Emine Sevgi Özdamar

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‘Emine’ Sevgi Özdamar (b. 1946-) "Emine" Sevgi Özdamar is a Turkish born writer, actress and dramaturg who writes in German. She has been living in Paris and Berlin since 1976. Despite spending her childhood years in Turkey, she gained recognition with her first book as one of the masters of the German language which she learned after moving to Germany to pursue her passion for theater. Her first published story collection book, “Mother Tongue” not only gained attention in Germany, but was also translated into English, and was considered one of the best books of the year in America and England. For her first novel, Life is a Carvanserai, she recieved the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize (1991), one of the most prestigious literature awards in Germany, for “enriching the German language”; for her second novel, The Bridge of the Golden Horn which was published with John Berger‟s preface, she recieved the Heinrich von Kleist Prize (2004), another prestigious literature award. Even though she did not graduate from a university the popularity of her designs, puppets and collages prepared for the theater, led to Sorbonne 8-Vincenned University inviting her tostudy there for a PhD. Her works have been translated into 15 languages, were included in the list of “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” that was made in America in 2006. She was chosen as a member of the German Language and Literature Academy in 2007. In 2010, she received the Carl Zuckmayer Madal which is given every year in homage of one of the leading writers of Germany, Carl Zuckmayer. Together with her writing, she continues her theater works in Paris.

„Emine‟ Sevgi Özdamar was born on 10 August 1946 in Malatya. She spent her childhood traveling various cities in Turkey. Owing to the conditions of the time, her engineer father‟s business did not go well. Her family had to move from Anatolia to İstanbul, Bursa and lastly to Ankara. She started to be interested in theater when she was 12. She decided to be an actress, after her first theater experience on the stage with Moliére‟s “The Bourgeois Gentlemen” in Bursa City Theater. When she was 19, following her brother‟s departure for Switzerland to have an education, she went to Berlin to be closer to her brother and to satisfy her passion for theater in the years when Germany started to accept Turkish workers. From 1965 to 1967, she worked as a factory worker there. In 1967, she returned to İstanbul with her suitcase full of Bertolt Brecht discs and with her soul full of theater and the love of music. She studied theater until 1970. She studied under various theater geniuses including Muhsin Ertuğrul, Ayla Algan, Melih Cevdet Anday and Haldun Taner. Her first professional roles were as Charlotte Corday in Peter Weiss‟s Marat-Sade and as Widow Begbick in Brecht‟s Man Equals Man. (http://www.culturebase.net/artist.php?629) Between 1969 and 1979, she lived with Ece Ayhan and his mother in Üsküdar. Her name „Emine‟ was given to her by Ece Ayhan. Although she prefers Sevgi which is the name her mother uses, she has kept “Emine” as a souvenir of Ece Ayhan. In 2007, she published her memories of this part of her life, her journal that she kept when she went to Berlin to accompany Ece Ayhan during his brain surgery in 1974 and her letters sent by Ece Ayhan under the name of Kendi Kendinin Terzisi Bir Kambur.

After the 12 March coup d‟etat, the new condition in the country effected Emine Sevgi deeply. She explains one of her reasons for preferring to use German, rather than her mother tongue of Turkish, as the need to be able to write without fear of oppression. She felt that German gave her a liberty that Turkish would not considering the number of silenced writers and withdrawn books. As she expresses in her interviews, Brecht‟s songs and views were softened the difficulties of the period. With the affects of Bertolt Brecht and Heinrich Heine‟s essays and songs and the the lyrics in one of Bertolt Brecht‟s discs which she had bought when she had been to Berlin, she decided to leave her own country and her own language for certain. In 1974 she contacted Brecht‟s student Benno Besson via a friend in Zurich with whom she communicated through letters. In 1976, Besson took her on as his assistant stage manager in “People‟s Theater” (Volksbühne) in East Berlin. There she worked with Besson and another famous stage manager, Matthias Langhoff.

She told this part of her life in her Strange Stars Turn To Earth (Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde), the third book of her İstanbul-Berlin trilogy entitled as Sun In The Halfway (Sonne auf halbem Weg). In 1978 she moved to Paris and Avignon with Benno Bessonfor two years in order to stage Brecht‟s The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The collage she made out of wine bottles to make the puppets of the figures in the play has gained huge interest and has been placed in Maison Jean Vilar. For her designs, puppets and collages, even though she had not graduated from university, she was invited to Sorbonne 8-Vincenned University to study there for a PhD. From 1979 to 1984 she worked as an actress for the other famous stage manager Claus Peymann in Bochum Theater.

Around that time one of her friends gave her a worker‟s letter from which to write a story. The worker had been beaten by the fascists for being a leftist and half of his face had been paralyzed. Before he returned to Turkey, he had written an eight pages letter, starting “For my people and for to whom it may concern” and containing quotations from Marx and Nazım Hikmet. Özdamar contacted the theater director and was informed that she was expected to write a play about it. Consequently, she wrote her first play, Karagöz in Alamania (Schwarzauge in Deutschland) in which she tells the Dadaist endless journey of a peasant and his donkey, for Bochum theater. She intentionally uses broken German and tells the story of the peasent and his well-spoken, intellectual and clever donkey‟s journey to Germany and the story of how the donkey becomes a Marxist during the journey. When the play was put on stage in 1986 in Frankfurt, it was considered highly innovative, being the first play written in German by a Turkish writer.

