and later it was forgotten to remove the double introduction of this person) Or did I miss something completely? I am still confused, and that distracted me a bit from the beautiful prose Batuman writes.

As for her literary likes: they are excellent, and I share most of them. Isaac Babel is one of my biggest heroes in the literary world. And as everyone, she has her idiosyncrasies, which is fine. Still, I would have liked to understand what exactly is so boring about Orhan Pamuk. She doesn’t explain it.

Abdulla Qodiry, the author of Past Days, the most important Uzbek novel of the 20th century might be a great author, world class – but when she writes that he is writing on a thousand times higher level than Cechov, I simply have to believe it as a reader because she doesn’t explain what’s so terrible about Cechov’s writing, or so great about Qodiry’s abilities as an author. (I love Cechov very much and simply cannot believe her.)

The same goes for her rejection of any literature from the “periphery” – come on, you just told us how great Abdulla Qodiry is – and doesn’t he come exactly from the periphery: Uzbekistan?. Or her strong dislike of Creative Writing courses. What exactly is so terrible about them? I didn’t get it – beside the fact that the weather was better in California than in New England where the course she fled from was to take place.

My point here is the following: these opinions – which I don’t share – are all fine, but when the author is not explaining me (or at least not in a way that a reader would consider somehow enlightening or satisfactory) WHY she has these opinions, I get the impression that these are just resentments. Probably it’s more, but it is a pity she didn’t put more effort in explaining her strong opinions on (some) literature. 

Another aspect of the book that I found a bit difficult was the way, scholars or experts that teach outside Stanford are described: the Babel scholar that teaches in Tashkent and makes his own research in Odessa and Moscow is considered a moron: the whole truth is in the American archives, and who wastes his time to interview people who knew Babel or find documents in former Soviet archives is simply a poor idiot. The same goes for the Babel family, three monsters, driven by paranoia and maliciousness. (By the way, Babel was shot on the 27 January 1940, not on the 26th. Who is so strict in his judgement of others should have his facts correct.)

And I could have also done without the anecdote about the poor old Tolstoy scholar, his “accident”, and the resulting bad smelling underwear – Batuman doesn’t give his name, but I am sure for insiders he is easy to identify. Why to embarrass a person by dwelling on his incontinence, a medical condition, not a character deficit? That put me a bit off.

I see my complaints about the book are rather longish. But don’t be deceived: this is despite my ranting in the last paragraphs a book I enjoyed, partly travelogue, partly autobiography, partly literature study. It’s the first book of this author, and I will gladly read what she publishes in the future. It’s just the fact that with a bit of editing, this would have been really a masterpiece. As it is now, it is still a good book.

And Babel and King Kong? There is an almost uncanny connection between the great writer from Odessa and the famous 1933 movie. I am not going to spoil the fun of future readers, so if you want to know about it: read this book.




Elif Batuman: The Possessed, Granta Books, London 2011


© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or 
duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ara Güler’s Istanbul


Really great artists are frequently very modest, even humble persons, says Orhan Pamuk in the introduction to the photo book Ara Güler’s Istanbul. 

Güler calls himself a photo journalist, but he is much more: a chronicler of his home town Istanbul since the late 1940s, a kind of archaeologist (since Istanbul has changed a lot in the last decades), but definitely also a great artist.


Ara Güler’s Istanbul presents just a small sample of the more than 800,000 photos he took almost exclusively with his Leica, but they give a wonderful opportunity to catch a glimpse of the artist’s most iconic works.

We see fishermen mending their nets, children playing in front of derelict Ottoman structures, ferry boats passing the Golden Horn, street vendors pushing their carts in the cobblestone streets of Kadıköy, a tram waiting for a man with his horse cart passing the rails. It’s usually not the Istanbul tourists know. We see crumbling buildings and people who look tired from their everyday struggle to survive in this glorious city. Istanbul and its buildings are only the backdrop for a big stage: the drama of life with its difficulties, everyday routines and small pleasures.


