My First Novel, which is the first children’s book of Sevin Okyay who is known for her translations, radio programs and cinema writings, was fictionalized as a "special notebook" written by the character named Sevin, a ten years old character.
My First Novel, which is the first children’s book of Sevin Okyay who is known for her translations, radio programs and cinema writings, was fictionalized as a "special notebook" written by the character named Sevin, a ten years old character. Sevin tells the events she lived from the age of three until today, of course, with past tense. All the emotions of childhood are familiar to today; but from time to time, it is felt that the period when Sevin lives is not the present day. For instance, when her brother's arm is broken, they could not go to the concert of Münir Nurettin Bey. In another example, Sevin tries to learn kerrat table instead of multiplication table. The winters are spent in Beşiktaş, while summer months in Maltepe for four months. Besides, Sevin's grandmother is a person of palace. All these motifs become more meaningful when it is considered that the writer was born in 1942, and the autobiographical depth of the text has been frequently expressed in the text.
Some parts of My First Novel will be familiar to those who read the biographical interview, Really, Sevin Okyay is Telling, which is the collection of interviews made by Pınar İlkiz. The wild gooses pecking their legs in Maltepe, her brother Oral making her to fall from the bicycle, the arrival of Bergson's book to the beach, her inability to jump from the other side when two people turning the rope… All these memories, which were remembered in the interview once again, are the events lived by Sevin and told us in My First Novel. However, for those who did not read the interview, or do not know Sevin Okyay, each moment in the novel is extremely real. Because the main character Sevin already lives in the books, hence, she confuses the reality with the fiction from time to time. In addition to this ambiguity, the narrato’s profession about the children’s language and feelings, and, her clear confession of her own incompetence take the text to an extremely "authentic" place.
Living by Reading
My First Novel begins with the chapter titled “I am Jo’s Sister”, right after the preface -because it is not a diary or a memoir record, but has been written as a novel since the very beginning. Sevin, who quickly finishes the novel Little Women which is about four sisters, imagines that she is the sister of Jo. Yes, not the one among three, she is sister of Jo, and believes that Jo can see her. This surreal beginning gives an important clue about the character; Sevin has a “Beşiktaş-house” and a “book-house”, similarly she has a “book-mother” and “book-father”. "I am a secret character, not written in the book" (Okyay, p. 21) she says, but she always feels that she is there. She lives together with every book character of whom she loves, reads and is afraid of. When her beloved lambs are cut off on the eid, she plans complaining to Queen Izabo about the killers. However, she fears that the queen will fall in love with her father by breaking up with Henry. In her mind, Hemingway becomes a "little boy with a beard", who is very naughty as well. According to Sevin, if Cyrano would support a team, it would have been Beşiktaş.
Sevin’s "fictional life", in which she prefers the coexistence of the reality and fiction but as opposed to, of course, intentionally, is filled with various troubles: she becomes a part of French novels, but she should not reveal that she does not speak the language. For example: "... I was going to enter Castell-Jaloux's Gaskon coffin as a boy. I was going to be the youngest Gaskon gentleman. Nobody was going to know I was not French. My mom was going to teach me French. I mean, I wish so" (p. 141). The rich imagination with all its innocence and giving the feeling to the reader that she is a part of a crowded group of friends and enjoys the life even though she does not, this book is more effective than many others books’ hidden or apparent advice to read so many books which are the best friends. This dreamy lifestyle of Sevin is like a sincere reply to the question why we should read book?
Seeing the World a Child’s Eyes
The most important feature that enhances the authenticity of the narrative is the full knowledge of the writer on the children's world. In such a work with many autobiographical elements, what convinces the audience about the narrator’s being a “child” is to give place to the feelings and misinterpretations rather than dialogs or events. For example, little Sevin hopes that the S. abbreviation in the name of the writer Pearl S. Buck means Sevin. She likes the scabs that appears when she falls: "it is beautiful, it is thick and it will again be scab even if I pluck it" (p. 127). In another instance, she believes that the husky voice of Babahala remained like that because of yelling at children all the time.
