Spotlight: Istanbul Days, Istanbul Nights By Leonard Durso

Book Blurb & Info

Istanbul Days, Istanbul Nights
By Leonard Durso


            Set in the historic city of Istanbul, Istanbul Days, Istanbul Nights by Leonard Durso chronicles the journey of ten dynamic characters from across the globe—each trying to navigate their way through life and love, whilst remaining hindered by their own unique cultural differences.

            Istanbul Days, Istanbul Nights begins with the funeral for the husband of Katja, a choreographer at a local university in Istanbul. Following the tragic loss of her soulmate, she slowly becomes intertwined with each of her colleagues within the university’s performing arts department. She meets the theatre department chair, Michael, who envisions a year-end production involving all the departments in an updated bilingual musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. As they all work together to put on a stellar performance, several of the university’s staff, including Katja herself, find themselves on a path of newfound love. As one would expect, some couples find true happiness together—cultivating relationships that will enrich their lives forever—while others miss the opportunity for romantic involvement, crumbling under the pressures of establishing common ground when dating in a foreign country.

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Book Excerpt

Chapter 1

                It begins at a funeral, never an easy place to begin in any country, in any culture, though there are some who use it to commemorate a life well lived, with photographs of those important events in all our lives: birth, school days, graduations, weddings, children, if we are lucky, vacations, family picnics, friends and relatives gathered around on holidays, changing hair styles and hairlines, fashions come and gone, smiling faces around dinner tables, in backyards, on trips to warmer climates with beaches and sand.  But here, today, we have no such photographs for here, today, we bury a young man, only 36, a man who was still in the process of acquiring those moments yet to be captured on camera and stored away in our collective memory.
                We stand at the mosque as the Imam reads from the Koran and there is murmuring of voices following along, hands raised palms up, female heads covered, moist eyes, and some sobbing, a solemn group of friends and colleagues surrounding the young widow, a woman named Katja who endures the burial of her husband. She stands mute, numb, one supposes, from the shock, and her knees buckle as she throws first a white rose onto his body covered in a burial shroud lying there in his grave, then a shovelful of dirt onto his body, that body she had clung to not so long ago as they slept in the bed that will now offer no comfort to her again.  But Bekir, the university director, holds her firmly on one side and Michael, the theatre department chair, on the other and they both help her move off to the side while other friends and colleagues from the university, some former students of his, and some of the university staff all pass by, dropping a shovelful of dirt onto his cold, still form.
                Afterwards the cars and minibuses bring everyone back to the school where tables are set-up with food and beverages because Bekir knows Katja is in no condition to host this herself, nor is her apartment large enough to accommodate everyone.  So he turns the school and its staff over for this occasion and his wife Özge is in charge of organizing it while they all attend the service.
                Katja sits in a chair at what could be considered the head table if this were that kind of occasion, a wedding, say, or a graduation party, but being a funeral, no one thinks of it that way.  But people do file past offering condolences that she more or less acknowledges with a nod of her head or a faint smile or sometimes both.  First, of course, there is Murat who though he never worked alongside her late husband in the film department since he is the head of the music department, he still, like Michael who stands at her left side, worked with him on committees.  And though Murat feels awkward since he always felt somewhat threatened by Hasan because of his close relationship with Bekir, who stands at Katja’s right side, and being the head of the school is thus supervisor to them all, he still can't help but be moved by her loss.
                Next comes some film department faculty including Philip who teaches script and playwriting for both departments and who awkwardly bends over to kiss her cheeks which she is too distracted to notice.  Then there are the theatre faculty, among them Meric, the acting teacher for the Turkish track students and the other director of showcase productions besides Michael, and Gamze, the costume designer who is leaving in another month to marry her fiancé and live in Adana, and then the English Prep teachers, lead by Simon, a visiting instructor from America who is returning to his college in Michigan at the end of July, and the other teachers including Jennifer, Meral, Elif, and Ismigul, and students, of course, from his film classes, like Fersat and Meltem, as well as from the theatre and dance program, especially her favorite dancers Berat and Elena, and  Michael’s assistant and protégé İrem.  So many others, all filing past, with moist eyes and mumbled words of condolences, all looking sorrowfully at Katja who sits dazed in her chair, and making meaningful eye contact with Bekir and then Michael, this sad parade of colleagues and students showing their respect for a fallen teacher lost so early in life on a basketball court on a Sunday morning.
                And afterwards, they mill about the exhibition hall of the college, nibbling on food, sipping soda or water, speaking in hushed tones of the departed, and casting furtive looks at the young widow lost in mourning with Bekir and Michael still at her side.
                And finally the ordeal ends for her.  Bekir drives her home and Özge helps her get settled before they both leave her to lie in a semi-catatonic position on the bed, still in her black dress, her eyes closed, wishing herself asleep.
                As for the others, well, they drift off back to their lives and we will let them go, except for a few who we will follow till the end of this day.
                First there is Philip sitting in a bar watching the world go by.  He is thinking about mortality, his own in particular, and wondering just where the time goes.  He had liked Hasan, a polar opposite version of himself in some ways: a PhD in hand, a credible academic resume, papers presented at the right conferences, articles on up and coming Turkish directors who live in other countries like Germany and Italy, a book in progress about the artist as an alien in a foreign culture, a promising career ahead of him in academic circles, a beautiful, foreign wife, a man destined for success.  And now, a generation still behind Philip’s own, dead.  Ah yes, Philip sighs.  The good really do die young.
                He sips his beer and watches a young couple walk past him to another table in the back.  He can’t help noticing the way their jeans hug their hips, the young man’s hand sliding down to rest somewhat possessively on the small of the back of the young woman, the smiles they each have as they lean forward over their table whispering in the semi-darkness. 
                Youth, Philip thinks.  Where did it go and how come one can’t get it back?  Surely, with modern science making such gains, there can’t be a pill one could take which would allow one at least a fleeting moment of youth recaptured.  A night, say, once a month, a weekend in the country, a candlelight dinner, an hour under the sheets.  
