Burhan Sönmez is a Turkish prize-winning novelist. His first novel, North (Kuzey), was published in 2009 in Turkey. His second novel, Sins and Innocents (Masumlar), was published in 2011. His third novel, Istanbul Istanbul, was published in 2015. ‘’Labyrinth’’, his fourth novel, got published in 2018.
He received "Disturbing the Peace" award given by Vaclav Havel Library Foundation in New York (2017).
He’s awarded the EBRD Literature Prize in London (2018) for his novel Istanbul Istanbul.
Sins and Innocents has received the Sedat Simavi Literature Prize, a most prestigious literature award in Turkey.
His novels are being published in thirty six countries such as by Gallimard (France), OR Books (USA), btb Random House (Germany), Turbine (Denmark), Nottetempo (Italy), Polirom (Romania), Klimaty (Poland), Dituria (Albania), Antares (Armenia), Thaqafa (Arabic), Lis (Kurdish), Opus (Croatia), Hohe (Ethiopia), Joshua Könyvek (Hungary), Jumhoori (Pakistan), Nepko (Mongolia), Del Vecchio (Italy), Evro Giunti (Serbia), Qanun (Azerbaijani), A.Libris (Macedonia).
Burhan Sönmez was born in Turkey. He grew up speaking Turkish and Kurdish, then later moved to Istanbul where he worked for a time as a lawyer. He was member of Human Rights Society (IHD) and a founder of TAKSAV (Foundation for Social Research, Culture and Art). He was seriously injured following an assault by police in 1996 in Turkey and received treatment in Britain for a long period of time (with the support of the Freedom from Torture.)
Even though he was interested in poetry and won awards in two national poetry competitions in Turkey, he turned his hand to writing novel. His interest in writing, storytelling and modern literature is rooted in the traditional stories and legends he was brought up with. His unique experience of growing up in a remote village with no electricity, and having a talented storyteller for a mother, has provided perspective, inspiration and material for his writing.
He has written for various newspapers and magazines, such as daily BirGün and L'Unita and monthly Birikim and "Notos", on literature, culture and politics. He was a member of judging panel for 2014 Cevdet Kudret Literature Prize.
He lectures in Literature and Novel at the METU (Middle East Technical University).
He is member of Turkish PEN and English PEN.
He is a board member of PEN International.
He now lives in Cambridge and Istanbul.
Burhan Sönmez's first novel, North, is the story of a young man whose father leaves when the protagonist is two years old, and returns twenty years later as a corpse. In trying to solve the mystery of his father’s death, our hero embarks on a journey to the North in search of his father’s identity, which at times becomes his own. Eastern folk tales and legends have been woven into the story, which questions and reflects the nature of identity, reality and existence.
North could be described as a philosophical fairy tale. It tells the myths and legends of the East in a realistic fashion, and is based around philosophical debates on existence and love that have a central importance in solving the mystery.
Sins and Innocents
His second novel, Sins and Innocents, published in 2011 and received the Sedat Simavi Literature Prize that is a prominent literature award in Turkey.
It tells a story of two people whose paths come across on a foreign land. A woman carries a "book" and believes in poetry. A man, suffering from insomnia, struggles to survive through graves. Each of them has got a secret and a sin. On the day they meet the woman reads his fortune in the "book" and he sings the songs of desert.
Sins and Innocents tells the story of two people whose lives have been running through Haymana Plain, Tehran and Cambridge ...
His third novel, Istanbul Istanbul, was published in 2015 (and in the United States in 2016 by OR Books). It is the story of four prisoners in the underground cells in Istanbul. When they are not being subjected to torture, the four tell one another stories about Istanbul to pass the time. The underground narrative gradually turns into the narrative of the above ground. Initially centered around persons, the novel comes to focus on the city of Istanbul. There is as much suffering or hope in the Istanbul above ground as there is in the cells underground.
Like the tales in The Decameron, the novel has ten chapters. Each chapter is narrated by one of the occupants of the cell.
“Istanbul was a city of a million cells and every cell was an Istanbul unto itself.” In every piece, person and event, the novel evokes Istanbul as a city in its entirety. It is a novel that appears political but is in reality about love. It appears to focus on the stories of individuals but is in reality about the city of Istanbul. Rather than being about capital production, the focus is on the city’s spatial and spiritual reproduction. In modes of thought suggested by Althusser and Manuel Castells, the city of Istanbul is the site of reproduction for pain, misery, melancholy and hope. There are two Istanbuls, one below ground and one above. Yet in reality both are one and the same.
