Oğuz Atay

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Oğuz Atay
Born (1934-10-12)October 12, 1934
İnebolu, Kastamonu Province, Turkey
Died December 13, 1977(1977-12-13) (aged 43)
Istanbul, Turkey
Occupation Novelist, Engineer
Nationality Turkish
Period 1970-1977
Genre Fiction
Literary movement Modernism, Postmodernism
Notable works Tutunamayanlar, Tehlikeli Oyunlar

Oğuz Atay (1934–1977) was a pioneer of the modern novel in Turkey. His first novel, Tutunamayanlar (The Disconnected), appeared 1971-72. Never reprinted in his lifetime and controversial among critics, it has become a best-seller since a new edition came out in 1984. It has been described as “probably the most eminent novel of twentieth-century Turkish literature”: this reference is due to a UNESCO survey, which goes on: “it poses an earnest challenge to even the most skilled translator with its kaleidoscope of colloquialisms and sheer size.” In fact two translations have so far been published: into Dutch, as Het leven in stukken, translated by Hanneke van der Heijden and Margreet Dorleijn (Athenaeum-Polak & v Gennep, 2011); into German, as Die Haltlosen, translated by Johannes Neuner (Binooki, 2016). A translation by Sevin Seydi, as The Disconnected, is scheduled to be published by Olric Press early in 2017 (ISBN 978-0-9955543-0-6): an excerpt from this won the Dryden Translation Prize in 2008 (Comparative Critical Studies, vol.V (2008) 99).


There is a full-length biography by Yildiz Ecevit, Ben Buradayim (Iletişim, 2005).

Oğuz Atay was born in October 12, 1934 in İnebolu, a small town (population less than 10,000) in the centre of the Black Sea coast, 590 km from İstanbul. His father was a judge and for a time an MP in Ataturk's parliament, his mother a schoolteacher, thus both representative of the modernization of Turkey brought about by Atatürk' revolution. Although he lived most of his life in big cities this provincial background was important to his work. He was at high school in Ankara, at TED Ankara College until 1951, and after military service enrolled at Istanbul Technical University, where he graduated as a civil engineer in 1957. With a friend he started an enterprise as a building contractor. This failed, leaving him (as such experiences have for other novelists) valuable material for his writing. In 1960 he joined the staff of the İstanbul Academy of Engineering and Architecture, where he worked until his final illness; he was promoted to associate professorship in 1970, for which he presented as his qualification a textbook on surveying, Topoğrafya. His first creative work, Tutunamayanlar, was awarded the prize of Turkish Radio Television Institution, TRT in 1970, before it had been published. He went on to write another novel and a volume of short stories among other works.

He died in İstanbul, December 13, 1977, of a brain tumour. He spent much of his last year in London, where he had gone for treatment. He is buried in Edirnekapı Martyr's Cemetery. He married twice, and is survived by a daughter, Özge, by his first marriage.

Atay's grave


The literary works are now all published by Iletişim.

What he had hoped would be his magnum opus, "Türkiye'nin Ruhu" (The Spirit of Turkey), was cut short by his death. It is not known what form he intended for it.

Influences and achievements[edit]

The secondary literature, mostly in Turkish but also in German and English, is very extensive. See, for example, the report of a conference on his work, Oguz Atay'a Armagan (2007), with some 150 contributions and a bibliography of over 500 items. This brief account does not attempt to summarise this material.

Atay was of a generation deeply committed to the Westernising, scientific, secular culture encouraged by the revolution of the 1920s; he had no nostalgia for the corruption of the late Ottoman Empire, though he knew its literature, and was in particular well versed in Divan poetry. Yet the Western culture he saw around him was largely a form of colonialism, tending to crush what he saw was best about Turkish life. He had no patience with the traditionalists, who countered Western culture with improbable stories of early Turkish history. He soon lost patience with the underground socialists of the 1960s. And, although some good writers, such as Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, had written fiction dealing with the modernisation of Turkey, there were none that came near to dealing with life as he saw it lived. In fact, almost the only Turkish writer of the Republican period whose name appears in his work is the poet Nâzim Hikmet.

The solution lay in using the West for his own ends. His subject matter is frequently the detritus of Western culture — translations of tenth-rate historical novels, Hollywood fantasy films, trivialities of encyclopaedias, Turkish tangos. To the fracturing of Turkish life there corresponds the fracturing of language: the flowery Ottoman, the artificial purified Turkish, the rank colloquialism. From the West Atay took one of his favourite motifs, but so changed as to be new, intercourse between people as playing games: the free games of love and friendship, the ritualised games of superficial acquaintance, the mechanical games of bureaucracy.

Since the publication of Tutunamayanlar many Turkish novelists have broken away from traditional styles, first the slightly older writer Adalet Ağaoğlu, then others including Orhan Pamuk and Latife Tekin.