Failure, Success, and Life in Turkey: Özge Samanci’s Dare to Disappoint

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When Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis reached worldwide audiences, the book legitimized the graphic novel form as a medium for nonfiction, personal perspectives on historical events. With Persepolis, Satrapi materialized a subject we would expect more in literature than in cartooning, opening the floodgates for other autobiographical stories to emerge in graphic novels and to be taken with seriousness and read by audiences inside and outside of the comicbook world. But, despite this climate ripe for more “serious” graphic novels, few other autobiographical stories have received such broad appeal and even fewer have given glimpses into historical topics and cultural traditions bypassed by western media and schools.

Thankfully, within the last year, multiple graphic novels have risen to carry on the flame of history based stories told through a relatable narrator. Sonny Liew’s outstanding 2016 novel, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, employs a fictional memoir to recount an unbiased view of the modern history of Singapore, and Özge Samanci’s 2015 release, Dare to Disappoint, gives us insight into the cultural and political of landscape of Turkey during civil war, martial law, and afterward.  

When you open Dare to Disappoint, you may have the temptation to draw parallels between Samanci’s work and the seminal Persepolis, but let me prevent you from doing so. Do both document the effects of cultural and political turmoil on a person? Yes. Can both books be classified as a Bildungsroman for women? Yes. Do both look at the Islamic fundamentalism? Yes. Are both autobiographical? Yes.

The two books have a substantial amount of content in common, but Dare to Disappoint has four factors that distinguish it from Persepolis: its tone, its visual style, its setting, and its narrator’s journey of maturation. Consequently, silence any initial instincts to dismiss Dare to Disappoint as a Persepolis wannabe because if you do not, you will miss out on an intimate view into Turkey in the 1980s and an encouraging tale for adolescents to think for oneself.

Cover for the light-hearted and relevant Dare to Disappoint

In Dare to Disappoint, Samanci captures the familial and societal pressures for professional success in a culturally repressed world and how all of those forces can influence and shape growth from childhood to adulthood. In under 200 pages, we see Samanci transform herself based on her desire to please various people in her life. Her teacher, Atatürk, the first president of Turkey, her father, and her sister all impact Samanci’s decisions throughout childhood and adolescence; the satisfaction of others takes first priority during these formative years. Even though Samanci has a wildness in her spirit that stems from her mother’s side, she mostly represses her desires to see the world and sea like her idol Jacques Cousteau and to work in the arts. As a result, by the time Samanci prepares to attend the same prestigious college as her sister, she has little self-confidence and possesses almost no understanding for what she really wants in life.

After continuing to follow the standards of others into adulthood, Samanci finds herself with a math degree she has taken too long to complete and a failed attempt to get a drama degree. Doing what will garner oohs and ahhs from neighbors and extended family has led her to failure in multiple ways, and ultimately, no one is happy, especially Samanci herself. Fortunately, failure tends to awaken a person, and by the end of Dare to Disappoint, Samanci finally realizes that thinking for herself has more value than her current course of conforming to the expectations of others; even though making her own decisions may lead to failure and disappointment, the disappointment in herself weighs heavier than the disappointment of others, especially since they will most likely be disappointed regardless, which she sees through everyone’s disappointment in Pelin, Samanci’s sister who graduates with a praised degree in engineering from the best school in Turkey but does not succeed in the field and works instead in a bank.  

As Samanci progresses, we see the changes happening to the Turkish political and cultural climate woven into the story of growth. Samanci’s observations on the severity of Turkish government on the daily lives of the nation’s citizens grow in depth and acuteness as she develops, and through these comments, we receive a perspective into Turkish history delivered without an overburdening omniscient narrator or a cold, sterile textbook presentation. This personal approach makes the understanding of Turkish history richer and more enjoyable. Occasionally, Samanci’s visual and tonal playfulness borders on the edge of too light, making the illustration of some moments in Turkish history feel far too jovial to be considered as an example of irony (one glaring case is the silliness of the drawings of the killings of the civil war between the liberal left and conservative right and the resulting military coup), but overall, the style effectively conveys the self-effacing nature of Samanci’s reflection on her own life.

With its vivid and lively visual style that mixes cartooning and artwork synthesized from images of real objects, Dare to Disappoint will appeal the most to teenagers, but it also has value for adults in its perspective on Turkish history. If you look at Dare to Disappoint and expect to find Persepolis, you will not get what you hope for, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Samunci’s Dare to Disappoint centers itself more on the road to failure via the desires of others and the realization of this truth, making Samanci’s path to adulthood far different from that of the strong-willed and impassioned Satrapi. Both novels inspire; both inform; both offer complex views into cultural and political change. They just take different paths to get to their final messages of enlightenment.

Created by Özge Samanci, Dare to Disappoint is available via Margaret Ferguson Books.

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