Holiday Country

By Inci Atrek

(Flatiron Books)
Interview by Diane Slocum

Ada was born and raised in California with a Turkish mother and American father, but she and her mother spend their summers at her grandmother’s villa in the Turkish beach city, Ayvalik. Though she loves the lazy summer days of swimming in the sea and hanging out with her
friends, this duality always leaves her feeling a little out of place in both locations. Near the beginning of the summer when she is nineteen, she meets an old flame of her mother’s. Her interest in him quickly develops into an obsession. On top of this, she has to deal with her controlling grandmother who tries to dominate the lives of both Ada and her mother.

AUTHORLINK: What was your first thought about this book?

“The core idea for the novel was the story of a character’s desperation for belonging…”

ATREK: The core idea for the novel was the story of a character’s desperation for belonging and sense of identity, and how that desperation can lead to disastrous results. Because I grew up between the U.S. and Turkey and had many conflicting emotions about my dual identity, I knew that I wanted to tell the story through that lens, and those places.

AUTHORLINK: How did you develop it from there?

ATREK: I worked for a few years on a novel that I knew in my heart wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. It took place mostly in Istanbul, partly in the past, and was also a mother-daughter story. When I knew I had to let it go and write a completely new book, I decided to choose my favorite chapter from the old manuscript – the chapter I had the most fun writing – and rebuild everything from there. My favorite chapter was the only one that took place in Ayvalık, and that’s how Holiday Country came to be.

AUTHORLINK: Did you use any of your own experiences as background for your characters and locations?

ATREK: Like my main character, Ada, I spent my summers at my grandmother’s house in Ayvalık. Location is very important to me, and I’ll probably continue to only write about places that hold a special place in my heart.

AUTHORLINK: What did you have to research?

ATREK: I didn’t do much research for this novel since I was already quite familiar with the setting and culture.

AUTHORLINK: How long did you work on the book and how did that influence how it eventually turned out?

ATREK: This was my first novel, and I spent about 10 years getting it to a place that I was happy with. About half of that time was spent on the first manuscript that didn’t pan out, and the second half on Holiday Country. The general theme didn’t change much; the elements were the same: mother-daughter, multicultural, identity, belonging, Turkey, strong sense of place. From a craft and character perspective, however, the story vastly improved.

AUTHORLINK: A technical question: Why didn’t you use quotation marks when Ada was speaking to her mother?

“…the story is really about a mother-daughter relationship.”

ATREK: Though the plot driving the story is about Ada’s obsession with an older man, the story is really about a mother-daughter relationship. That stylistic choice supports Ada’s fear about her entanglement with her mother, and how she is doomed to inherit her fate. When Ada speaks to her mother, she’s not speaking as a separate entity, but as a part of her.

AUTHORLINK: What do you hope people gain from your novel besides just enjoying a good story?

ATREK: Everyone takes away something different from a novel, so that’s not really for me to say. However, I do love it when I hear from readers with multicultural backgrounds that they’ve seen their own experiences reflected on the page, and that the book has helped them sort through repressed or complicated emotions.

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?

ATREK: I’m currently at work on another novel that takes place in a small town in Europe. While Holiday Country was about family, identity, and belonging, this story (as it stands now) explores power, betrayal, and friendships. The plot itself keeps shifting, but — as always! — I know that even if everything else changes, the location will stay the same.

About the Author: Inci Atrek earned a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing from Wellesley College. She has lived in London, San Francisco, Dublin, Singapore, two small French towns and now, Istanbul.