I Will Never See the World Again is the memoir of Ahmet Altan, a Turkish author and journalist currently serving a life sentence on charges of sending "subliminal messages" to those involved in an attempted coup on the Turkish government in 2016.
The essays that comprise I Will Never See the World Again were translated by Altan's longtime friend Yasemin Çongar, a fellow journalist and writer. Çongar co-founded and directs P24, a nonprofit platform for independent journalism in Istanbul. She is also the co-founder of the Istanbul Literature House and the online book review site K24. Çongar is an editor, essayist and translator and has published four books in Turkish.
In your translator's note, you write, "I would read each piece, read it once again, then immediately type it out on my computer fighting hard not to be overwhelmed with emotion. Once I had the text on the screen before me, I began translating." What kinds of emotions do Altan's words inspire in you?
Ahmet's essays remind me of the power of writing and its ability to shape one's life from within no matter what external circumstances may be.
Can you share a little more about the process of the creation of this book? Did Altan write the chapters in this order? Has he received a copy of the book?
Ahmet didn't write the chapters in order. The last essay in the book was the first one he wrote. But he did put these essays in a somewhat chronological order according to their content for the book, and in doing that he also took into account "the balance between shadow and light"--a concept very important to him.
How did your friendship with Altan begin?
It began as I returned to Turkey from the U.S., where I had lived for 13 years, to join him and another colleague in editing a start-up newspaper in Istanbul, back in 2007.
When was the last time you saw Altan or members of his family?
Since October 2018, they have allowed me to visit him for an hour on Fridays.
You've published several books of your own. In what language do you compose your own work? Do you translate it as well?
My books are all in Turkish. I also write essays in English.
How did you come to be a translator? What does being a translator mean to you, and how do you see your role?
Whenever I read a text that moves me deeply, I want as many people as possible to read it in as many languages as possible. This is why I translated Ahmet's essays into English.
I studied six languages other than my native Turkish and used to translate Spanish poetry into Turkish, but at the moment I'm only comfortable with translating from and into English.
You've been arrested before as well. Are you at liberty to share whether you worry for your own security?
I wasn't arrested, but I have an ongoing court case against me in which Ahmet is also a defendant, and the prosecutor asked for 52 years in prison for each of us. I am not worried for my own security. I am not the worrying type.
One of the policemen taking Altan to jail had read Altan's novel Cheating. It's almost unbelievable that Altan's words have reached those who put him in prison as well as those who are now guarding him there. Are Altan's books still available and/or read in Turkey?
Ahmet's books are available in Turkey. He has been a bestselling novelist and essayist here for over 25 years now. His prison essays have not been published in Turkish, however.
How have your own ideas about language and freedom evolved throughout your friendship with Altan, as he's been in and out of prison?
My belief in the power of words and the possibility of mental freedom is stronger than ever.
Altan writes, "I am a novelist living his novel." It's an idea at once terrifying and compelling. As the translator, where do you see yourself as living, relevant to the text?
Ahmet's essays in this book are "personal" to me not only because they reveal so much about the inner life of my best friend, but also for their ability to make the reader look for the sources of life's joy and meaning inlaid within one's self. --Katie Weed