The Kurdish-Turkish author Burhan Sönmez was born in 1965 in Haymana near Ankara, where he also grew up. His interest in literature was awakened early on by his mother, and he spoke both Turkish and Kurdish from a very early age. Sönmez completed a bachelor of laws and worked for several years as a lawyer in Istanbul. In 1996, he was seriously injured in a police assault and subsequently received support from the British NGO »Freedom from Torture«, which provided him with medical care in London for an extended period of time.
Sönmez’ first novel, »Kuzey« (tr. North), appeared in 2009 and tells the story of a young man whose father vanished when he was two years old. After twenty years, the body is found and the young man makes his way to the north to uncover the secrets of his father’s life and death. Sönmez’s second novel, the semi-autobiographical »Masumlar« (Eng. »Sins and Innocents«, 2014), followed in 2011. Two political refugees – Brani Tawo, a Kurd from Turkey, and Feruzeh, a woman who fled from Iran – meet in a shop in Cambridge. They discover their common love of literature and he tells her tales of his family that evoke old legends: of a shepherd hit by lightening, of injured soldiers returning from war, and of blood feuds that tear families apart. Through his love for Feruzeh, the dark and melancholic Brani Tawo slowly regains a measure of inner freedom. The novel, which was translated into English, Italian, Serb and Macedonian and awarded the renowned Sedat Simavi Prize, blends the world of a small Anatolian village with the atmosphere of an English university town. Sönmez’ most recent novel, »Istanbul Istanbul« (2015; Eng. 2016), has already been translated into 15 languages. In it, »we can feel the ›Decameron‹ by Boccaccio in the novel’s texture, but we can follow footsteps of the ›Invisible Cities‹ by Italo Calvino in its substance« (Serap Çakır). The novel tells the story of four prisoners locked in underground cells in Istanbul. As a form of survival strategy, they tell each other stories that revolve around the city on the Bosporus; tales that demonstrate that suffering and hope exist within the prison cell as well as outside of it.
Sönmez taught literature and creative writing at Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi (ODTÜ) in Ankara and wrote articles about literature, culture and politics for independent left newspapers in Turkey. He also translated the poetry of William Blake (1757–1827) into Turkish. Sönmez is a co-founder of the social and cultural organization TAKSAV as well as a member of the International Society for Human Rights. He lives in Istanbul und Cambridge.