What makes Mario Levi’s novels so special in my eyes is his passion for words. Through language, he succeeds in creating authentic settings for his readers, making them travel in their imagination. Born in Istanbul in 1957, Levi was brought up in three languages which might have contributed to his unique narrative style. His parents spoke Turkish with him, while his grandmothers taught him French and Ladino. Thus, he got in touch with other emotional worlds and cultures, seeing them coexist already very early in his childhood. However, outside his home, he soon experienced what it felt like to be different…first of all because of his name. He still remembers his grandfather’s words: “You can try as much as you want, there will always be someone showing you that you are not a real Turk.” Maybe this is the reason why on the first pages of his novel İstanbul bir Masaldı (Istanbul was a Fairy Tale) we can read “[…] being born a ‘stranger’ was not my fault”, clearly describing the sensation of being an outsider in Turkey.
In an interview, Mario Levi points out that in order to become a good writer, one first needs to be a good reader. From early on, he devoured novels, short stories and poetry by Russian, French and Turkish authors. For him, literature is the nurturing voice you follow to immerse yourself into the history of your own language and emotions. Writing is not only a way to search for meaning in life, thus making it an existential urge. It is also a therapeutic means to deal with inner conflicts and finally get out of personal crisis. In the end, you reconstruct your own identity over and over again while you are creating a story.
Good fiction results from lived experiences and genuine emotions. Anger, joy, resentment, sorrow… all sorts of feelings flow down on paper and make it real to a certain extent. Therefore, there is always something autobiographical in a novel, despite its various imaginative elements. Writing is about what you experience, your hopes, your regrets, your fears. When you make up a story, you have to look into the abyss of your soul in order to find the truth. You go down there with all the courage you have inside you and face what you have to face. Regardless of what you will be discovering in the darkness, there is also always some light waiting for you in a corner. Suffering is part of the process. But it is worth it.
With unforgettable novels like İstanbul Bir Masaldı, Karanlık Çökerken Neredeydiniz?, Size Pandispanya Yaptım and many others, Mario Levi has given so much of himself to his readers. We share moments of joy and despair with his characters, remember the past with them and look into an uncertain future. Every time we read one of his stories we find another piece of our own identity in them. We know that the puzzle will never be complete. We also know that at times we cannot avoid sadness. But we now see the light in the darkness.
Paris, 21.11.2013 Mine Krause