Motherland Hotel

Motherland Hotel
Translated by Fred Stark


"Motherland Hotel turns 44 this year but, for the first time, has been translated into English by Fred Stark. Even nearly half a century after its initial publication, it's easy to see why the novel "astonish[ed] critics". It's a novel of one man’s sexual obsession and social isolation who’s seeking an outlet until the narrative erupts in the only way it might have—in an act of remarkably quiet violence to which the narrative naturally led and from which everything that follows proceeds." -- Matthew Snider, PopMatters

The Millions

"Motherland Hotel, originally published in Turkey in 1973, is the story of a private space made public, then made private again when its clerk unravels and shut himself, and the hotel, off from the outside world. The sign directing passersby 'points downwards giving the impression that the hotel lies underground,' thus inadvertently indicating the trajectory of the novel's protagonist." -- Matt Seidel, The Millions

Reading in Translation

"Motherland Hotel, Turkish writer Yusuf Atilgan's (1921-1989) first novel to appear in English, is a shape-shifting tour de force, a stumble through a noirish house of mirrors. For his boldness of voice, his brilliant defiance of form, and his penetrating insight into the human condition, Yusuf Atilgan merits a place in the English-language canon, among the world’s most daring modernists . . . "—Amanda Sarasien

Kirkus Reviews

"Turkish writer Atilgan's classic 1973 novel about alienation, obsession, and precipitous decline, nimbly translated by Stark. Zeberjet is the owner of the Motherland Hotel, formerly his ancestral home in Izmir, Turkey. Defined less by his nebulous personality than the invariable order of his days, he rises at 6 a.m., takes tea with one lump at 7, visits the barber every four weeks, the public bath every six months, and violates the hotel's charwoman on a near-nightly basis—until the night an alluring woman from Ankara stops in on the way to her village. Though her stay is brief and the conversation minimal, Zeberjet's obsession takes hold while he keeps her room just as she left it and visits nightly, the details of their interaction repeatedly intruding on his thoughts. When he accidentally drops and shatters her teacup, he believes all chance of her returning destroyed along with it, leaving him free to plummet into complete debasement. Later, enraged at his own impotence, Zeberjet murders the charwoman, along with her cat, whereafter he dreams of being put on trial, not for the murder of his employee, but her pet, as his attorney winks, putting a tidy point on the treatment of women all around him. As his life narrows to exclude all but compulsion and dissimulation, he wafts through town as we slip in and out of his turbulent stream-of-consciousness, snippets of conversation drifting in and sticking to his jumbled thoughts, mixing with memory, fantasy, and family history. Everywhere he goes, Zeberjet encounters another crime, in fact or in retelling, recent or ancient, woven into the very fabric that makes up his world, and is 'embarrassed, ashamed actually, before all those people who thought of themselves as innocent, who failed to realize that only crime—some kind of crime—could keep you alive on this earth.' An unsettling study of a mind, steeped in violence, dropping off the edge of reason."


"There's solitude and then there's stifling loneliness. Zeberjet, the proprietor of the crumbling Motherland Hotel near a railway station in rural Turkey, has only known the latter as an adult. A scion of a once-illustrious Ottoman family, Zeberjet relies on the hotel for stability, the one property his forefathers managed to retain during past political turmoil. Hotel work caters to Zeberjet's obsessive-compulsive nature -- the fixed set of chores to be necessarily executed every day, only broken by the cast of passing travelers. Zeberjet's lonely life is upended when a beautiful guest promises to return but never does. Atilgan's brilliant writing, and even the cloistered, small-town setting of Izmir, mirror Zeberjet's slow unraveling: the initial chapters are almost staged in the their rigidity, while later ones are less corralled, almost unruly in their thoughts and actions. This moving and unsettling portrait of obsession run amok might have been written in 1970s Turkey, when social mores after Ataturk were still evolving, but it stays as relevant as the country struggles to save the very democratic ideals on which the Republic was rebirthed."-- Poornima Apte, Booklist, Starred Review

Library Journal

"A maladroit loner who runs the seen-better-days Motherland Hotel in a backwater Turkish town, Zeberjet has become obsessed with a female guest who stayed there briefly and frantically anticipates her presumed return. . . . as Zeberjet becomes increasingly unhinged, we're drawn into his dark interior life while coming to understand Turkey’s post-­Ottoman uncertainty. Sophisticated readers will understand why Atilgan is called the father of Turkish modernism, while those who enjoy dark psychological novels can also appreciate."—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Full Stop

"The freedom that Atilgan articulates isn't the freedom of Lord Byron or Milton Friedman. It’s more like the sense of freedom that comes with finally having a diagnoses. It’s the freedom that comes from understanding that you’re imprisoned in other people’s’ ideas of freedom. But there’s a consolation and a quiet wisdom that comes from understanding that these definitions will pass in turn, like guests checking out of a hotel."—Scott Beauchamp, Full Stop


"Orhan Pamuk has written of Atilgan's work, ' I love Yusuf Atilgan; he manages to remain local although he benefits from Faulkner’s works and the Western traditions.' Pamuk’s statement broadens the appeal of the writer who reminded me more of the Middle Eastern writer [Sadegh Hedayat] than the American. So take your pick for influences once you read Motherland Hotel. In any case, you will be rewarded for your time."—Charles Larson, Counterpunch