Dare to Disappoint: Growing up in Turkey by Ozge Samanci, released in 2015
Growing up on the Aegean Coast, Ozge loved the sea and imagined a life of adventure while her parents and society demanded predictability. Her dad expected Ozge, like her sister, to become an engineer. She tried to hear her own voice over his and the religious and militaristic tensions of Turkey and the conflicts between secularism and fundamentalism. Could she be a scuba diver like Jacques Cousteau? A stage actress? Would it be possible to please everyone including herself?
Did you ever read a book completely by accident? (But oh thank goodness you did?) I was working the other day when I hit a slow, and I mean sl-o-o-o-w patch. I tutor, you see, so I was surrounded by books but not a single person in need of my expertise. So instead of scrolling through instagram (which I’ll admit, I did for a good fifteen minutes at first) I checked out the books and stumbled on Ozge Samanci’s memoir “Dare to Disappoint.” I didn’t even plan on finishing the memoir, assuming someone would ask for my help sooner or later, so I barely glanced at the summary before diving in.
First thoughts: I know nothing about Turkey. Nothing about Turkey in the 80s/90s and nothing about Turkey today. I can claim it’s the fault of my education system (my school system focuses on regional history, and since I’m in Canada, Turkey is pretty much nonexistent) but basically … it’s never really crossed my mind. Turkey. So this book was my introduction to all that is Turkish and no worries I knew going in not to base my assumptions on this one book based almost forty years ago. (Expect me to do some serious Googling after!)
The graphic novel starts with six-year-old Ozge in love with the idea of going to school. She sees her eight-year-old sister, Palin, go every day and dreams of her turn. School is the place of cool uniforms! Then, when she gets her turn, Ozge recounts tales of falling in love with her teacher (a childhood crush), joking around with friends … but also questioning the power of the government. Her uncle — and now forgive me, because I obviously no longer have the book and have no way to look up the names I’m forgetting — is a socialist and he tells her in no uncertain terms that the government is brainwashing her. With childlike narration, Ozge admits that at school students are bombarded with the image of Attaturk, the “man who freed Turkey”. They chant his name at assembly. The students are taught military marches to assemble at the end of recess. They sing the national anthem “at the top of their lungs” whenever it comes on TV. But she still shrugs off the idea of brainwashing.
The graphic novel follows Ozge as she begins to see school as less of a fun place and more of an institution. To succeed at all in life, she must study endlessly, weekdays and weekends, to make it into the “special high school” and then maybe, possibly, into a prestigious university. But Ozge is not good at school and she dreams of scuba diving and drama — two things that do not make good money.
I want to just slip in my #30daysofhumanrightsBPR moment here. When I read this book, I thought about the Right to Public Assembly. Now this right doesn’t just mean people are allowed to get into a big group and wave picket signs. It also means people do not have to be forced to belong to an association. When Ozge finally makes her way to university, she observes the government police ripping down socialist posters in the university cafeteria. With her friends, she laughs about how ridiculous and over the top the actions are — but secretly questions how extreme the government is. At the time, the region is cracking down on the Kurds, a minority group in Turkey which is seeking greater cultural rights. When the police catch her and her friends laughing, they demand to see ID cards, and Ozge knows if she or her friends had lived in an area too close to a more Kurdish neighbour, the police would have brought them in. In this instance, no one is actively protesting: there are just posters in the cafeteria. But because the government doesn’t like this stance, the posters are taken down.
I liked how Samanci (aka the author) switches her drawing style throughout the novel. At some times you can tell Ozge (the character) is in a more childlike state of mind by stick figures or simplified caricatures. Or the drawings take on several dimensions, and you know she is thinking about something more complex. The same goes for the writing style. Samanci involves a complexity to her writing style by showing a tiny bird that floats around the pages: the bird actively questions the government’s actions even while Ozge does not. Who is the bird? Ozge’s subconscious? An embodiment of the socialist movement? It’s an interesting way to incorporate young Ozge’s ideas with the ideas Samanci may have now, as a grown adult.
As I said before, I have never thought about Turkey. Regardless of the reason, this book was a great way to introduce me to the topic. For example, at the beginning of the graphic novel, Ozge is focused on talking about her school day. Her speech bubbles are about school, and her friends, and Attaturk. But there are tiny arrows thrown in that explain who Attaturk is and other bits of information. The information is not overwhelming, either, such as a block paragraph. It’s also written in a child-like voice, like Ozge is popping in to say, “Oh, maybe you didn’t know!”
There is so much to say about this graphic novel, and so much I want to know more about. Trust me when I say I’m going to get lost in Wiki pages on Turkey as soon as this post is finished. Of course, I should also mention this graphic novel is not just about Turkey. At its heart, it’s the story of a girl who happens to live in Turkey, and wants to find herself amidst the country’s education system and her parents’ views of learning. Which is a whole other thing to explore right there, but I think you’ve heard enough from me?
Five crowns because the plot (I mean, it’s her life, so I should say the structuring of her life onto the page?) is beautifully assembled, the art is pleasing to the eye and meaningful to reading comprehension, and the entire tale leaves you with so much to think about. Thanks for this one, Samanci!
How much do you know about Turkey? Do you like learning about countries / finding new knowledge in books?
📷 = @shaniasquires