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Burhan Sönmez

Burhan Sönmez - foto Luay Albasha
Burhan Sönmez - foto Luay Albasha

(Turkey, 1965) is a writer and, since 2021, chair of the writers' organisation PEN International. He is a Senior Member of Hughes Hall College and Trinity College, University of Cambridge. His novels have been translated into more than 40 languages and won international awards. He wrote the novels Kuzey (North), Masumlar (published in English as Sins & Innocents, 2014), Istanbul Istanbul (published in English under the same title, 2016), Labyrinth (under the same title published in English, 2019) en Taş ve Gölge (published in English as Stone and Shadow, 2023), among others. Sönmez was born in Turkey and grew up speaking Turkish and Kurdish. He worked as a lawyer in Istanbul before moving to Britain for political reasons and living there in exile for several years. He publishes in news media such as La Repubblica, Der Spiegel and The Guardian. He translated William Blake's poetry collection The Marriage of Heaven and Hell into Turkish.


Archive available for: Burhan Sönmez

  • Writers Unlimited 2024

    Opening Night Writers Unlimited International Literature Festival The Hague

    With: Adriaan van Dis, Aminatta Forna, Burhan Sönmez, Celeste Ng, Daniëlle Zawadi, Emilienne Malfatto, Hashem Kabreet, Jan van Zanen, Jörgen Tjon A Fong, Judith Uyterlinde, Sholeh Rezazadeh

    Freedom to speak or write is important but impossible for many. The festival opened with "human voices" (the theme of this edition) from The Netherlands and beyond: a unique lineup of famous writers speaking out. This was one of those evenings of inspiration, creative thoughts and apt words that make a deep impression. Meet the authors who make their voices heard for four delightful days of this Hague festival!

    Opening Night 2024 was focused on freedom of speech and the power of literature, with appearances and readings by US author Celeste Ng, internationally one of the most-read authors with Asian roots; the British writer Aminatta Forna (The Hired Man); Adriaan van Dis, whose moving new novel Naar zachtheid en een warm omhelzen was published Fall 2023; Burhan Sönmez, author of Istanbul, Istanbul and chair of the writers organization PEN International.

    Young spoken-word artist and writer Daniëlle Zawadi from The Hague and, accompanied by percussionist Hashem Kabreet, writer and novelist Sholeh Rezazadeh gave spoken word performances.

    Host Jörgen Tjon A Fong discussed with the US novelist Celeste Ng (Our Missing Hearts) and French writer and photojournalist Emilienne Malfatto (Le Colonel ne dort pas; The Colonel Doesn't Sleep) what "human voices" means to them in relation to freedom of speech. Finally, Hague mayor Jan van Zanen kicked things off by officially opening the festival!

    The programme included the short film Monument for murdered writers and journalists 2023, a project by Theatre of Wrong Decisions, Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ) and PEN International.

    Our favourite Hague bookstore De Vries Van Stockum had well-stocked tables of books for sale in the foyer of the Theater aan het Spui throughout the festival (English and Dutch language) by the authors appearing at the festival. Browse to your heart's content, and maybe the author is even present to personally sign your freshly bought book.

  • Writers Unlimited 2024 – Friday Night Unlimited

    Book of My Life with Burhan Sönmez

    Writers tell us about their favourite book: the book that inspires or touches them, that set their artistic, moral or intellectual compass. In short, the book they would recommend to everyone. Interview: Abdelkader Benali.

    Burhan Sönmez chose as his favourite the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Treatise on Logical Philosophy), widely abbreviated and cited as Tractatus or TLP, is the first main work of Austrian-English philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The book was written during World War I and is Wittgenstein's only work published during his lifetime. The project had a broad goal: to identify the relationship between language and reality and to define the limits of science.

  • Writers Unlimited 2024 – Friday Night Unlimited

    Captor and Captive

    Power and powerlessness are rewarding themes in literature, drawn from extreme situations in history and real life. Emilienne Malfatto wrote the confrontational novel Le colonel ne dort pas (The Colonel Doesn't Sleep), about the power imbalance between a soldier and a prisoner, from the colonel's perspective. Burhan Sömnez wrote his novel Istanbul, Istanbul from the prisoner's perspective.

    How do they portray this power imbalance, a per definition unequal situation of prisoner and guard? Both authors read an excerpt from their work and discussed power and powerlessness with Sophie Derkzen, host of a daily Radio 1 program for the VPRO broadcasting company.

    Emilienne Malfatto is an award-winning photographer, journalist and writer. Her work deals with social, feminist and post-conflict issues in the Middle East, Latin Ameria and Europe. Her novel Le colonel ne dort pas (The Colonel Doesn't Sleep, 2021) brings to life three characters struggling with a war they cannot win.

    Burhan Sönmez is a writer and board member of PEN International. His novels have been translated into 40 languages and won many awards. He became internationally known with his novel Istanbul, Istanbul, in which prisoners tell one another stories full of compassion and humour that are gradually more and more about life outside, in the city.

    Festival tip: Emilienne Malfatto and Burhan Sönmez also appeared during Opening Night on 18 January 2024, and Malfatto again, together with Sacha Bronwasser, in the event Picture This during Saturday Night Unlimited (20 January 2024).