In memory of Musa Moris Farhi

English PEN is deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved friend Musa Moris Farhi. A celebrated novelist, playwright and screenwriter, Moris was a long-standing, committed, and active member of PEN to the end.  He dedicated much of his life to supporting fellow writers all over the world, particularly in Turkey, and chaired the Writers in Prison Committee at both English PEN and PEN International. He was also one of the warmest, wisest and most generous human beings you could ever hope to meet, and will be sorely missed.

We are inviting friends and colleagues to send your tributes to Moris to share here and with his loved ones. Please send your memories, thoughts and photos to cat@englishpen.org

(Photo credit: Vehbi Koca)

Read Maggie Gee’s tribute and her poem for Moris – ‘Young Turk, 70’ here 

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Literature is the art of imagining the impossible. Freedom of expression is its lifeblood. That is why It is so important for writers to stand up for writers everywhere, whenever they are punished, terrorised or censored. But also, why it is so important to read these writers, and stay in touch with them, and celebrate their courage. These are just a few of the things I learned from my beloved friend Musa. From my earliest days at English PEN he has been my leading light. And never more than in his writings. If ever I am feeling heartbroken about Istanbul, the city that we both loved as children and later lost, I need only to go back to his books. He is for me the greatest chronicler of the mid 20th century city- nationalist and authoritarian on the surface, but ingeniously, imaginatively, and generously multicultural underneath. He took that ethos with him wherever he went, in life and on the page. I cannot bear the thought of never seeing you again, dear Musa. But I know I can count on you to continue bringing out the best in us, wherever we go and however impossibly we write.

Maureen Freely, Chair of Trustees, English PEN

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Yesterday morning, poet, writer and lover of human kind, fighter for a free world, Musa Moris Farhi, died, aged 83. My beloved friend, inspiration, co-conspirator, teller of marvellous tales, and so much more, I had the extraordinary good luck to have him as my boss when for several years he was Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee at PEN International. I am so delighted that our working relationship then turned into a firm friendship. Musa taught me how compassion and humour even in, or especially in, the most difficult of circumstances will over-ride all evils. Also the healing effect of long evenings drinking fine wine and good talk, even in his final months. I am devastated at his loss, yet at the same time blessed with memories of a wonderful man who enriched my life and those of so many others.

– Sara Whyatt, former Director of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

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It is with great sadness that all of us at Saqi Books have learned of the death of Moris Farhi. We are extremely proud to publish him. Musa, as he was known to his friends and family, was an exceptionally gifted writer. His ideals and passionate humanism imbued all of his works. Musa was a tireless advocate of freedom of expression, a dreamer and a poet – he was our comrade and friend, and he will be greatly missed.

– Lynn Gaspard, Publisher, Saqi Books

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Musa was a man with a heart big enough for all the world. As a prize-winning writer, he could turn his hand to anything, and produced exquisite poetry, erotic short stories, thrillers, epic novels that were translated all over the world, television scripts. His writing was robust, rich, sensual, entertaining and culturally expansive and his relationship with his publisher Saqi Books was incredibly close. Moris was charming, funny and incredibly kind. I have fond memories of him insisting on us drinking raki together after lunch when I was a young agent and loving his company. He will be missed by many, many people.

– Jessica Woollard, Musa Moris Farhi’s agent for many years

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The great writer Musa Moris Farhi has passed away this morning, 5 March, at the age of 83. Way beyond being merely a colleague, for the last three decades of my life he was also great friend, mentor, a neighbour and an inspiring ‘Abi’ (senior brother) for me -and a ‘path signpost’ for many others. He was also a dear member of the International Board of Patrons for my charity, Euro-Mernet. Most of you will immediately remember him as the author of powerful books, a globe-trotting human rights defender, a tireless former chairman of Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, and a former PEN Vice-President.

Rest in power, dearest Musa Abi. The world is a lonelier place without your enlivening presence, and my heart is weaker under the scorching pain after my last -and silent- visit to your bedside today. Love and peace. 

