The Winterlings: talking points from the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club

Report by Jonathan Ruppin.

At October’s Book Club, the title under discussion was PEN Translates award-winning The Winterlings by Cristina Sánchez-Andrade, translated from Spanish by Samuel Rutter. The evening also featured our final guests of 2016, the author herself and Henry Rosenbloom, the founder of the book’s publisher Scribe (whose list this year is a full half translated literature, we were delighted to hear!).

The Winterlings is Cristina’s ninth novel, but her first to be published in English. Henry first heard about the book from Cristina’s Spanish agent and, in a very rare move, bought the book unseen on the basis of Samuel Rutter’s enthusiastic recommendation.

Both author and publisher had nothing but praise for the translator. This was his first book-length translation project, but he already finds himself so busy that he’s unable to find time to take on further work for Scribe! He and Cristina worked closely together – she is also a translator, from English to Spanish – and the only difficulties in the process came with specifically Galician words or phrases. Caldo, a traditional Galician vegetable soup, was one example highlighted.

The title itself required some care. The Spanish title – Las Inviernas – is simply a feminine plural of the word for ‘winter’. ‘Winterling’ was hit upon as a neat portmanteau of ‘winter’ and ‘sibling’, although Cristina did remind us that there is no explanation for the nickname in the book, as indeed the sisters whose story the book tells observe.

Long before writing Las Inviernas, Cristina had penned the many tales told to her by her grandmother, but hadn’t found a way to present them to readers – until this book. The man who ran 40 miles a day believing himself to be a bus and the elderly woman daily given the last rites for years were both such stories.

The book itself came about when Cristina passed a sign to the village of Las Inviernas in central Spain and the image of the two sisters, amid rain typical of Galicia, came unbidden to her. In fact, the story, at least in terms of its basic outline, wrote itself to a great extent, explained Cristina. Even she did not know until well into writing the book what the sisters’ dark secret would be, let alone that a frozen octopus would be involved. Cristina did observe, however, that this was the best plotted of her books and credits starting to teach creative writing as the main factor in her development of narrative techniques.

The transvestite dentist Tenderlove was inspired by the ‘dentist mechanic’ Cristina’s father used to visit, fearing the attentions of real dentists. Looking for gold teeth in the mouths of corpses was, upsettingly, based on the reality of life for the poor during the Civil War.

The War was not something Cristina necessarily intended to write about, but the tale needed to be set during the 1950s to accommodate the entirely true story of Ava Gardner coming to a Spanish village at that time to film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, when local villagers did indeed audition to be her body double. The revelation of the whole village’s involvement in Don Reinaldo’s fate reflected the ways that many ordinary folk found themselves forced to inform on friends and family simply to stay alive.

The Book Club is very grateful to both Cristina and Henry for their generous sharing of insights into the writing and publishing of the book. As with all our previous guest speakers, they added to our understanding and enjoyment of the book immeasurably. And The Winterlings certainly gets a hearty thumbs-up from the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club.

Read ‘How I wrote The Winterlings‘, Cristina Sánchez-Andrade’s essay for PEN Atlas.

Parliament must defend health of Turkish democracy

To: Members of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey

26 October 2016

The undersigned organisations call on Turkey’s national assembly to end the recently extended state of emergency, and take immediate steps to repair the damage to freedom of expression and Turkish democracy since the defeat of the 15 July coup.

We respect the need for every government to assure the safety of its citizens, yet the measures taken under the state of emergency since July go far beyond what is necessary for public safety, and are destroying the vibrant political culture of open, diverse dialogue that distinguishes a democracy from a dictatorship.

In the three months since 15 July, over 100,000 people have been dismissed from their positions, most for supposed affiliation with the Gulenist movement. Over 25,000 have been arrested, over 2,000 educational establishments have been closed, and more than 150 media outlets have been shut down. Since the declaration of the state of emergency at least 98 journalists have been jailed, bringing the total number of imprisoned journalists in Turkey to 130, not counting those that have been detained and released without charge – making Turkey the world’s leading jailer of journalists.

