THE STORY OF DUAL IDENTITIES

ART/CULTURE

THE STORY OF DUAL IDENTITIES

Changing Borders

Text: Periscope

Jody Sabral is a British-American journalist who has lived in Turkey and worked for various broadcasting outlets. Recently, she resigned as a Turkey correspondent for Press TV, an English language network run by the Iranian government. She turned her unique experience and perspectives into her first fiction titled "Changing Borders" and self-published it, which came under our radar. The story evolves around Kate Roberts, a British journalist who by chance acquires the "New Middle East" map. It not only raises the question about the Western interference in the regional politics but also let you peek into a curious life of a female journalist from the West working for the Iranian network out of Turkey.

Q. Can you tell us about the map?
The map is something that has been circulating around the Middle East for decades. It is nothing new to people in this region. The Middle East loves conspiracy theories and the map is the ultimate conspiracy theory. The Republic of Turkey was created in 1923 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. That is when the new borders of all the countries of the Middle East, like Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Yemen, were drawn by the Allies of France, England and the United States. That is how modern Turkey borders were drawn. At the time, the group of Kurds were promised their own state by the Allies. So this conspiracy theory is based in history for almost 100 years.
Q. Did you write this book before or after the Arab Spring?
I started writing the book last summer and the revolutions hadn't happened in Tunisia or Egypt. In January, the Arab Spring started to kick off, I went back and rewrote from chapter 2 forward and I added this new element because all of the sudden it started to make sense somehow. With all these NATO operations after the Arab Spring, the conspiracy seemed slightly more real. The map is not foreign to people in the region, but I knew it would foreign to the West. That is why I wanted to put this conspiracy and politics into something that anyone could read. You would find this kind of information in political or historical books, but they are hard to get through. I wanted to write a book for people who couldn't stomach political books.
Q. Was it difficult to write a "fiction" when you have been a journalist?
I remember thinking that I wanted to write a book about the Middle East and try to explain some of the discourse here to somebody who might not know where Turkey is on the map. The challenge in the beginning was to keep simplifying things. Working in news and in politics, this language is familiar to me, but it is not to some people. The earlier drafts of the book were very journalistic in style, and it still has the element, but hopefully I reached the point where it became more a novel than it was a book of journalism. But while I wrote this book for uninformed people, informed people are reading it and enjoying it, which is a relief.
Q. Why did you choose to self-publish this?
It is a combination of things. The publishing industry is so vast and it seems like an impossible mountain to climb. I have "2010 Writers' Digest Book." It lists agents and publishers with different genres. I didn't know what genre I fall into. I have been described by one of New York leading literary agents as "women's fiction," but the majority of my readers so far have been men because this is "political fiction." Also, being based in Turkey, I wasn't in that world either. The whole process was demoralizing and my friend suggested Lulu.com. I wasn't in it for the money and I was writing it just to tell the story. So I figured I would just put it out there and see what happens.
Q. Even thought this is a "fiction," one might wonder how close this is to your real experience.
While writing it, I did think to myself, "Is this going to get me into trouble or not?" But I wanted to write a story where Iranians were not necessarily the villains. These characters are quite likable. I didn't try to sensationalize the characters. They are honest to experiences that I have had. I wanted to bridge the gap in information. In the US, because of the media coverage, people have a really bad opinion of what Iran is. Of course there are problems, but I wanted to show the more human side of this. But ultimately, this is a book of fiction.
Q. You are a British-American woman and a freelance journalist working for a Middle Eastern entity living in Turkey. How do you feel about your unique position?
It is a privileged position to move between these different worlds. The book is a result of that. I grew up in England with American parents and I was always somewhere in the middle. Even though I speak with British accent, growing up in a very class based society, just because I looked like everybody else, it didn't mean that I fitted it or was accepted because we didn't have any roots in England. I always felt somewhat displaced and this is probably a natural progression. I think the reason why I've stayed in Turkey for so long is that it has this huge question about its identity, is it secular or is it Islamic, is it Middle Eastern or European? I grew up with the question of dual identities of "Am I American or am I British?" And here in Turkey, I've been able to accept this dual identities.

04.20.2012

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