Tales from Behind the Window
Edanur Kuntman (Writer and Artist), Veli Okulan (Letters), Cem Ulgen (Translation)
Marmara Cizgi (Turkish), Europe Comics (English)
August 20, 2019
In Tales from Behind the Window, writer Edanur Kuntman splices together her grandmother Süreyya’s story about her early life in Çarşamba, Turkey, and her reluctant marriage to her neighbour, Selami.
Once excited for the future, Süreyya and her mother fall under the control of Süreyya’s brother after her father’s death. In a society where men are the law and women have no choice but to obey, Süreyya’s future soon becomes bleaker than she could have imagined.
But Süreyya still holds out hope of better things. At 22, she is still unmarried, unlike most of her compatriots, which she accredits to her brother’s discerning eye. And then her marriage to her neighbour is settled without her say so, and she has become the unsuspecting victim of a terrible deception. How does she become the loving grandmother Kuntman knew all her life?
Tales from Behind the Window is a bleak read. From the opening pages with Süreyya insisting she doesn’t want to marry her neighbour, to the closing moments when she has reluctantly accepted her lot in life, this book does not take its foot off the misery pedal. And yet it makes so much sense and is, in its own way, quite inspirational. Süreyya’s brother practically sells her into marriage, but Süreyya doesn’t take it lying down. She gets angry and vents, but she has no escape and eventually makes the most of her situation.
I like that her rage is so relatable—balled-up fists, arched eyebrows, and raised shoulders. Kuntman conveys so much through her art in these scenes. But the anger Süreyya feels is quickly drummed out by her despair. Not only does she have to marry this neighbour she’s not interested in, but she also has to move out of her home, away from her beloved mother, and has to deal with demanding in-laws who keep asking her to make coffee. And then it gets worse—Süreyya’s husband decides to move to Istanbul, so far away from Süreyya’s mother that they barely even get a proper goodbye.
Like I said, Tales from Behind the Window is bleak, and it doesn’t let up. You feel angry on Süreyya’s behalf throughout the book and long after reading the closing pages. We’ve all known people, or are the people, who have lived her life. And the one thing everyone will have in common with Süreyya is resilience. I love her art—it borders on that anime-influenced style that looks incredibly cute, but here it acts as a poignant reminder of everything Süreyya has lost. Because she never forgets what was or what could have been.
I particularly loved the double-page spreads and the varied layouts Kuntman employed to tell this story. She has a remarkable eye for seeing the pages before her as a canvas and her work provokes powerful feelings. If you’re feeling angry and confused while reading this book, it is a result of Kuntmans’ excellent handle on narrative and visual aesthetics.
It’s obvious that Tales from Behind the Window isn’t a happy book, and it doesn’t try to be. So, should you read it? Yes, because this is a glimpse into a kind of life that people have lived and survived. How did they manage to do it? That is what this book is about.