“What type of experience, do you think, would force an individual to leave the country one was born and brought up in, spoke its language, had friends and knew its every corner by heart?”
Leaving One’s Comfort Zone tells the story of Gökhan Kutluer, who, with this question in his mind, opts to take the plunge rather than reverting to forever if only’s, who drops everything and leaves, forever altering the course of his life with a tourist visa and a carry-on, who chases his own dreams until there is no place to go and immigrates to Italy.
This striking account of the cities he stumbles across and the social specifics of his migration from his homeland can tempt anyone with eyes and curiosity; it is the story of achieving to leave, of not being able to persist, of not belonging, of statelessness, of struggle, self-exploration, of solitude and loneliness, family affairs and self-recognition.
Leaving One’s Comfort Zone: The Story of a Move to Italy is a great guide to bring promise to young adults and provide them with insights as they embark on their new journey to live and work at their desired and prospective locations. After all, life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
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Since the mid-2000’s, “Leaving Turkey” has been a social phenomenon associated with the changing social atmosphere, declining economy (more so in the last few years) and a fear that is associated with state power/violence… Compared to the migration from other Middle Eastern or Post-Colonial African or Asian Countries, the phenomena of “Leaving Turkey” has emerged from and is almost, only contained to the well-educated middle, upper-middle class who holds the idea of not belonging, not seeing a future in well harmony with their own ideologies…
As it is still an ongoing phenomenon, there aren’t much literary or artistic representations that contribute to this reality. I, myself, am also a Kennismigrant as they call it in Dutch. For these reasons and my own, I believe Gökhan’s novel not only presents as a migrant, auto-fiction literary text; it also engages with this social problem of brain drain from Turkey.
Gökhan addresses a whole generation of well-educated, middle or upper-middle class wanting to leave Turkey, even though remaining subjective and auto-fictional. His engagement with this social problem is hidden in the first chapters of Leaving One’s Comfort Zone. It is not a coincidence that this novel’s Turkish reception was a success. There are a few, in our generations, who have narrated their story of leaving Turkey due to its social chaos.
Kutluer gives voice to a social problem that has drastically increased in the last five years, long after Kutluer has left his own comfort zone. From Taş Koleji to Cağaloğlu High School, presumably offered “a good education” which somewhat means “Western values embedded in modern ethics” in Istanbul. Evidently, this is my subjective claim and translation which is open to refutation. As is depicted in the first chapter, Gökhan leaves Turkey to take a distance with the never-ending social battles Turkey faces. A feeling of being home; but feeling like an immigrant at home. It is the feeling that stems “I am from this society; I belong to this society; but maybe not that much.”
As his migrant reality, sinks in, another battle starts. All these struggles add up to present itself almost like Bildungsroman. A privileged, maybe not very satisfied but adventurous soul going on a journey to part from family, from society, from pain to build a life, one might say. Thus, these are all the aspects that make this auto-fictional limpid and clear to engage with.
Edward Said once claimed “beyond the frontier between ‘us’ and ‘the outsiders’ is the perilous territory of understanding”. My generation of people who grew up in Turkey, as well as Gökhan’s, struggle to find a new breathing space out of a land that stems from a distorted sense of “us.” Kutluer compares and contrasts his Turkish roots, his old social surroundings to his new encounters in Bergamo and Montenegro. Starting from the relief of “getting out,” he dwells with the deep sense of nostalgia, the inevitable feeling of exile and loneliness; yet knowing that going back is not always an option and it is not the same land that one goes back to. Echoing some Turkish-German literature like Emine Sevgi Özdamar, Güney Dal, Feridun Zaimoğlu he battles the layers of integration to a new environment in reflection to his feelings of what once was a home to its aftertaste.
These examples I have given have a different experience of being Gasterbeiters in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It proves the scarcity of literary and artistic production on Turkey’s current brain drain, having found these examples. I am proud to have been a small part of Gökhan’s journey, travelling with him by editing his sentences, experiences while reflecting on my own. My hope is to come across other literary works that engage with the aforementioned social phenomena, and our million-year-old reality which is migrating..
Elif Naz Güveniş