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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Time Regulation Institute

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar

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To purchase The Time Regulation Institute

Title: The Time Regulation Institute
Author: Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar
Genre: Novel
Written: 1962 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 407 pages
Original in: Turkish
Availability: The Time Regulation Institute - US
The Time Regulation Institute - UK
The Time Regulation Institute - Canada
The Time Regulation Institute - India
L'Institut de remise à l'heure des montres et des pendules - France
Das Uhrenstellinstitut - Deutschland
  • Turkish title: Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü
  • Translated by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe
  • With an Introduction by Pankaj Mishra
  • Previously translated by Ender Gürol (2001)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : enjoyable broad romp through early twentieth-century Turkey

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 12-1/2014 Nikil Saval
FAZ . 15/10/2008 Wolfgang Schneider
NZZ . 30/9/2008 Monika Carbe
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 5/1/2014 Martin Riker
Publishers Weekly . 21/10/2013 Saïd Sayrafiezadeh
TLS . 4/7/2014 Elif Shafak
Die Zeit . 16/10/2008 Stefan Weidner

  From the Reviews:
  • "Es geht nicht nur um die forcierte Europäisierung in der Türkei, sondern um problematische Begleiterscheinungen der Moderne im Allgemeinen. Das eigentliche Kapital des Buches liegt weniger in der Handlung als in den pittoresken und detailfreudig gezeichneten Charakteren." - Wolfgang Schneider, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Aber die Geschichte vom Aufbau des Uhrenstellinstituts wird von A bis Z in allen Einzelheiten berichtet, und mit den minuziösen Details von Plan und Realisierung -- bis zum bitteren Ende -- erlaubt sich der Autor einen Spass, entwickelt er sie doch als Satire auf den Prozess der türkischen Staatsgründung." - Monika Carbe, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "I wonít say more here about the elaborate allegory Tanpinar builds around his "Institute" (...), except that it ends up being the most comprehensive satire of what we would call NGOs and nonprofit organizations Iíve ever read. Nor are regulation and bureaucracy Tanpinarís only targets, for each character he introduces along the way brings into the book another lofty belief system ready to be lampooned. (...) Tanpinarís comedy is driven more by characters than language." - Martin Riker, The New York Times Book Review

  • "But this is not really what the novel is about. In fact, itís difficult to say what the novel is really about. Some of its confounding nature is due to the Western readerís inability to discern, for instance, the historical significance of a character who skips Arabic and Persian words while reading. Most of the confusion, though, is Tanpinarís responsibility; he has assembled a compendium of past events but hasnít dramatized them." - Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, Publishers Weekly

  • "The story revolves around three philosophical arguments: about the existential gap between the past and future (what one is in reality and what one wants to become ideally); the impact of cultural homogenization in order to synchronize with the Western world; and the universality of human folly. (...) The translation deserves commendation." - Elif Shafak, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Der Roman ist eine Abrechnung mit der schönen neuen Welt, freilich ohne dass etwas jenseits davon die ihrer Wurzeln beraubten Menschen noch halten könnte. Das Resultat ist eine der abgefahrensten Grotesken der Weltliteratur, ein Werk, das in dem halben Jahrhundert seit seinem Entstehen zu seiner ganzen Bedeutungsfülle regelrecht nachgereift ist." - Stefan Weidner, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The 'Time Regulation Institute' that gives this novel its title is an inspired idea: a(n archetypal) bureaucratic organization with a vague, never too precisely defined mandate whose main reason for being is simply to be. So, for example, already when it is being formed more employees than could possibly be needed are hired, the thinking being that when the inevitable call for cutting back comes the Institute can just let go those employees whose sole purpose was to be the fat that could then be trimmed. Tanpınar was clearly inspired by Atatürk decreeing the adoption of 'Western' time (and the Gregorian calendar) across Turkey -- yet another step towards Western-style modernization -- and he spins an often absurdist fantasy around this idea of a Time Regulation Institute that takes advantge of these new obsessions with, among other things, time(-keeping), bureaucracy, more structured and ordered workplaces, all adopted with something of a Turkish spin to them.
       The Institute is, on the one hand, an organization devoted to the upkeep of uniform timekeeping (in a country -- Turkey, at the beginning of the twentieth century -- where the clocks still tended to go their own way and rarely were in agreement ...), and among its most successful innovations is fining people for keeping the wrong time. Elsewhere the narrator suggests its: "sole and earnest aim was to find new ways to economize on time". Initially, it is very successful, but ultimately the lack of a convincing raison d'être (and the dubiousness of some of its accomplishments) prove fatal.
       In fact, the novel opens at a time when the institute has been closed (or rather: "consigned to continuous liquidation"), its founder recently deceased, his acolyte, Hayri İrdal, now penning his memoirs. Hayri's life-account is, indeed, a full-fledged memoir, only getting back around to the story of the institute in the second half of the novel, as most of the first half focuses on his life until he become part of this grand project. .
       Hayri explains early on: "I simply wish to record a series of events I happened to witness", but his story is more personal- than event-centered, with the colorful cast of characters that determine much of his life playing prominent roles (and the Institute only really coming to the fore in the second half of the book). As such, the novel is a panorama of personalities in a sometimes rapidly modernizing Turkey -- an amusing variety of influential figures that determine much of Hayri's life.
       Hayri is watch- and time-obsessed from early childhood, and he's still young when he finds:

