The scene is Turkey in the mid-to-late 70s. A young male college student hops onto a bus. He sits next to a cute female student from his class, but before they can strike up a conversation, they see a right-wing passenger, walk up to another passenger and hit him on the head with a hammer. The young woman screams. The two students get off the bus, only for the female student to call the male student a “disgusting fascist” and leave in anger.
Scenes like this are seen in Turkish Kaleidoscope: Fractured Lives in a Time of Violence (Princeton University Press, 2021) is a graphic novel written by Professor Jenny White and illustrated by Ergün Gündüz. The book combines Jenny’s own experiences in Turkey with insights gleaned from interviews to illustrate Turkey’s political conflict in the late 1970s, between right-wing and left-wing movements.
In this interview, I ask Jenny to talk about central figures in her telling of Turkish politics, and how their views developed over time. We talk about that period of Turkish contemporary history and what it was like. And we also discuss her choice of format: why write a graphic novel?
There’s a promotional video for the book, and Jenny has also put together a Spotify playlist of songs from the era. Those interested in an academic treatment of these ideas can read her 2017 article in The Brown Journal of World Affairs titled “Spindle Autocracy In The New Turkey”.
Jenny White is a social anthropologist and professor at the Institute for Turkish Studies at Stockholm University. She is former president of the Turkish Studies Association and former president of the American Anthropological Association Middle East Section. She has published four books and numerous articles about contemporary Turkish society and politics. She also has published a series of three novels set in 1880s Istanbul.