– Umit Ozturk, journalist and coordinator of the Euro-Mediterranean Resources Network

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Moris was a remarkable man – life-giving, a humanitarian to the core, a dedicated campaigner and completely irreplaceable.

– Jo Glanville, former Director, English PEN

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Moris Farhi was a prince amongst writers, not only a fine and prize winning international author, but the gentlest of souls and the warmest of friends. He worked tirelessly and with great sensitivity for imprisoned writers, chairing both English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, then the PEN International Committee and became a Vice President of International PEN.   But it is as someone to talk to about politics, writing, everything, that I remember him from my years first as Deputy, then as President of English PEN.  He listened with a special attentiveness and his patient knowledge brought clarity to much that was tenebrous. RIP dear Moris.

– Lisa Appignanesi, former President of English PEN

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In a world of turmoil, and distress, Moris Farhi was a constant, reassuring, warm and centred presence. Always there for English PEN, his determination to work for others was legion.  He spanned the world in his interests, and reassured everybody around him with his presence. A lovely man. A lovely human being. I’m sorry to hear that he is gone.

– Gillian Slovo, former President of English PEN

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I was Programme Director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee from 1991 to 2006 and Moris was Chair for several of those years. We worked closely, campaigning on behalf of writers worldwide persecuted or imprisoned for their writing. He was a tireless supporter of free expression and a ferocious advocate of human rights. For three decades Moris was the comrade of many imprisoned writers. Everyone knew his name. He was also my friend, my inspiration and my mentor.

Together we sent out numerous appeals and petitions, we demonstrated outside various embassies, visited writers abroad, hosted them here and attended international PEN congresses. We met released writers from Iran, Kenya, Nigeria, Syria and Turkey among other countries. Moris always travelled with hope in his heart. He was self-assured and believed whole-heartedly in PEN’s ability to change the fate of nations. I think that’s why we were often successful. We never gave up and our tenacity would wear down a regime until they were forced to release a writer or grant us an audience just to shut us up.

Moris loved a particular Turkish restaurant in Highbury, we also hung out near his publisher, Saqi Books, in Westbourne Grove, attended book launches, and had meetings or dinner wherever PEN was based. Moris enjoyed a glass of Raqi and he’d smoke illicit cigarettes while we gossiped. When Moris drove, we would argue about the best route home – he claimed to have been a taxi driver as well as a wrestler, actor and writer. He always took the longest way to mine – perhaps he just enjoyed our chats at the end of an evening. He would often counsel me on my love life and promised to walk me down the aisle should I ever get married.

We remained friends after PEN, and I often sought his advice. I only began to see less of him when he moved to Brighton, but we remained in contact. I loved all his books and often asked him to read at events I had curated. To this day I use an extract from his novel Young Turk in my creative writing teaching. I commissioned him to write a story, ‘Cloud-Dervish’, for my refugee anthology, A Country of Refuge, published in 2016. For my latest launch in 2018, ill-health prevented him from attending. He wrote with his customary kindness: ‘I’ll be there in spirit as I always am with your wonderful work and achievements.’

Loving Moris was easy and I know he truly knew and loved me. It’s such a privilege to have known him. He was there through the deaths of my mother and my aunt, Josephine Pullein-Thompson, who was his PEN friend before me. He fought like a lion for those who had been imprisoned unjustly and displayed the same tenacity when he thought I was being treated unfairly. He was the kindest, bravest, truest person I’ve ever known. Like so many, I am bereft without him. Dear, sweet Moris, rest in peace.

– Lucy Popescu, former Director, English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee

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A huge loss for the PEN community around the world. Moris Farhi, who chaired the Writers in Prison Committee at PEN International and at English PEN, who was the conscience-keeper of everyone who had the audacity to fill his shoes, has left us. He was 83. He had witnessed horrors of war, and he was a determined campaigner for writers at risk. I remember when I was elected to chair the Writers in Prison Committee at English PEN back in 2009 or so, he met me at an English PEN event and said that the job was in fact very simple. We had to defend every writer who was at risk, regardless of judging their views. It was a simple lesson, but it clarified so much, for he was clear in his thinking, forthright in his commitment, courageous in his writing, and warm in his encouragement.

