Brooklyn-based game designer and animator Edanur Kuntman sat down with her grandmother Sureyya for a series of interviews near the end of her grandmother’s life as part of a project for college and discovered details that she hadn’t expected. Moved by her grandmother’s stories, Kuntman decided to put the memories into graphic novel form, and Tales From Behind the Window was the result.
Sureyya was born on the Turkish countryside in the town of Carsamba, a place Sureyya describes as dominated by men. When we first see her, she is roaming free near the sea, a long red scarf flowing wildly behind her, the exact opposite vision of a woman subjugated. But this is just before she finds out she is about to be married off to a man she doesn’t love by direction of her brother, who is the head of the family.
Sureyya doesn’t want this, but cultural pressure bear down on her, as does her mother. “The male dominance in Carsamba was essential,” Sureyya explains as she describes her hometown. “Their word was law.” This dominance had gone on so long that it went unchallenged, even by the women, and unfairness becomes the air that members of a culture breathe in. Sureyya can’t count on any support in her opposition to the arrangement.
But Tales From Behind the Window takes darker turns when Sureyya discovers the details behind her marriage arrangement and recounts a story from her childhood about her best friend detailing the systematic sale of children for marriage. It’s a terrifying memory for Sureyya, a horrible realization about where she came from, and an example of how sickness can be swept under the rug of history because thinking badly of friends, neighbors, even family, does not come naturally, and the victims just keep coming.
Kuntman’s cartooning style betrays her animation background, and this works well for the story, softening the sadness that hangs on it and allowing Turkey to burst forth despite the emotional darkness. The artwork also helps makes Tales From Behind the Window appropriate for younger readers who would do well to know the kinds of stories that sit in the minds of older people, helpful in measuring how far we’ve come and how much further still we need to go.
According to the organization Girls Not Brides Turkey still has one of the highest rates of child marriages in the world, with 790,000 girls — 1% of the population — married before the age of 15. Nearly 12 million girls are married before the age of 18. It’s the result of a lingering misogynistic cultural view that discourages education for women. It’s also the result of abuse, as the marriage of young girls is often used as a way to hide violence, and still a way to make money through dowries.
It’s a world-wide problem, though, not just Turkey’s. Kuntman’s admirable work here provides a worthy account of not only how long such injustices can lurk under the international radar, but how they can have a direct effect on the personal stories of people you might even know.