Exile in Literature and Life: A Talk by Burhan Sönmez, President of Pen International

Monday, April 15, 2024 noon to 1:30 p.m.

Art is generally seen as making sense and expressing the longing for the past. The past, which is the object of “nostalgia”, is here lost both in time and space, that is, inaccessible. The reality of returning to the past time and place that the soul desires is “nostos”. Contrary to nostalgia, which is the feeling of exile, nostos is the return from exile, and the reunion with the lost. What is lost is sometimes a homeland, sometimes a lover, and sometimes a language. Kurdish, which is stigmatized and despised as a mountain language" in the official discourse of several states, lives simultaneously both in exile and in its homeland. This paradox makes Kurdish literature experience a special form of nostalgia, that is, longing for its home when it is at home. This conversation will explore the topics of literature and social life in the light of what is lost, what can be regained and what is impossible to return.


Burhan Sönmez, President of PEN International

Burhan Sönmez is the author of six novels. He is president of PEN International and a Senior Member of Hughes Hall College and Trinity College, University of Cambridge. His novels have been translated into forty-eight languages and received international prizes, including the EBRD Literature Prize and Vaclav Havel Library Award. He was born in Turkey and grew up speaking Turkish and Kurdish. He worked as a lawyer in Istanbul before going to Britain for political reasons and living there in exile for several years. He has been on the judging panel of several events, including Inge Feltrinelli Prize and Geneva International Film Festival and written for press such as La Repubblica, Der Spiegel and The Guardian. He has translated the poetry book of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake into Turkish. Having written five novels in Turkish, he began to write in his mother tongue, Kurdish, with his last novel Lovers of Franz K. He lives between Cambridge and Istanbul.


Günes Murat Tezcür, PhD

Director and professor, School of Politics & Global Studies, Arizona State University

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