                Of course Philip never really thought he would ever be anything but young since he did not imagine he would live long enough to grow old.  He himself had never really expected to make it into his fifties, much less beyond that, but here he is firmly implanted in that decade and though he smokes three packs of cigarettes a day, he still can't quite get himself to think beyond the month.  It is a flaw in his character, he thinks, but he does not know how to plan ahead beyond 30 days.  It is possibly the reason his last lover gave up on him as a losing proposition, since no matter how often he was lectured on being fiscally conservative, Philip never seemed to listen.  Actually, though, he did listen but he just never earned enough to do anything but live hand to mouth in London, and would still be doing the same thing if he were there.  Here, at least, with a full-time job, health insurance, and a flat he can realistically afford, if he has no money left at the end of the month, he still does not have any debt, either.  And since he has no dependents to be concerned about, living this way suits him for the present.  Perhaps if he ever worried about the future, he might rethink his strategy, but he has no belief in any time beyond the end of the month and so is quite content to continue this way until he stops breathing.
                Then he thinks of Katja, alone in her bed, mourning a future she had envisioned but now is so cruelly denied, and he feels immense sorrow as he once again realizes how random happiness is.
                Meric meanwhile is rolling over on his side in bed watching Jennifer’s naked back and quite lovely ass disappear on its way to the bathroom.  He rubs his hand across his abdomen and thinks he is a lucky man to be alive, in bed with a beautiful woman, working at a school he loves.  Funerals always depress him but now, afterwards, he only has reason to rejoice.  Poor Hasan, he thinks.  Gone so young and by surprise.  Meric did not know him very well since he was in the film department but he knows Katja well since they are both in the theatre department and all of his acting students must take her dance classes.  He thinks he wouldn’t mind dancing with her himself, then feels slightly guilty for thinking that.  Hasan isn’t even cold yet, and right away he is thinking of his widow.
                He turns over on his back and stares at the ceiling.  Jennifer will be back out soon and with luck she will stay the entire night.  These American girls, he thinks, are so much easier than Turkish women.  They are just the way he likes them.
                His eyes begin to close, languid thoughts drift through his semi-awake mind, and then there is a weight on the bed, Jennifer’s hands on his chest, combing his hair back from his forehead, licking his ear.  “Miss me?” she breathes.
                “Always,” he says, and takes her in his arms, his fingers working their magic, and any thoughts of death far removed from either of their minds.
                And then to Michael who sits on his couch, his cat purring in his lap, while Miles Davis plays on his stereo in the living room and İrem is busy cooking something, which he knows will be delicious, in his kitchen.  He thinks he really should get up and go help, or at least watch, but the cat keeps him anchored on the couch and Miles’ trumpet kisses the air around his ears and he can’t seem to rise to the occasion.
                İrem appears wearing the apron she keeps at his place and carrying a glass of wine for each of them.  “I’ve finished with the mezes,” she says, “but the fish needs to bake a little longer in the oven.”  She smiles as she sits opposite him and hands him the wine.  “But knowing you,” she says, “I knew this would be welcomed.”
“You know me too well,” Michael says and touches his glass to hers.  “To life,” he says.
“Yes,” she says, her smile turning slightly melancholic.  
They are quiet as they sip their wine, each listening to the trumpet, lost in their own
thoughts, a world apart and yet closely bound together.  Then Michael clears his throat, takes the remote in hand, and skips to the next CD in the player, a Frank Sinatra disc, and says, “Care to dance?”
                “You want to dance now?” she asks, only slightly surprised since nothing he ever does surprises her for long.
                “Yes,” he says. “I do.  Don’t you?”
                She smiles, stands, and, after carefully untying her apron, says, “Not with this on.”
                “Ah,” he goes, “but it is so charming on you.”
                “You say that because I cook for you,” she says, “and you’d like me to continue doing that.”
                “Well,” he admits, shrugging, “there is a bit of self-interest here.”
                She holds out her hand so he can lead her to the center of the room and then they embrace, he holding her ever so lightly, she floating on air, and slowly they begin to dance to Sinatra singing I’ve Got You Under My Skin and death, remorse, all the cares of the world seem to fade away as the cat watches serenely from his position on the couch and the night slips by.
                Murat stands in his living room staring out to the courtyard below.  His wife is asleep in the back bedroom, their three children also asleep in the bed with her, even the oldest at 7 still preferring to lie with her mother than in her own bed.  Only Murat sleeps alone, out here on the couch usually, or in the kids’ room on the single bed that should be his oldest daughter’s but is, more often than not, his now.  He holds a glass of raki in his hand, the milky liquid offering some comfort on this night, though not enough to quell any thoughts of death and mortality for long.  He wonders how his life turned out this way, alone in his own home, and alone especially tonight after just burying a colleague, an almost friend.  Poor Hasan, he thinks.  So much to live for and all gone because his heart was weaker than he knew.
                Murat moves from the window and sits on the couch.  He wishes he could sleep but his mind is too active, too many unnecessary images floating through, many involving women and none are his wife.  Where did the passion go, he wonders, and stifles a cry. 
                He pours more raki into his glass, drops in some ice cubes from the ice bucket on the coffee table, and mixes in some cold water, but he knows it will take several more of these before his eyes finally close.  And his eyes move restlessly over to the shelves of DVDs and CDs lining the wall next to his home entertainment unit.  He picks a CD of Kazım Koyuncu and puts it into the CD player, slips the headphones on, and turns up the volume.  And as the Black Sea music blots out all else, he leans back on the couch, closes his eyes, and sips his raki.  It isn’t the evening he would like to have after burying someone he had liked, but it will do.  It has to.  It is all he has left.
                And finally we end with Katja.  She lies in bed, curled up in a fetal position, wishing she were anyplace other than where she is, in bed, the bed she shared with Hasan up to not so very long ago, the bed where she would lie in his arms, being held by him, inhaling his smell, feeling his arms around her, his breath on her neck, the warmth of his skin.  She cannot believe she will never feel that again, and yet she knows it is over, over never to return, and yet how does she live knowing that, how does she go on?
                So Katja lies in bed and cannot even cry.  She can do nothing.  Only lie there.  In bed.  And wait for the end of the world.