There was no longer any connection in my mind between the words "life" and "work". For me, life was a fairy-tale you invented while keeping your hands stuffed deep in your pockets.
       He doesn't take completely after his father -- "forever chasing after chimeras", with the possibility of attaining great riches (as the heir to his very wealthy sister) so close, and yet always out of reach -- but he too is buffeted by fate, rather than having much control over it. As a young married man he gets involved in the a complex lawsuit after the death of one of his not-quite benefactors -- a kindly man with little left to his name but who left behind drawers full of wills, and a family who suspect there must be hidden wealth somewhere and come crawling out of the woodwork after his death. The trial finds Hayri committed to psychiatric care -- but this leads him to the Viennese-educated Dr.Ramiz, who takes him under his wing,
       Dr.Ramiz is:
interested in psychoanalysis less as a means of treatment for individual patients than a science that might remake the world in its image, a road to salvation that rivaled the established religions.
       With such a clear conception of what he expects -- including proper symbolic dreams -- Dr.Ramiz's treatment doesn't allow for much active involvement of the patient; indeed, typically, at one session when Hayri finds his thoughts turning to clocks and his father he's relieved:
     Thank God Dr.Ramiz wasn't listening. He never really did.
       Even after Hayri's brief detention and in-depth sessions Dr.Ramiz remains a figure in his life: when the doctor forms his Psychoanalytic Society, Hayri, one of the nineteen other members (none of whom have medical training ...), is made it's director. And, in turn, there is, of course, eventually also a place for Dr.Ramiz at the Time Regulation Institute.
       Hayri's beloved first wife dies, but he takes another. Aside from various in-laws, his family does cause him a few problems -- his concerns about marrying off his beautiful daughter, his second wife's fascination with the movies (which goes so far as finding her convinced she is living in whatever the most recent movie she saw was, a disconnect from reality that it takes Hayri some time to get used to).
       In Halit Ayarcı Hayri finds a mentor with the grandest of visions, and Hayri is easily swept along in them. The Time Regulation Institute is Halit Ayarcı's brainchild, and for a while the idea soars:
One friend of mine praised me lavishly in the paper almost daily: "Innovation ! From top to bottom, unfathomable innovation beyond our wildest dreams ! Three cheers for innovation !"
       When Halit Ayarcı claims Hayri is working on a study, The Life and Works of Ahmet the Timely Hayri has to write about this (invented) figure. At first the book is a great success, but eventually of course it doesn't stand up to much scrutiny -- typical for much of what Hayri gets involved with:
I had become a confabulation and the term of my sentence was indefinite; my life was presented to me in daily installments like a serial in a magazine.
       Halit Ayarcı explains at one point:
Being a realist does not mean seeing the truth for what it is. It is a question of determining our relationship with the truth in the way that is most beneficial for us.
       Hayri, who has his passions and obsessions -- clocks and watches, certainly, but also a genuine love for his family -- is a decent sort who repeatedly finds himself quite in over his head. He's not entirely hapless, but can't really fight many of these currents -- and Halit Ayarcı's reality-twisting Institute is the apotheosis (and the final undoing -- though Hayri will probably be fine when all is said and done, too).
       Like A Mind at Peace, The Time Regulation Institute has an odd feel for a novel. Tanpınar's narration plods and rambles, rather than following a tightly structured arc; as such, it doesn't offer some of the reward and release readers have come to expect from novels (especially longer sagas like this one). The pleasure of this text is more in the details and the relationships -- though there is a complex structure beneath that does also make this considerably more than just a simple episodic life-story. Social and cultural critique are layered on throughout, with much likely escaping readers not familiar with Turkish history and culture (though the brief endnotes do help with the essentials), but Tanpınar doesn't crush his story under that -- it is entertaining throughout, even if some of the period- (and place-)detail remain beyond the reader's ken.
       The Time Regulation Institute is an enjoyable and often very funny story, and Tanpınar's writing in this nicely wrought translation by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe is a pleasure to read. One has to accept the different sort of pacing to the story here, giving the narrative an unusual kind of flow; if one can, it makes for a very nice ride.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 December 2013

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The Time Regulation Institute: Reviews: Other books by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Turkish author Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar lived 1901 to 1962.

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© 2013-2014 the complete review

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