Güler’s photos breathe a deep humanity. The people we see on his photos, no matter how poor they may be, are never devoid of a certain dignity. And frequently there is a touch of magic there too, which is difficult to describe. Just have a look at these breathtaking photos.

3055_3250 _31353059 3130 3154 3179 3207 3331 3341 3371



Ara Güler’s Istanbul, Introduction by Orhan Pamuk, Thames & Hudson 2009

Ara Güler’s website: http://www.araguler.com.tr/

© Ara Güler (photos) 
© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Istanbul’s Archipelago


“Prinkipo is an island of peace and forgetfulness. The life of the world arrives here after great delays…It’s a good place to work with the pen, especially in autumn and winter, when the islands are almost completely deserted and the woodpeckers appear in the garden. There’s no theater here; there’s not even a cinema. Cars are forbidden. Are there many such places in the world? We have no telephone in our house. The cries of the donkeys calm the nerves. One cannot for one moment forget that Prinkipo is an island, because the sea lies under every window and there is no point on the island without a sea view. We catch fish a mere ten meters distance from the edge of the quay; at fifty meters, we catch lobster. The sea can be as calm as a lake for weeks at a time.”

Prinkipo is now called Büyükada and a popular destination for mainly Turkish weekend tourists who want to flee from the crowded city of Istanbul for a day or two. Cars are still forbidden, and the main means of transport are the bicycle or the horse carriages called peyton you can hire here for a tour around the island. But the atmosphere of peace and forgetfulness that Leon Trotsky refers to in his essay Farewell to Prinkipo, from which the above quote is taken, is still existing on Büyükada and the other smaller Princes’ Islands. (The name derives from the fact that many princes were exiled here in the time of Byzantium). Trotsky wrote his autobiography and the biggest part of his History of the Russian Revolution on the island. The house in which he lived with his wife, his son, two bodyguards and five Turkish policemen is in a quiet ruinous state, but still standing. Trotsky left the place in 1933 and moved finally to Mexico, where he was murdered by a group of NKWD henchmen (among them Pablo Neruda and the painter David Alfaro Siqueiros).



The glorious times of the Princes Islands were the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. Greek, Armenian, Jewish businessmen discovered these islands as a perfect summer retreat, established a ferry boat line and built beautiful summer houses and a few hotels. Several Greek monasteries, churches and abandoned fortresses add to the charm of these islands that offer incredible scenic views to the European and Asian coast. Istanbul seems so far away, but it is just a short journey by ferryboat.


A wonderful small book The Princes’ Islands, written by Joachim Sartorius, a German poet, translator and travel writer, can be the perfect companion when you visit these islands during your next trip to Istanbul. Sartorius, who grew up in Tunis and served as a diplomat in the US, Turkey and Cyprus before he became the director of the Goethe Institute, writes a stylistically elegant prose. He takes the reader by the hand and shares his knowledge and feelings, reports the history, explores all interesting places and evokes in the reader the atmosphere of these serene islands. He makes friends with locals who invite him to their homes or to the restaurant, he is rowing to smaller islands with friends, and – we can be thankful for that – he feels inspired by the islands. No wonder that many writers like Orhan Veli Kanik,  Sait Faik,  or Orhan Pamuk lived or live on one of the islands or had or have at least a summer house which they use(d) as a writers’ studio.


During most of the year, there are ferries leaving from Kabatas ferry terminal almost every hour. The trip takes one hour and a half, with short stops on the Asian side and three of the bigger islands before reaching the final destination Büyükada. Don’t miss these islands. You won’t regret it.


Joachim Sartorius: The Princes’ Islands, Armchair Traveller, London 2011, transl. Stephen Brown

Leon Trotsky: Farewell to Prinkipo (1933), in: Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932-1933, Pathfinder Press 1972, pp. 361ff. 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. © Photos in this blog post Cornelia Awear.