English PEN joins PEN International in condemning a social media campaign started earlier this week, to boycott the work of Turkish-Jewish writer and PEN Turkey board member Mario Levi. Levi’s novels have been included on a list of “Israeli products to boycott” that has been circulated on social media in response to the conflict in Gaza. PEN condemns the targeting of Levi and expresses its solidarity with him during this difficult time.
One of Turkey’s most loved novelists, Levi’s targeting has been met with widespread condemnation in the country’s media. Turkey’s Culture Minister Ömer Çelik and parliamentarian Hakan Şükür have described the campaign against Levi as “a hate crime”, while Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek called it “an abdication of reason and profoundly wrong.”
PEN Turkey has released an official statement in support of Levi on 23 July 2014:
“Each individual piece by our master-writer Mario Levi is a gift from Turkey to the world. The targeting of his novels by a segment of those protesting the Israeli government is a disgusting example of racism and ignorance; an embarrassing source of shame. We strongly condemn this fascist, inhumane act.”
Speaking to PEN International, Mario Levi said:
“I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the reaction. To go from such a desperate situation to seeing how much love the people of this country have for me has been an eye opening experience.”
Jo Glanville, director of English PEN said:
“This is a deeply misguided campaign that can only perpetuate ignorance and hatred. It is particularly ironic that a writer such as Mario Levi, who has often written about multiculturalism and integration, should be the target of this boycott.”
Mario Levi has been described as one of the most important contemporary novelists in Turkey. Born in Istanbul in 1957, Levi has written more than 10novels in a career spanning almost 30 years. He has been awarded numerous literary awards in Turkey, with many of his novels focusing on the cosmopolitan history of Istanbul. He has had various short pieces published in Turkish literary magazines and arts publications, including Hokka magazine, Şalom, the Cumhuriyet newspaper and magazine, Stüdyo İmge and Milliyet Sanat. His latest novel, I Made Pain d’Espagne for You, was published in 2013. He has long been an active member of the PEN Turkey board and a translation of one of his pieces was featured in English PEN’s Literary Dispatches from Turkeyin 2013.
The call to boycott Levi’s work comes amid growing concerns about anti-Semitism in Turkey, which has included statements by popular singers and politicians, including the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoĝan.
Last year, Mario Levi wrote ‘The Sounds of Istanbul‘ for the PEN Atlas, English PEN’s online magazine of literary despatches from arounf the world. In the piece, he contemplates the sounds of the city he grew up in, and the stories that lie behind them for those willing to listen.