– Salil Tripathi, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International

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It was with great sadness that I heard this morning of the death of Moris Farhi. If Moris had been a footballer there would be placards the stadium around , held high by adoring grieving fans, with the single word ‘LEGEND.’ I had the good fortune in the 90s to be involved alongside Moris on the PEN ‘Writers in Prison’ Committee where his humanity, generosity and wisdom were our guiding light. (Lucy Popescu’s tribute expresses beautifully all that needs to be said about Moris in those days). As a lover of birds the days I treasure more than any other are those rare ones when i see a kingfisher. Any day you were in Moris’s company was a kingfisher day. As Horatio wished for Hamlet, ‘Good night, sweet Prince, and flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest.’
– David Holman, former member of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee
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Moris emanated warmth and concern.  He was one of those people who so loved humanity that he had a permanent air of puzzlement regarding those less generous minded than himself.  He really could not understand why some people, and some regimes, could act so callously.  But his goodness was not naive.  His passionate advocacy of freedom and justice was practical and often highly effective.  When I was President of English PEN he always encouraged me and wished me well, desiring above all that the organisation should not spend too much time gazing at itself but look outwards to see how its work could best help writers less fortunately placed than most of us.  He is irreplaceable.
– Alastair Niven, President, English PEN, 2003-2007.
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I had the pleasure to meet Moris on several occasions. What will stay in the memory is the last two times I travelled with him to Stavanger, Norway and return with him to the UK. Last time, we were on the same plane and upon arrival to the airport, Moris was given a wheelchair and we were both taken through the priority entrance. When we arrived at a cafe inside the airport, Moris told me ‘She brought us quickly because I looked more handsome than you’ and laughed loudly. He kept buying me wine and food – whenever I tried to pay, he looked at me and said: ‘I am more handsome than you so I’ll pay’.  During the two hours wait for the flight, I learned from him more about his great fight for freedom of expression and his commitment to bring people together. Moris made an amazing energy to promote the cases of Syrian writers and poets persecuted by the Syrian regime. Accompanying him was a pleasure and even we are from different generations, I always felt him a friend who was ready to have crazy ideas in order to be happy. He will be missed very much.

– Ghias Al-Jundi, activist and writer

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Musa, a man of infinite generosity, kindness and integrity. The kind of person who finds light even in the darkest of darkness, who can turn pain into laughter. A magician, a thinker and a warm, cuddly friend. A monument of lost universes and solid values. The world, and we all, will be poorer and sadder with his departure. 

– Yudit Kiss, author and friend

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I have lost a true friend, the world a man of high intelligence and soulful compassion, a writer of epic tales and strong convictions.

I made the acquaintance of Moris Farhi at a 2009 Literary Festival in Die, France. A few months later in London, then over the years in Paris or Brighton, I spent the best of times with Musa and Elaine.

I also had the honor of translating  Songs from Two Continents into French.

AN EVENING IN GOLDERS GREEN

To Moris Farhi

let us speak of
woes and wars
and cherries in tears
cling to Aegean cliffs

of men and women
let us speak
and orchids nocturnal
nod to the hooting train

in nimble words
let us of
youth speak and gimmicks
innumerable                 as

chilled wine and almond
g i n g e r l y
chime the kitchen mauve
sift the hour’s bond

time’s unstilled kiss
and of love
Theodorakis
dances the abyss

of you dearest and
chestnut lives
through Surrey and rain
let us speak again

London-Paris, Summer 2010

– Esther Heboyan, Writer, translator

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Moris Farhi kindly contributed the foreword to: Marion Davies and Jane Liddell-King’s Faces in the Void: Czech Survivors of the Holocaust (Shaun Tyas, 2012)

Listen to him:

What tyrants and power-hungry cabals always forget is that the very core of humankind’s spirit, the place where our ethical selves reside, will resist the creation of voids in prodigious ways. … As Walter Benjamin reminds us: ‘I pluck flowers from the edge of subsistence.’

