On Zehra, Nabizade Nazım’s essential novel, Said Dağlı has written his thoughts. He showed achievements and drawbacks of the novel.
The point that we arrived when Zehra was written was a critical moment in the history of Turkish novels. Nearly a quarter century had passed after the first novel was published in Turkey when Nâbizade Nâzım introduced this novel to us. Technical weaknesses of the first novels could be tolerated. We did tolerate the first novel, the first artistic novel, the first translation, and even the seconds and thirds were tolerated. However, it was not the case for the author of Zehra. Writers like Şemseddin Sami, Nâmık Kemal and Ahmet Mithat raised our expectations, as well as the emergence of theoretical discussions about the genre. In that sense, I want to highlight one thing that Nâbizade Nâzım achieved and one thing that he failed, considering the novel’s place in the history of Turkish novels.
Dialect in Zehra
Karabibik claimed its earned place as it demonstrated well the dialect and jargon of the rural and village. However, it was mostly regarded as a long story rather than a novel. Zehra differentiates itself with not only its volume but also its ability to adapt its tone for different situations, locations and the flow of the plot. When Suphi got a job as a firefighter, we witness the slum language. They say, “You got a boy.” to their superiors when a fire starts. They call the ones who watches for fires in a watch tower as “people of mansions”. When fire jumps to the nearest building, they say “a guest came”.
Of course, the language of firefighters is easily remarkable. Yet, Nâbizade Nâzım doesn’t confine himself to it. All characters of Zehra are talking according to their psychological situations and sociocultural classes. We see this when Zehra and her servant Nazikter talk against their common opponent. Zehra angrily talks about Sırrıcemal without losing control and in a way that is appropriate for an honorable lady. However, Nazikter calls Sırrıcemal as a flighty woman, a mucous calamity, a sluggish monster etc. She also uses proverbs and idioms of common people very much.
Failure of Nabizade Nazım
When it comes to the weakness of the novel, I can say that Zehra continued some wrong habits of the previous novels. Two examples can be mentioned. First are the long depictions of the nature one of which can be found in the very beginning of the novel. Although they are related with the plot, that much detail was unnecessary and distracting. They could have been told much plainer. To demonstrate the beauty of the Bosporus, twenty-two couples of a poem was quoted, which is obviously overkilling. Özlem Fedai also highlights this problem but saying that this kind of long depictions are not as abundant as the previous novels. She is right, but as I said at the beginning, we can no longer tolerate this, when a quarter century had passed after the first novel. Nâbizade Nâzım had the chance to read Şemsettin Sami before writing, but Şemsettin Sami hadn’t.
The second Tanzimat tradition that Nâbizade Nâzım continued is the lack of a father figure. Before we see a male individual as a character, first we witness the death of his father. Father’s death liberates his son. However, Zehra is named after one of the main characters of the novel and she also needed her father’s death to become an individual character. I’m aware of the very influential works of Jale Parla which revealed the fact that the lack of a father figure actually demonstrates the relations between Turkish intellectual life and the declining Ottoman authority. Yet, it cannot be denied that fatherless characters are told easier and this is taking the easy way out. Could Suphi treat his wife in this way or could Zehra plan this kind of an avenge, if her father was alive?
In one way or another, I accept that Zehra was a turning point in the history of Turkish novel, but it was not perfect to be counted as the most critique milestone.