It’s not until three quarters of the way through The Time Regulation Institute that the narrator explains what exactly the institute in the title even is. The author, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, is a preeminent Turkish writer whose works are just now being translated into English. This fine novel, translated by Maureen Freely and Alesxander Dawe, has just been published by Penguin Classics in a handsome French-flap edition. Helpfully they include a timeline of Turkish history as well as an introduction by Pankaj Mishra that sets the novel in context.
Explaining the novel is difficult. I was reading it on the subway each day and it took me over 200 pages to finally get caught up in the story. That sounds like a lot, but I’m really glad I stuck with it. Tanipinar’s allegorical novel satirizes the 20th century, using the rapidly changing Turkish culture to poke fun of both tradition and modernity. The narrator Hayri Irdal tells the reader about his life and how he helped found the institute for time regulation, which is exactly what it sounds like. His mentor Halit Ayarci takes Irdal’s love of watches and timepieces and creates an entire bureaucracy around the idea of making sure all clocks and watches are set to the same exact time. There’s more to the story, both about Irdal’s life and the eventual unraveling of the institute, but it’s complicated and frankly sounds crazy when I try to explain it.
Overall it’s a funny and smart novel, well worth your time reading. Based on this novel, Tanpinar is long-overdue for a wider audience in English, an audience I hope that embraces this charming writer.