– Jane Liddell-King

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I first met Moris Farhi when we worked together on the Jewish Quarterly between 1985 and 1994.

His gentle nature and warm demeanour overlaid a strong determination to stand against injustice. His Jewishness was permeated by a universalism that allied itself with the downtrodden and disadvantaged. Above all he believed in the power of the written word – and willingly gave his name to protests and petitions about human rights abuses.

His articles in the Jewish Quarterly often related to other writers such as Salman Rushdie and Ariel Dorfman who had been targeted by repressive regimes.

As someone passionately interested in the Middle East, he logically titled an article about the Israeli writer, Shulamith Hareven – ‘The Voice of the Levant’.

He wished to see an equitable solution to the intractable Israel-Palestine conflict – and allied himself to the Israeli peace camp.

He was always a loyal friend and supported me as editor in often difficult circumstances. He was never afraid of being in a minority.

Moris was, of course, a poet and wrote about his beloved Istanbul

he used to sit there
in the Bosphorus café
it became a ritual with us
to smile, shake hands, exchange greetings
every morning before I boarded the ferry
Thursday he was not there anymore
he had seduced death the night before
as he had promised he would

Prescient and poignant. Goodbye, old friend.

– Colin Shindler

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Moris Farhi is dead, a dear, good, loving man and wonderful writer — literally. He was full of wonders.

His brilliant book Children of the Rainbow, about a Romany baby born in Auschwitz who is prophesied to be the savior of his people, inspired my own (still-unpublished) novel about the Romanies during the Holocaust. Seeking his blessing, in a way, I wrote to him in 2014, and we began a transatlantic correspondence, writing each other almost daily for some years, then dwindling a bit as illness and other tsouris drained our energy. When he did not hear from me for a while, he would worry and sometimes even telephone from Britain, calling himself my ‘Sephardic mama’ (he’d been born in Turkey, and his familiar name was the Turkish ‘Musa’).

The warmth of him! He volunteered to read the novel — which he did, several times, at various stages of rewrites — and made thoughtful and immeasurably useful suggestions. We exchanged holiday wishes, hopes for peace, and political fears. We shared worries and naches about our families. He always signed ‘Love,’ and sometimes ‘Love from house to house.’

The last time he wrote to me was February 23. His message ended with ‘Please all of you look after yourselves well.’
I knew he had been ‘in hospital,’ and tonight I fearfully googled his name for what I did not want to find. But there it was.
In an early e-mail, he wrote to me about ‘the doldrums:

‘As I said they descend always when I start a book. The usual writers’ anguish; can I write? do I have a good book? am I just producing rubbish? do I have the energy to write a whole book? will I live long enough to finish it? etc. etc. Questions all the more harrowing for me as this will definitely be my last book if, that is, I live long enough. Strange I never give a
thought about my death. Only when I have the hutzpah to start a new book. And the doldrums — more like a catatonic state — is my way of escaping it. At the end of it, I imagine I’m in the trenches. And there is no other way to go but
over the top. Que sera, sera! (I’m in the trenches now).’

That book, My End is My Beginning, will be released later this year.
Oh, Musa. Such a loss.

– Rebecca Boroson, Writer

About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

View all posts by Cat Lucas →

2 Comments on “In memory of Musa Moris Farhi”

  1. May your soul lie in peace dear friend Musa.

    you are a great loss for literature, humanity, freedom of expression and persecuted people, especially writers.
    personally, I will miss you a lot, and I will miss our regular telephone calls which began when I decided to translate your novel (A Designated Man) and continued until you were unable to take up the phone to answer me beginning as usual ( Hello Lovely) and end it with (take care lovely).
    The manuscript of your last-unpublished novel ( ASHER’s Book) will stay with me as a piece of your noble soul.

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