About the Work

by will washburn

Aziz Nesin’s 1973 nonfiction work Hayvan Deyip de Geçme (Don’t Just Call Them Animals) is a collective effort in every sense of the word, containing not only Nesin’s personal anecdotes about animals, but those of his family, friends, and readers. Despite Nesin's obvious affection for animals (and his sadness at their mistreatment by humans), he is careful never to idealize them or give in to rigid four-legs-good-two-legs-bad-ism. Alongside the book's many feel-good stories—a cat traversing a huge metropolis to find its owner, or farm animals teaming up, Bremen Town Musicians-style, to fight off predators—there are tales of nature red in tooth and claw, featuring cannibalistic rats, femicidal storks, and dogs that bite first and ask questions later.

The realism of Nesin’s subject matter is matched by an unadorned, matter-of-fact style devoid of self-conscious literariness, as Nesin himself remarks in his introduction to the collected stories. Even so, the piece I translated for this issue, “Horoz Dövüşü” (“The Cockfight”), stood out for its literary qualities such as the vividness of its descriptions and the tautness of its narrative arc (marred only by an ending that feels a bit abrupt). From a translational standpoint, I wouldn't say this piece presented any undue challenges, though I did discover some new lexical items in the process, e.g. the noun horozluk  (roosterhood), the verb horozlanmak  (to strut like a rooster), and a proverb about roosters that I had never heard before. (Incidentally, Turkish boasts a rich store of animal proverbs far outnumbering anything I have ever encountered in English.) 

Rather than editorializing, Nesin lets the story speak for itself, evoking compassion for two hapless roosters forced to fight to the death for people’s entertainment; readers must draw their own lessons from it. This is not to say there is no broader didactic purpose to Hayvan Deyip de Geçme. As Nesin explains in the afterword, his aim was to inculcate a love of humanity through a love of animals, for the latter is ultimately nothing without the former: “Not everyone who loves animals loves humans, but everyone who loves humans definitely loves animals and nature.”


aziz nesin (1915–95) was a prolific Turkish author known for his journalistic writings, novels, plays, poems, children’s books, autobiographical memoirs, and, above all, his many humorous and satirical short stories. An outspoken socialist and secularist, Nesin was imprisoned multiple times for his politics and nearly lost his life to a fundamentalist mob in the Sivas Massacre of 1993. He was the founder of the Nesin Vakfı (Nesin Foundation), which provides housing and education to economically disadvantaged children.

will washburn (b. 1977) grew up in New York City, earning a BA in classics from Columbia University. He has lived in Istanbul on and off for many years, working first as an EFL teacher and then as a translator. His translations of pieces by Turkish authors Murathan Mungan and Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar have appeared in Asymptote and Exchanges, respectively.


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