In choosing to focus his book on events lost to many in the Western world, the Gezi Park protests of 2013, Turkish author Kaya Genç offers a snapshot of his fractured country. Under the Shadow: Rage and Revolution in Modern Turkey follows a chain of events that began with protests against Gezi Park’s redevelopment followed by the violent removal of the protestors, which morphed into a multifarious opposition to Turkey’s encroaching government. Here were Kurds, Grey Wolves, members of the LGBTQI and corporate communities, and even the Ultras of the country’s big three football clubs all arrayed against the conservative government of then Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Genç set out to better understand Turkey via the various voices that felt displeased within it, either with or at the status quo, and his resulting work is a chorus of discontent. He speaks with both conservative and liberal journalists—one must realize that for long stretches of its modern history, secularism, not religion, has been an oppressive factor in Turkey—and popular filmmakers, successful entrepreneurs, and student activists. The only thread binding them is their country and their unease at their place within it. While the various positions Genç chronicles can make one’s head spin, that same complexity also presents an honest face of the nation.
The 14 people Genç interviews serve as the skeleton of the book. By relying on these sources to carry the work, Genç provides Under the Shadow with both its greatest strength and weakness: an accurate portrait of the country that is challenging to navigate without preexisting knowledge of Turkey’s history and current climate. There is precious little handholding, but the further reading appendix—and journalist Alexander Christie-Miller’s “Occupy Gezi” piece for The White Review—is much appreciated.
It is not Genç’s job to hold the reader’s hand, of course, but to elucidate, and Under the Shadow does not fail in this regard. Tracing modern activists’ ideological lineage back to the famed Young Turks and Young Ottomans, Genç both vivisects modern-day Turkey and grounds it in the country’s past. There are no answers in the book, no tidy, big picture proclamations; the work is rather a snapshot of a nation during a crucial time in today’s political landscape.
Under the Shadow is, in short, both complicated and absolutely necessary.
B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayis, and book/art critic based in Chicago. A former book critic for The Myrtle Beach Sun News, his work can be seen in Hazlitt, Sports Illustrated, The Chicago Reader, VICE Sports, The Creators Project, Sports on Earth and New American Paintings, among numerous other publications. You can find him on Twitter or at his website.