“Istanbul Istanbul presents one of the best example of urban philosophy. Burhan Sönmez is an urban story-teller. He carries dreams, stories and fairy tales in his bag. He writes: ‘Cinderella is asked why she fell in love with the Prince. The tale did not give me another destiny, she says.’ But we know that another destiny is possible. And another Istanbul too!” Serap Çakır, Varlik Literary Magazine (Turkey)
“Istanbul Istanbul looks like a political novel but has nothing to do with the actual politics. We can feel the Decameron by Boccaccio in the novel’s texture, but we can follow footsteps of the Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino in its substance. ‘Cities,’ says Calvino, ‘are the places of exchange, as it is told in the history books, it is not only commercial exchange rather exchanging words, desires and memories.’ The characters in Istanbul Istanbul exchange words, desires and memories.” Ömer Türkeş, SabitFikir News (Turkey)
"Sonmez’s words are conquering the whole world." ADNKronos (Italy)
“The characters in Istanbul Istanbul are like the flaneurs who turned the streets of Paris into reality by pacing it up and down. As the streets are transformed into passages, as described by Walter Benjamin with the inspiration of Baudelaire, the prisons and the cells are transformed into streets of Istanbul by Burhan Sönmez.” Emrah Tuncer, DemokratHaber News (Turkey)
“Istanbul Istanbul is creating a space of its own both in urban culture and in philosophical depth with its multilayered structure and multiple meaning like classical works. It will have its unique place in the history of literature as a work of intertextuality, and a novel of new-ages. I can heartily say that he is the ‘expected author’ who will be rising the flag.” Hayri K. Yetik, Mesele Literary Magazine (Turkey)
“Burhan Sönmez brings the Eastern narrative and the Western form together by adding parables, riddles, and, of course, mysterious stories of Istanbul into his novel. And he never leaves the hope out of reach for the readers like me who completed the ten days of stories in tears.” Banu Yıldıran Genç, Agos KitapKirk Literary Magazine (Turkey)
“Yes, our country is turning into hell and it is getting more and more difficult to find any light here. That’s why you should leave this novel in the public places, forget it in the cafes, read it out loud on the ferries. Let everyone hear Burhan Sönmez’s voice, and get everyone to resist pain and sorrow.” Ümran Küçükislamoğlu, T24 News (Turkey)
"Around Sönmez can be seen a constellation of literary world that includes Garcia Marquez (Tatar Photographer in Sins&Innocents reminds me of Melquiades in One Hundred Years of Solitude), the Turkish author Tanpinar, Tolstoy (two authors also dear to Orhan Pamuk), Wittgenstein, the Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad." Fabio de Propris, il manifesto (Italy)
"Sins&Innocents is an impressive novel that carries both the melancholy of the lost and the hope for the future. The Romantics had a pattern of running to the nature due to the nausea of modernism. Brani Tawo, the protagonist, has a voice of romanticism but we should call it a revolutionary romanticism because of his willpower to change the life." Omer Turkes, Radikal (Turkey)
"Haymana of Sins&Innocents is a sort of Anatolian Macondo." Tommaso Giartosio, Radio 3 Fahrenheit (Italy)
"Burhan Sonmez is a silent revolutionary in our literature. Sins&Innocents has a limpid and pure language, a core-language. Sorrow and sadness get a poetic character through Sins&Innocents. It is a literary black-hole in a positive way. It swallows readers, and gets them through a black-hole, and transforms them into an emotion-man and a truth-seeking-man." Pakize Barista, Taraf (Turkey)
"Burhan Sönmez has the air of timid philosophers with a determination that breaks the stones." Igiaba Scego, Corriere Delle Migrazioni (Italy)
"Burhan Sonmez opens the door of wounded memory of Kurds. He doesn't have a proclivity for questions of ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What am I?’ He asks: Where am I?" Dervis Aydin Akkoc, Ozgur Gundem (Turkey)
"You may think that the place in the novel is not Haymana of Anatolian Plains but Macondo of One Hundred Years of Solitude. The parts in Sins&Innocents that take place in Cambridge whisper us a style that is plainer than Ernest Hemingway's." Erdinc Akkoyunlu, Star (Turkey)
"If Yasar Kemal wrote this novel he would keep the same way of wording but it would last hundreds of pages. Burhan Sönmez can be regarded as Yasar Kemal's tight-lipped son." Metin Celal, Cumhuriyet (Turkey)
"The more a book forces us to dig deeper within ourselves the more it is important. Sins&Innocents has this power." Senzaudio (Italy)
"Burhan Sönmez salutes G.G. Marquez with his breath of magical realism that comes into leaf in Anatolian soil." Dogus Sarpkaya, BirGun (Turkey)
- Interview with Burhan Sonmez in Rome - by Diego Zandel
- Burhan Sonmez, Pamuk and Dante - il Manifesto
- Burhan Sönmez’in ‘Kuzey’ romanı ve en az bilinenlerin en derin tarafları - Taraf
- Peki ya sizin kuzeyiniz... - Radikal