As Reporters without Borders has documented, those who have worked with or for organisations sympathetic to the Gulenists are being treated as automatic members of the movement. Members of the movement, in turn, are treated as participants in the coup. In casting such a wide net in its crackdown, Turkey’s government is violating both internationally recognized human rights and universally understood principles of justice by ascribing guilt by association, not evidence, and punishing individuals for their thoughts and beliefs, not their actions.

The extension of the crackdown to Kurdish, Alevi and left-wing media uninvolved in the coup suggests that the state of emergency is being abused beyond its stated purpose and is used for harassing individuals and groups that are merely inconvenient to the government in power, not threats to the democratic system. Many are being detained and punished not for a threat they pose to the Turkish government, or to their fellow citizens, but because they disagree with the government’s actions or policy, or are part of or sympathetic to a minority group.

The survival of democracy requires strong tolerance for a broad spectrum of opinion and belief in public life, including those that majority opinion finds inconvenient. Suppressing the independent voice and participation of minorities in public discourse in the name of anti-terrorism is not only a subversion of their free expression rights – it feeds the discontent that grows into extremism. It will be a poor tribute to the peaceful and democratic spirit of 15 July if weakening democracy and strengthening extremism is the direction chosen by the Turkish people’s political representatives in its aftermath.

We call on the national assembly to take immediate steps to protect the right of all citizens to freedom of expression and belief. We believe the state of emergency must either be ended, or greatly narrowed in its scope. We therefore recommend that you:

  • 1. Return police detention without legal review to the normal maximum four day period, and amend other provisions of the state of emergency to be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • 2. Explicitly limit terrorism charges to individuals for whom clear evidence exists of acts of violence, intent to commit acts of violence, or advocating of acts of violence, and drop terrorism charges against all those, like Ayşe Çelik and her co-defendants, who have not committed such an act;
  • 3. Refer cases of media affected by the recent shutdowns back to the judiciary, and permit them to re-open unless and until they are found guilty of a serious crime;
  • 4. Set clear limits on the use of travel bans and passport confiscation, and end the extension of these measures to family members;
  • 5. Renew respect for press credentials by state agents, and return confiscated credentials to press not found guilty of a crime.

Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
Afghanistan Journalists Center
Albanian Media Institute
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain
Association for Civil Rights
Bytes for All
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Independent Journalism – Hungary
Center for Independent Journalism – Romania
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Free Media Movement
Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda
Index on Censorship
International Press Centre
Journaliste en danger
Maharat Foundation
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Watch
Norwegian PEN
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión – OLA
Pakistan Press Foundation
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
PEN International
Reporters Without Borders
Trinidad and Tobago’s Publishers and Broadcasters Association
Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters – AMARC

Anatolian Heritage Foundation
Association of European Journalists
Centre for Freedom of Expression at Ryerson University
English PEN
PEN Germany
Wales PEN Cymru

PEN Atlas: Hwang Jungeun on Yongsan and the inspiration for One Hundred Shadows

Last week, Tilted Axis Press launched their second publication: One Hundred Shadows, a quirky and affecting novel set in a slum electronics market in central Seoul. Here, the author of the book on the Yongsan Disaster, the novel as a song and light that can emerge from darkness.

Read this week’s PEN Atlas

One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun, translated by Jung Yewon, is published by Tilted Axis Press. Find out more and order the book here.

PEN Presents helps literary translators to champion exciting books from around the world to be published in the UK. Submissions are now open for PEN Presents… East and South-east Asia. The deadline is Monday 5 December 2016.

Turkey: State of emergency provisions violate human rights and should be revoked

We, the undersigned organisations, recognise that the Turkish government has the right and responsibility to investigate the violent events of the July 2016 coup attempt and to bring all those responsible to justice.  We also recognise that the immediate aftermath of the attempted coup is the type of exceptional circumstance in which a government could legitimately invoke a state of emergency but still has to comply with their human rights obligations.

We are however increasingly concerned that the far-reaching, almost unlimited discretionary powers exercised by the Turkish authorities during the first three months of the state of emergency – now extended for a further three months – endanger the general principles of rule of law and human rights safeguards.

We call on the Government of Turkey to revoke the measures under the state of emergency, the application of which, in practice is incompatible with Turkey’s human rights obligations.

