about me

A wonderful collage dear friend of mine Elizabeth Wolfson made for me and RUOT

“…we have to grope our way through so much filth and rubbish in order to reach home! And we have no one to show us the way. Homesickness is our only guide.”

-Steppenwolf, Herman Hesse

As a self-proclaimed hyphenated spirit, I’ve dedicated my life to exploring what it means to be home. Growing up in Turkey and living in Europe and the U.S. have brought me closer to finding an answer to the complex question of home. Or so I thought.

In his essay, “Minimal Selves” (1987),  Stuart Hall writes that every migrant is accustomed to two questions: “Why are you here?” and “When are you going back home?” The answer to the first question comes easily: for education? to better my life? political asylum?… what have you. The second question, however, is a turning point in every migrant’s life because the migrant, possibly for the first time, confronts the fact that there is no answer to it. “Migration,” Hall writes, “is a one-way trip. There is no ‘home’ to go back to” (44).

I would also add: once one leaves, there is no home to go back to even if one returns.

This complex notion of home is the point of departure for my research on diaspora literature. I’m beyond excited about my research and the cultural and sociopolitical possibilities that it opens up. But I want my posts here to be concise and explorative. I want theory and research to be accessible and meaningful. My hope is to bridge the gap between theory and popular discourse and to offer insight into the powerful connection between fiction and truth.

I read and write to make meaning of the past, present, and future. I always have. I grew up reading such geniuses as Ömer Seyfettin, Louisa May Alcott, Eleanor H. Porter, Jules Verne, and Evliya Çelebi. I then got on a path that led me to my beloved Midwest, where I did a Ph.D. in contemporary global anglophone literature. My research focuses on transnationalism, diaspora studies, and world literatures with an emphasis on migration and postcolonial literature. I currently continue to do my research and teach writing at Koç University in Istanbul. On RUOT, I will be writing reflections, focusing on all the wonderful books that are helping me shift my perception of what it means to belong in an increasingly fractured world.

(Maybe a few posts about my cat Vivi and Ofi too)

(You’re right. I’m joking)

(Maybe not)

You can connect with me and my cats Vivi and Ofi who have basically taken over my book page on Instagram: @readingundertheolivetree

What is it about the olive tree?

The title of my page is inspired by my upbringing. Although I grew up in the city, my grandparents had a summer house right across Greece in the beautiful Aegean. Starting at the age of six, I spent every summer in the sun by the sea among olive trees. I am thirty-one now as I write this blurb, and this tradition hasn’t changed. In fact, last summer I spent my mornings reading and writing at a cozy coffee shop outside under the shade of olive and fig trees. The sun, the sea, the smell of thyme and oregano, grapevines, and olive trees remind me to embody my authentic self.

Feel free to drop me a line, say hi, and/or share your thoughts–I’m enjoying the wonderful discussions I’ve been having with other readers and writers here!

23 thoughts on “about me

  1. Hi! Nice to meet you here in WordPress. 🙂 I used to love reading books when I was younger but I think I got busy with other things and my interest has shifted. 🙂 But I still read Spiritual books and novels once in a while. It takes me to a different experience and makes me forget about time especially when the book I’m reading is amazingly interesting. I will keep an eye on the books you have recommended and hopefully in my next visit to a book shop or even to a library I can get a chance to read them. Thanks so much for following our blog too. CHEERS! Kris and Aileen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kris and Aileen, nice to meet you as well! I absolutely get what you mean. When I am very busy, I try to squeeze in ten mins of reading before bed, and even that makes me feel better. 🙂 Thanks for your comment, and I look forward to reading your posts! -Neri

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on ReadMyLips and commented:
    This brings to mind Emerson’s quote “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Many variations on that theme but I think you’re spot on in your view that we can’t go home. It’s never the same as we remember so it really isn’t there is it? Think I’ve been ruminating too much in my isolation but it’s important that I #StayHome

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, thanks for sharing! Yes, I am fascinated with the constantly shifting notions of home. And you’re absolutely right, our self-isolation adds another layer to it. We are home, but are we really? Food for thought! -Neri


    1. Yes, exactly! Most of the time, it’s just a moment, or a feeling, or a smell that we hang on to, and sometimes that’s enough but other times, it’s sort of disheartening.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This makes me so homesick for Honolulu. I grew up in Hawaii, which is the US legally, but I think everyone who has ever been there can feel that culturally it’s still very distinct since it was its own kingdom before WWII. The world I grew up in has been completely destroyed, a similar-looking one stands in the same place. It was destroyed by the unstoppable passing of time. We still have the house I grew up in, but everything around it has changed, the neighborhood, the state, the country, the world… if I could go back to the 1980s I would be able to go “home”. I would need my grandmother alive to be home. In Spanish, a housewife is called alma de la casa, the soul of the house. My grandmother was my home in so many ways. Anyways, happy to have found your blog and wondering if you have a piece or are willing to write one introducing non-Muslims like my family to a bit of what it is like as a modern Muslim. I have a four-year-old daughter and she has never had any introduction to anyone Muslim, just because of our area. Just a few cities south of here, I grew up with a mixed school, and a mom came in and talked to us, and we always had Islamic friends in the school, but where we are we just don’t happen to… perhaps something simple when you have time: your favorite 3 and least favorite 3 aspects of the lifestyle and something about it you find inspiring? 💐

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi! Your reflection on home and your grandmother resonates with me and has warmed my heart and soul. It’s so precious to have these memories.

