Author Playlists

Nazlı Koca’s Playlist for Her Novel “The Applicant”

“Holding onto texts, sounds, and visual art saved me from sinking in a sea of sublime influences while I wrote The Applicant, which gets its title from a Sylvia Plath poem.”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Nazlı Koca’s The Applicant is a stunning novel as smart as it is engaging, an auspicious debut from a talented writer.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

“This is a book about some of the largest issues of our time—ethnic identity, national belonging, the psychological traumas of patriarchy and White supremacy, sexual ownership, feminist reckoning—but it is also, and perhaps primarily, a book about the intimacy between a character and a reader as one agrees to talk and the other agrees to listen. A powerful debut that heralds a voice intent on being heard.”

In her own words, here is Nazlı Koca’s Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The Applicant:

Holding onto texts, sounds, and visual art saved me from sinking in a sea of sublime influences while I wrote The Applicant, which gets its title from a Sylvia Plath poem.

Train by Paul Kalkbrenner

In Berlin Calling, Ickarus records the sounds of the S-bahn to use in this song which he makes in the psychiatric clinic he was put in after a drug overdose. I owe Icka for showing me how to turn the most disturbing noises in my head into words.

Visa från Utanmyra by Jan Johansson

Johansson’s jazz rendition of this Swedish folk song has been my go-to writing song ever since I heard it for the first time on vinyl in a stranger’s apartment, in either Malmo or Copenhagen, I can’t remember. But it was cold and I was falling asleep. I was twenty-five and had just left a ten-day silent meditation retreat. I wrote and published my first piece a week later while this song played on repeat.

First Gymnopédie by Yusef Lateef

Leyla, my narrator, plays this track at the end of a drug-fueled one-night-stand, which I suspect Lateef wouldn’t approve of, but would understand. He famously stopped performing where alcohol was served after he converted to Islam. Perhaps more people would have known his name if he hadn’t stopped frequenting jazz bars and dedicated himself to bringing African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian melodies into his music. But then we wouldn’t have this dreamy cover of Erik Satie’s western classic.

Ain’t Got No, I Got Life by Nina Simone

Leyla riffs on this iconic medley by Simone while she watches “What Happened, Miss Simone” and writes in her diary, working through the riddle of fearless self-expression.

Tanrı İstemezse by Müslüm Gürses

Müslüm Gürses, or Müslüm Baba as his fans called him as they cut themselves with the razors sold outside his stadium concerts for decades, is the father of Arabesque music in Turkey. His songs that gave voice to the pain of the working class were considered insults to Turkish culture by the higher classes until the 2000s, when he covered Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and Leonard Cohen songs with Turkish lyrics. This older Müslüm Baba classic from the 70s riffs off the Egyptian hit El Hob Kolloh composed by Baligh Hamdi. The Turkish lyrics carry his signature sadness, but, I think, Baba’s life story is the real reason why Leyla listens to Tanrı İstemezse after yet another party night while a stranger sleeps in her bed. His alcoholic and abusive father killed Müslüm’s mother in front of him when he was just a child. He survived the traumatic death of his mother, followed by the death of his brother and a car crash that left him with permanent brain damage, and died as one of the most respected musicians of Turkey. But not without a cost. He drank heavily all through his adulthood and was violent with his own wife, a famous actor who was twenty-one years his senior with her own demons. She stayed with him until he died.

Nazlı Koca is a writer and poet from Turkey who now lives in the US. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Notre Dame. She has worked as a cleaner, dishwasher, and bookseller while her work has appeared in the Threepenny Review, Bookforum, Second Factory, Chicago Review of Books, and books without covers, among other outlets. The Applicant is her first novel.

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