Book Review: Exploring the meaning of life in a world of isolation and torture

“The Stone Building and Other Places” is a collection of short stories. (Shutterstock)
Updated 27 February 2019

Book Review: Exploring the meaning of life in a world of isolation and torture

CHICAGO: From Istanbul comes “The Stone Building and Other Places,” a collection of short stories by author and journalist Asli Erdogan. Weaving interconnected tales into weighty accounts of isolation, torture and political asylum, Erdogan’s work centers around women whose lives have abruptly changed course due to circumstances beyond their control. Using “the stone building” as a metaphor for confinement, their isolation is both mental and physical.

Erdogan begins her stories with secluded characters who seem to live in dark, cold spaces. She writes with a particular haunting poetic voice that accompanies her disillusioned characters. There is a deep soul to her words, emotions that can only stem from the depths of loneliness and unadulterated thoughts. Not only are her characters tainted, so are the worlds they find themselves described with. Erdogan’s imagery helps transform her stories into chilling visual vignettes where life creeps along dark walls and shadowy rooms and echoes of agony are forever in the background.

Her characters are not always given names, furthering the feeling of irrelevance. The reader finds one woman in a boarding house for migrants, surrounded by strangers and visited by ghosts. Another is a political refugee who is in Germany at an asylum center in the Black Forest. Dealing with fleeing and forced separation — with memories of prisons, asylums and ailing friends — the women explore life and its meaning after darkness has settled over them.

There is a symbiosis between life and nature in each of Erdogan’s stories, in which nature can offer a brighter, more vibrant life whereas reality is often harsh and unfair, especially the stone buildings in which unimaginable physical and mental torture takes place. As Erdogan writes, “Nothing compared to what we had been through, neither on earth nor in the sky. We didn’t even have a language to tell the story to give it meaning.”

Erdogan herself was arrested and imprisoned by the Turkish government in 2016 after a failed coup. She has published several novels, short stories and political essays through the years.

“The Stone Building and Other Places” was first published in Turkey in 2009 and then recently translated into English by Sevinç Türkkan and published by City Lights Books. 

What We Are Reading Today: The Deportation Machine by Adam Goodman

Updated 01 June 2020

What We Are Reading Today: The Deportation Machine by Adam Goodman

Constant headlines about deportations, detention camps, and border walls drive urgent debates about immigration and what it means to be an American in the 21st century. The Deportation Machine traces the long and troubling history of the US government’s systematic efforts to terrorize and expel immigrants over the past 140 years. 

This provocative, eye-opening book provides needed historical perspective on one of the most pressing social and political issues of our time.

In a sweeping and engaging narrative, Adam Goodman examines how federal, state, and local officials have targeted various groups for expulsion, from Chinese and Europeans at the turn of the twentieth century to Central Americans and Muslims today. 

He reveals how authorities have singled out Mexicans, nine out of ten of all deportees, and removed most of them not by orders of immigration judges but through coercive administrative procedures and calculated fear campaigns. Goodman uncovers the machine’s three primary mechanisms—formal deportations, “voluntary” departures and self-deportations.