 “Culture is like an ocean liner streaming its way across the sea and once on it, we have little choice but to ride along with it to wherever it takes us,” says Durso. “In Istanbul Days, Istanbul Nights, the characters are limited in their responses to emotional involvement with each other, especially being from different ethnic backgrounds. Their upbringings and cultural values ultimately incline them to act in the roles they were conditioned to behave in. Thus, confusing signals and mixed messages they send are almost predetermined by the culture that formed their personalities since childhood.”

            A modern romance story with bouts of humor and bittersweet sentiments, Istanbul Days, Istanbul Nights offers readers:
·         A contemporary reimagining of Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy, Romeo & Juliet
·         Cinematic scenes encompassed in the trials and tribulations of romantic involvement
·         An inside look at the lives of those in a foreign country, as they work to break through cultural barriers and become accepted by their peers
·         A heartfelt journey alongside extraordinary characters trying not only to work together in an artistic environment but also to form sincere relationships in spite of their differences

Author Info

Leonard Durso is a native New Yorker, who grew up on Long Island in the small town of Lynbrook. Istanbul Days, Istanbul Nights is his sixth published novel, with his previous works spanning thriller, drama, and contemporary fiction genres. Prior to taking on writing full-time, Durso was the Director of The English Language Institute at Nassau Community College, where he was influential in teaching the English language to immigrants living on Long Island, New York. He later went on to become the Director of the ESL Program at Dowling College. In 2008, after years of wanting to teach English overseas, he took on the position of Director of the English Language Program at Plato College of Higher Education in Istanbul. In 2016, he also spent time as a journalist writing for a national Turkish newspaper. Durso received his B.S. and M.F.A from Bowling Green State University as well as an M.A. from Teachers College, Columbia University. He currently resides in Izmir, Turkey.

For more information, visit and connect with Leonard Durso on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and WordPress.

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