The narrator achieves a difficult goal while sharing all these details that reflect the child's gaze: she talks just like a child: "Polite madams and young ladies, I have seen them in historical movies, or in illustrated books, or in real books beautified with pictures, they were riding horses. They were holding their skirts. They were so funny. What does the horse do with them and with their skirts?" (p. 91). Using inverted sentences and the impact that selection of these words makes it even funnier. In addition to the conscious usage of childish language, in some scenes, language itself represents children’s point of view: "[My mother] would not want me to die, I know it. Because if she would like it, she would not take care of me when I get sick. That’s it. She was taking care of me because she had responsibility. She is a knower of her responsibilities, everybody says so. I like the knower, because the sound resembles pitcher. You were a pitcher, and responsibility was running and going in." (p. 184). Through the evocations of the words, the narrator gives some ideas to the reader about a child's mind. There is another important example in the text in which the language is instrumentalized: on the scene when the main character memorizes the Turkish National Anthem, she gets into trouble in some verses in which there are also some word similarities: “Then I will gladly praise God if I can an abstract soul.” The narrator presents this experience, which many readers are familiar with from the days of elementary school, first as a failure and then as a success. And she brings readers a bit closer to the character.
Praise for Incompetence
In addition to the use of fiction and reality that are intertwined in the book, and the successful use of children’s language, what makes the text authentic is to portray little Sevin with all her mistakes and incompetence without making her an ideal child. For example, like every child Sevin mixes the right and left: "...I did not know for a long time where left and right are. Though I worked hard, I could not learn. It was only two thing after all. People were surprised. I always get complicated at things that are one or the other. I always thought of the other as the one. I did not understand that it was the other."(p. 71). This example of incompetence of children is told in a way that adults also can find it reasonable and it turns into a success story just like the previous examples. The statement of Sevin about her trying to step with her left foot first, -"It sprang to the front by itself, it was a very smart foot" (p. 72)- is a good example of children’s language as well as message for self-confidence to children.
The story, in which Sevin climbs the tree with self-confidence but cannot go down because of her fear, is made funny further with elaborate vocabulary choices, and it is like a consolation for children about that she is indifferent than them, and that it is normal that we cannot be successful sometimes:
“I decided to do it no matter what it result and I climbed to the top. Then I look down because of my self-confidence: A brave kid at the top of mulberry tree, a watcher... The kid watches the far places to wake everybody up if the enemies come. Then she will lead her army and will go to war as the head of the army. I looked down and stayed at the top of the tree. I was stuck there and I was so afraid that I could not move. I hold the branches tightly and hug the tree.” (p. 106).
The inspirational failures of Sevin are always like a part of an exciting adventure book because she reads books a lot. This quotation is an example of her life style, which is in between fiction and reality, and the narrator's knowledge on the children's world at the same time. The fear that children feel when they cannot go down right after finding a real strength in them to climb the tree, and the natural transition between the two feelings, -strength and fear- make Sevin real as well as it makes her “a candidate of a best friend” for the My First Novel readers: Book-friend!
Sevin Okyay's book, My First Novel, proceeds simply and fluently in accordance with the main character’s promise of the statement "Now, I wrote the preface, and I will write my novel very soon" (p. 9). By overlooking those short sentences make it sometimes difficult to read, an impressive "childen’s look" dominates the overall story. The narrator does not only speak like a child, she also convinces the reader that she can think and feel like a child. As the text deepens with Sevin Okyay's profession on the mother tongue and careful vocabulary selections, the novel gets a real place even for those who do not know the autobiographical items. In addition her successful child look, what provides this is that she portrays the character as a jealous, incompetent and inattentive child rather than a very well-behaved, successful and ideal one in every field of life. These features also help children readers to create a strong connection with the main character.
İlkiz, Pınar. Hakikaten: Sevin Okyay Anlatıyor. Ankara: Ayizi Yayınları, 2017.
Okyay, Sevin. İlk Romanım. İstanbul: Can Çocuk Yayınları, 2010.
 Which is the old usage of multiplication table.