My Mother’s Fight
Extended version of the 135,000 copy-selling 2019 Dutch Book Week Essay
‘Being a girl made me an unhappy child,’ author Murat Işık’s mother tells him. In My Mother’s Fight he traces his mother’s tumultuous childhood in Turkey and her struggle to free herself first from traditionalist expectations and later from her marriage to an angry, unpredictable compatriot. Even the act of telling her story to her son meant contravening deeply-embedded notions of pride and a cultural taboo against airing one’s dirty linen in public.
Işık’s mother Aynur grew up in a dusty village in eastern Turkey, without running water or electricity, where men ruled and womanhood was a curse. But in order to understand what shaped her, he first has to delve into his maternal grand- mother’s life. This was a woman who buried eight of her children, barely escaped death herself and was unable to offer her remaining three children any emotional support. The resulting portrayal of agricultural, patriarchal twentieth-century Turkey is shocking and makes it all the more clear how far Işık’s mother has come.
Later, when an earthquake strikes her village, Aynur moves with her family to the modern city of Izmir. ‘It took a natural disaster to give my mother’s fate a favourable turn,’ Işık remarks. In Izmir, aged fourteen, she goes to work for a middle-class Turkish couple whose egalitarian marriage inspires her to look for a different kind of life. She marries Işık’s father, and together they end up in Amsterdam, by way of Hamburg. Although her marriage is unhappy and her situa- tion initially seems hopeless, she learns a new language, makes a professional career for herself in a hospital and even buys a flat.
Murat Işık, the acclaimed bestselling author of the semi-autographical Be Invisible, focuses on Aynur’s struggles as a girl and woman, and on her hard-knock life. In doing so, he describes how this has shaped him, as a man, as a writer: ‘Hearing, as a son, how my mother had to fight and overcome so many setbacks, inspired me to solidarity with her struggle.’
My Mother’s Fight is the portrait of an intelligent woman from a disadvantaged background who nevertheless managed to free herself from a restrictive marriage and follow her own path in life. It is also Işık’s reflection on his formation, and a depiction of a mother-son relationship with all its attendant loyalty, tenderness and conflicts.