Review by Wyatt Bandt
“The warmth embracing us. The cold nights descending. The stars those nights bring to the skies.” – Tezer Özlü.
Cold Nights of Childhood by Tezer Özlü was originally published in 1980. Some forty years later, we can now walk the streets of Turkey in English thanks to the talent of translator Maureen Freely.
The autobiographical novel follows a narrator who escapes from a patriarchal and nationalistic society only to later endure the tortures of electroshock “therapy.” Throughout it all, she searches for happiness while brushing away the pain of life.
I’d be remiss to say I’ve read anything like Cold Nights of Childhood, as Özlü’s style is truly unique. The writing was choppy and unrestrained. It’s simultaneously evoking feelings of lightness and claustrophobia as the narrator brought me into small, dimly lit spaces – both in the world and her heart. The stream of consciousness storytelling was intimate and familiar, and the narrator feeling deeply what Özlü also felt.
Where the pain of life mingles with the pleasure, that’s where Özlü’s narrator finds herself. Trysts with lovers mix with the fear of being killed in a psychological ward, running on the sand mingles together with thoughts of suicide. Özlü shares it all, always circling back to muse on how these “cold nights” bring attention to the beauty of existence.
Freely’s hand in the novel can’t go unpraised. She spent time in Instanbul not long after Özlü did, and Freely brought outsiders in with a glossary for those who aren’t as familiar with the language or Turkish geography. Most of all, Freely’s reflection at the end of Cold Nights brought the story to reality for more, grounding me in Freely’s shared experience, showing me the people that walk the streets of Arnavutköy.
Cold Nights of Childhood will demand you to share in Özlü’s joy and sorrow. Just shy of 100 pages, it’s a quick read, but it’s a story that isn’t afraid to look you in the eyes and share itself unflinchingly.
About the Book
Cold Nights of Childhood.
“A profoundly moving account of desperation, exhilaration, and endurance.”—Kirkus Reviews
The Bell Jar meets Good Morning, Midnight, by one of Turkey’s most beloved writers.
The narrator of Tezer Özlü’s novel is between lovers. She is in and out of psychiatric wards, where she is forced to undergo electroshock treatments. She is between Berlin and Paris. She returns to Istanbul, in search of freedom, happiness, and new love.
Set across the rambling orchards of a childhood in the Turkish provinces and the smoke-filled cafes of European capitals, Cold Nights of Childhood offers a sensual, unflinching portrayal of a woman’s sexual encounters and psychological struggle, staging a clash between unbridled feminine desire and repressive, patriarchal society.
Originally published in 1980, six years before her death at 43, Cold Nights of Childhood cemented Tezer Özlü’s status as one of Turkey’s most beloved writers. A classic that deserves to stand alongside The Bell Jar and Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight, Cold Nights of Childhood is a powerfully vivid, disorienting, and bittersweet novel about the determined embrace of life in all its complexity and confusion, translated into English here for the first time by Maureen Freely, with an introduction by Aysegül Savas.
Article originally Published in the September / October / November 2023 Issue: Global Reads.