      And yes, it’s a great idea to write an introductory post about being a Muslim–I love that. I’ll probably write a longer blog about this, but I want to take some time to respond to your prompts.

      I like your question because it brings up an important point, which is anyone who identifies as a Muslim would tell you a different story about their lifestyle, depending on their lived experiences, where they grew up, how they live, where they reside, etc. So, “my” Muslim lifestyle is different from anyone else’s.

      For me, for instance, muslimness is more about culture and belonging than restrictive and prescriptive principles. In that sense, my three favorite aspects of my lifestyle as someone who identifies as Muslim would be: the emphasis on community, especially, the global community–the fact I can connect with anyone who identifies as Muslim around the world no matter what their “level” of piety is; the prayers that I memorized when I was a kid and the fact that I can take solace in them when I need it. Like habitually reciting the prayer/sura “ayet el kursi” when I feel fear of any kind; and although many conservatives refute the validity of this– I like that the Koran is a text that can be read and interpreted in multiple ways. I’m a reader after all, and I like that asking questions and seeking knowledge are the heart of the text that’s replete with symbols, metaphors, and stories.

      When it comes my least favorite aspects of the lifestyle, my number one is the way in which that traditional societal norms (like patriarchal values) and muslimness are entwined in most societies and communities. This is my main issue with the lifestyle. Although I’ve always challenged it, it’s still affected my life in various ways.

      And lastly, I find Sufism quite inspiring. I love its focus on interiority, the inner world, rather than the exterior. I also think that Sufism is a good lens that can help us disentangle the core of muslimness from the web of traditional values.

      I hope this helps 🙂 Thanks for your excellent questions!

      I’d be happy to hear what you’d like me to focus on in a post about being a “modern” muslim. On another note, have you heard of the show “Ramy” on Hulu? The show depicts the trials and tribulations of muslimness quite well. Not appropriate for a four-year-old, but you can have a look at it if you’re interested 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You have a fascinating life, mam. It’s inspiring.
    In the context of home, i would like to quote bruce lee who once said that, “But under the heavens, under the skies, we’re all but one family.” And also, because we as humans are always growing and learning, therefore i suppose we can even unlearn the tricks that the human psyche and world plays on us by gluing us to the spot we were born at and calling that singular place home. I believe a mere switch of perspective can help us defeat our psyche and that would be the perspective that we’re not born in a world of boundaries, but merely on one mother earth and the entire planet is our home. ♥ And every new horizon, is a new room discovered in our eternal home. ♥

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Neri, thank you for the follow. The concept of home is a bit odd for me at the moment. I’m home at my parents’ now but got ‘accidentally’ stuck here while renewing my UK visa (the visa centres are all closed for the time being). Since I got married last year, my mother said, ‘you’re a guest in this house right now’ obviously joking, but isn’t it odd that what one considers home goes hand-in-hand with our status? The place of a wife is next to her husband. I wonder how true that can be and how dangerous is to think a person is a home. But like you and your olive tree, home for me is where I have my bookshelves. 🙂

    Another thing about being an immigrant in a foreign country is that I need to think twice or thrice before adopting a pet. I have a dog at home (ups, my parents’ home) and would love to have another one but I guess moving around with pets is not easy. Hope you and your kitty travel plan goes well.

    ps. My husband is from Istanbul and I long to go back to the city. The food!! The architecture! *sigh…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, your note has made me smile 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story. I love how you mention that “what one considers home goes hand in hand with our status”– this is so true, and I think it is the shifting nature of “our status” that makes the concept of home challenging. I hope that the embassies reopen soon and all goes well for you as you move from one “home” to another. 🙂

      And yes, I know too well the anxieties that surround the idea of getting a pet. I’ve actually been thinking about this lately because I’ve been preparing my cat Venus for her move with me. God knows, it’s quite stressful, especially post-pandemic. But I think I finally made the decision to adopt a cat three years ago because I wanted to feel at home, if that makes sense. It’s strange how I feel like I will be fine as I transition into my new-old (?) life in Istanbul with her.

      Speaking of Istanbul… yes! I miss the food and the city so much. I hope you get to visit soon!


      1. I cannot imagine moving abroad with a pet in time like this, I wish you and Venus all the best. If I knew I’d be staying in the same country for more than three years, I might think about getting one too. My pets have kept me sane, especially now more than ever. Without even trying much they have been the biggest support system. I wish you and Venus a nice and smooth transition in Istanbul! 🙂 And yes, hopefully next year I can visit Istanbul. 🙂


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