Two years before Adalet Ayyildiz died, she called her daughter-in-law in Roanoke.
As poet and novelist Judy Ayyildiz recounts it, her mother-in-law asked her to come to Turkey and hear her life story.
Adalet, whose name means “justice,” told Judy, “You must spend the summer with me. I must tell you my story because I am going to die. I am not an important person, but my story is.”
The conversations between them required a nephew to serve as an interpreter. “She spoke broken English. I speak broken Turkish,” Ayyildiz said.
Nineteen years later, Judy Ayyildiz’s first novel — in Turkish titled “Kirk Diken,” in English titled “Forty Thorns” — was printed by Turkish publisher Remzi Kitabevi. Both versions were released in 2011, marking the first time the company had published a novel by an American author in its original English form.
“I felt like a rock star when I was in Turkey,” Ayyildiz said. She went there to help promote the book, which received national media coverage and became a bestseller in that country. She’s returning there later this month for a formal book tour.
Promoting the book in the United States has been more of a problem. American publishers haven’t shown interest in this story of a Turkish woman’s life, though she has found an American distributor for the English edition from Remzi.
Yet Ayyildiz still hopes it will find an audience here, as it deals with “an eternal, universal subject, about the human struggle for dignity, not only surviving but surviving well.”