During the first three months of the state of emergency, the Turkish authorities have abused emergency provisions to stifle dissent, through the detention of large numbers of individuals, including both real and perceived critics of the government and others. The removal of fair trial protections and crucial safeguards against torture and other ill treatment exceed permissible, justified derogations and risk violating the absolute prohibition in international law against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In practice, the application of the provisions enable sweeping arrests, where those detained are not presented with  credible evidence, preventing them from challenging or seeking redress for human rights violations.

In light of this, the extension of the state of emergency and its associated provisions for a further 90 days, starting from 19 October, is extremely worrying. At the very least, we urge the Government of Turkey to narrow the scope of the emergency measures by revoking provisions that enable human rights violations and are not consistent with Turkey’s obligations under international law.

We also urge Turkey’s international partners, in particular the European Union, the United States and relevant international human rights bodies, to publicly and unequivocally condemn the human rights violations occurring in Turkey in the context of the state of emergency. They should also call on the Turkish government to revoke all emergency provisions that enable human rights violations, and rescind the state of emergency, unless the government is able to demonstrate that the domestic situation continues to threaten the life of the nation.

Removal of safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment

Since the failed coup attempt, the Turkish authorities have remanded into pre-trial detention 34,000 soldiers, officers, policemen, judges, prosecutors, journalists, teachers and others. 70,000 people are under criminal investigation.  Numerous provisions in Turkey’s emergency decrees have suspended key safeguards that protect detainees from torture and other ill-treatment in ways that violate Turkey’s international obligations and place detainees at risk. They include:

  1. Prolonged police detention for terrorism-related offences and organised crime without legal review – extended from four days to 30 days;
  2. Denial of a detainee’s right to see a lawyer for up to five days and severe restrictions on the right to choose lawyer during police detention;
  3. Interference with confidential access to a counsel, including monitoring and recording of communications at the request of a prosecutor;

In practice law enforcement officials and agents have undermined those safeguards to an extent exceeding even the permissive leeway granted them under the emergency decrees. A number of non-governmental organisations, including Amnesty International, have reported that they have gathered credible evidence that detainees in Turkey were subjected to beatings and torture, including rape.

Abuse of emergency provisions to silence criticism

Provisions of the emergency decrees affect the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and have been used to facilitate the arrest and harassment of journalists, writers and media workers, including:

  1. Empowering higher levels of administration to shut down any media organization;
  2. Enabling the government to impose curfews, ban public meetings, gatherings and rallies, and restrict access to private and public spaces;
  3. Enabling the authorities to cancel or confiscate passports of anyone under investigation. On 1 September, an amendment to the decree extended this power, enabling the authorities to cancel or confiscate the passports of spouses and partners of those under investigation.

Restrictions imposed under the state of emergency go beyond those permissible under international human rights law, including unjustifiable limitations on media freedom and the right to freedom of expression.

During the first two and a half months of the state of emergency, pursuant to the decrees outlined above, authorities closed around 150 media outlets and publishing companies, leaving over 2,300 journalists and media workers without jobs. At least 99 journalists and writers have been arrested, bringing the total number of media workers detained on charges believed to be related to their exercise of the right to freedom of expression to at least 130, as of 19 October 2016.  These numbers exclude other journalists who are currently in detention in police holding cells, or have been detained and released without charge during the state of emergency. Emergency provisions have also been used to harass family members of journalists who have fled abroad or gone into hiding, including by cancelling their passports or detaining them in the stead of those accused.

Such measures against journalists and media workers obstruct the right of people in Turkey to receive information about current events and to hold the government to account.

The Government of Turkey should ensure that the state of emergency and the related emergency decrees are not tools to facilitate serious human rights violations and to silence dissent. Meanwhile, Turkey’s international partners should not ignore the serious violations committed in the context of the state of emergency and should urgently call upon Turkey to rescind or amend the emergency provisions that are not consistent with the country’s international human rights obligations.



Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch

PEN International

Association of European Journalists

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Committee to Protect Journalists

Danish PEN

English PEN

Ethical Journalism Network

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom

European Federation of Journalists

Fair Trials

German PEN

Global Editors Network

Index on Censorship

International Media Support

International Press Institute

IREX Europe

My Media

Norwegian PEN

Norwegian Press Association

PEN America

Reporters Without Borders

Swedish PEN

Wales PEN Cymru