The best libraries are often tiny, as small as a single book. A library’s value is in its use. Every book that a prisoner comes by, or that a refugee carries with her, opens onto other worlds and a realm of agency—a single book can unlock an entire subjectivity, the reader’s. But can books ever give back society to an isolated person? Absent the collective group that shares or maintains a library, can the imprisoned or isolated reader find the plurality necessary for politics inside of a book? Ahmet Altan finds something crucial, and he calls them “Wood Sprites.” In this Christmas Day, 2020, instalment of the Polity of Literature we return to the book, I Will Never See the World Again, and Ahmet Altan’s delightful account of reading, “Wood Sprites.”
Following a ruling in his favor from the European Court of Human Rights, Ahmet Altan was released from Silivri Prison in April 2021. Other writers and media workers—the poet Ilhan Sami Çomak, journalist Hatice Duman, publisher Erdal Süsem, editor İshak Karakaş, and scores more—remain imprisoned in Turkey, often without due process. Expression Interrupted puts the number at 87. Worldwide, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports 274 journalists imprisoned—for doing their work. In “Wood Sprites,” Altan shows us the power of writing and reading to erode, if not undo, the state’s intentional injustice.
In the struggle to stay in politics—or, having been expelled from politics, to return—what crucial resources are sequestered inside the pages of a book? “Wood Sprites” was translated into English by Yasemin Çongar and is published in the book, I Will Never See the World Again.
17 August, 2022