binooki publishers “We’re missing something here”

Selma Wels and Inci Bürhaniye, the founders of the publishing house binooki, © Barbara Dietl
Selma Wels and Inci Bürhaniye, the founders of the publishing house binooki | Photo (detail): © Barbara Dietl

binooki publishes contemporary Turkish literature in German translation. The publishing house was founded by two sisters who had no experience whatever of the publishing business. In this interview Selma Wels and Inci Bürhaniye look back on a successful first year and tell of dwarves, trolls and elves in contemporary Turkish literature.

Initially, a few basic questions: Book or e-book?

Selma Wels: E-Book.

Bookshop or online shop?

Inci Bürhaniye: Bookshop.

Pamuk or Grass?

S.W.: Difficult. Grass.

Spring or autumn programme?

S.W.: Autumn programme.

I.B.: I prefer the spring programme.

Why is that?

I.B.: Maybe it has something to do with the rhythm, with the Leipzig Book Fair, where we were this year for the second time. Although I also look forward to autumn when we’ll publish a novel by Murat Uyurkulak. Uyurkulak is a great, unconventional writer, who, by the way, comes from our parents’ hometown.

What was your family’s response to your founding a literary publishing house?

I.B.: Quite positive. We didn’t talk all that much about it with our father, who now lives in Izmir. When the first article on binnoki appeared in the Turkish press, we immediately rang him up – he was really proud of us.

S.W.: Our mother is no longer alive; it was she who actually introduced us to literature. She would have been very pleased about our publishing house.

Who is behind binooki?

I.B.: Both of us – and of course some freelance literary translators, editors and graphic designers.

How do you divide the work?

I.B.: Each of our backgrounds complements the other well: Selma is a trained management expert; I work as a commercial lawyer. Between us lies a small generation gap – twelve years, which is noticeable. I’m the older one; Selma is somewhat greener, quicker and more flexible with the new media. In this way we each cover the various areas.

S.W.: Specially, it looks like this: I work around the clock with publishing; Inci two days a week because she still has her law office.

By publishing Turkish literature – and especially contemporary Turkish literature – in German translation, you’ve filled a gap. Are you surprised by the great resonance in the press and the publishing industry?

I.B.: Yes, we are! Last year there were more than 200 articles on binooki in newspapers, television and radio. Evidently, we’ve hit a nerve. But then we began with a clear perception as readers, with the feeling that something is missing here. In 2006 Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 2008 Turkey was guest country at the Frankfurt Book Fair. And we thought to ourselves: Why, in spite of all this, is Turkish literature so little represented in Germany? Why is so little translated? So our success isn’t surprising, though it has of course relieved us of many worries.

The publishing industry is changing; many publishers feel insecure with respect to digital developments. No so with you: all your books are offered simultaneously as e-books. Is that a matter of course?

S.W.: Yes, we think it tremendously important. The print book is timeless, but I believe the future will be digital. We shouldn’t be afraid of that.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, your own blog: you operate with great confidence in the social media. What do you expect to gain from this?

S.W.: The Internet is the medium through which we can enter into dialogue with our readers and get unfiltered feedback. Everyone who is registered with us gets a direct answer. That shows our good faith. When readers ring up and they’re in the vicinity, they can come by and collect their book – and I serve biscuits if there are any.

Binnoki won the prestigious Kurt Wolff Promotion Prize in its first year of existence. The official statement said that you show how Turkish and German culture can be brought together “quite without clichés”. Is there nothing good about clichés?

S.W.: They’re there in any case. Those with which we’re confronted in Germany are often not positive. For example, the statement: You speak German so well! That implies this isn’t normal for people with a Turkish background. Although I was born here, I suddenly have to justify myself. After 33 years, I’m tired of it.

Who reads your books?

I.B.: German-German readers, which pleases me immensely. Because that was our goal from the start. It might also seem natural that the second or third-generation immigrants will read our books. But they often read the works in Turkish – or, more likely, watch television. We do reach some, however. I see this in my own children, who have a German father and love to read – just now, for instance, something from binnoki. This opens for them a new access to the culture of their mother.

What is the essence of Turkish literature?

I.B.: The Turks are melancholic and very witty – and also critical of society. They don’t just pack this into their books – they’ll take to the streets for this as well, as we’ve seen in recent events in Istanbul.

Does the publishing list reflect your individual preferences?

I.B.: Yes, here too we complement one another. Selma often proposes young writers, while I like to have now and again a classic.

Mrs Wels, what book in the autumn programme are you looking forward to?

S.W.: To a book that has to do with clichés – with my clichés: fantasy by a Turkish writer. No such thing, I thought. But in spite of that we found something. And I’m delighted that dwarves, trolls and elves also have their place in Turkey, and that I can present them to a German public.