She acted in the cinema at the same time. She acted in Hark Böhm‟s Yasemin, Doris Dörrie‟s Happy Birthday Türke and Matti Geschoneck‟s Journey into the Night. Her writing career which had started with her plays, gained speed with her first story book Mother Tongue (Mutterzunge). The translation of the book was chosen as one of the best books published in 1994 in America. The short story, Mother Tongue, in which Özdamar translates the Turkish term “ana dil” (mother language/native language) directly creating double meanings, considering that in German the word “zunge” is originally used in the meaning of the organ or in other words, mother‟s warm and wet organ of tongue, tells the story of the search of a woman who has lost her mother language. The protagonist of the story questions her language, origins and identity by means of her comings and goings between her mother tongue, Turkish, her grandfather‟s language, Arabic and her second language, German, which has also become her literary creation language. In 1991, she wrote her second play, Keloğlan in Alamania.

In the same year, she wrote Life Is A Caravanserai With Two Doors, Through One Of Which I Came, And Through One Of Which I Left. In the book, she tells her life story connecting her first 17 years in life starting from her mother‟s womb with three generations of her family and the political, economical and social history of Turkey. Prior to publication of the full text, she published a part of it for which she recieved the Ingeborg Bachmann prize. The literature world waited for her novel eagerly and when it was first published in 1992, it was considered to be the most important book of the year. In the same year, her novel was translated into Turkish. However, Özdamar did not consider the translation good enough and was diffident about her book translations in later years. In 2008, the book was published in Turkish with İlknur Özdemir's succesful translation.

The second book of the trilogy, published in 1998, The Bridge Of The Golden Horn, tells the story of a 17 year old girl's adventures in Berlin, İstanbul and Paris around the time of the 1968 movement. In 1999, she recieved Adalbert von Chamisso Prize. In 2000 her third play, Noahi and her story book, The Yard In The Mirror were published. The third book of the trilogy, published in 2003, Strange Stars Turn To Earth, tells the story of a divided East and West Berlin through the eyes of a young woman who has left her country, family and exhusband and come to Berlin in order to work in the theater in 1970s.

Another Turkish writer who has gained huge recognition in Germany with his Kanak Sprak, Feridun Zaimoğlu notes that he has been influenced by Özdamar‟s style. The influence was reflected, in May 2006 when German columnists, writing in culture sections of journals, discussed whether the characters in Zaimoğlu‟s novel Leyla were created from the motifs of Özdamar‟s Life Is A Caravanserai. Some claimed that there was more than just influence. In her statement in Frankfurter Rundschau, Özdamar noted that she was not going to accuse him of copying.

In February, 2010, the premiere gala of Özdamar's Perikızı (fairy girl) took place in Ruhr, the European Capital of Culture 2010. Even though Emine Sevgi Özdamar is the leading Turkish writer of Germany, until this database, not only is she not included in German literature canon but also her name did not exist in Turkish literature anthologies, since she is accepted as a part of German literature.

Her works:
Karagöz in Alamania. (Theaterstück, 1982) ; Mutterzunge. (Erzählungen, 1990); Keloğlan in Alamania, die Versöhnung von Schwein und Lamm. (Theaterstück, 1991); Das Leben ist eine Karawanserei, hat zwei Türen, aus einer kam ich rein, aus der anderen ging ich raus. (Roman, 1992); Die Brücke vom Goldenen Horn. (Roman, 1998) ; Der Hof im Spiegel.(Erzählungen, 2001); Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde. Wedding – Pankow 1976/77. (Roman, 2003); Kendi Kendisinin Terzisi Bir Kambur,Ece Ayhan'lı anılar, 1974 Zürih günlüğü, Ece Ayhan'ın mektupları, İstanbul, 2007; Perikizi. Ein Traumspiel, in: RUHR.2010, Uwe B. Carstensen, Stefanie von Lieven (Hg.): Theater Theater. Odyssee Europa. Aktuelle Stücke 20/10. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt a.M. 2010. Plays: Karagöz Almanya'da (oyun, 1982); Keloğlan Almanya'da (oyun, 1991) Nuhun Gemisi (oyun, 2000) Stories: Annedili (öykü, 1990) Aynadaki Avlu (öykü, 2001) Memoirs: Kendi Kendinin Terzisi Bir Kambur (öykü, 2007, Yapı Kredi Yayınları. Novels: Tuhaf Yıldızlar Dünyaya Bakıyor (roman, 2003)

Her works in Turkish: Hayat Bir Kervansaray (roman, 1992, Varlık Yayınları; 2008 Turkuvaz Yayınları); Haliçli Köprü (roman, 1998; Turkuvaz Yayınları, 2008). Her works in English: Mother Tongue (Coach House Press-1994); Life is a Caravanserai (Middlesex University Press-2000); The Bridge of the Golden Horn (Serpent's Tail -2009); The Courtyard in the Mirror, (-2006) trans. Leslie A. Adelson, Transit: Department of German, UCB, Berkeley.

Her works in French: La vie est un caravansérail ( Zoe, 1997); Le Pont de la corne d’or (Pauvert, 1999).

 1991 - Ingeborg Bachmann Prize (Life Is A Caravansarai)
 1993 - Walter Hasenclever Prize (Life Is A Caravansarai)
 1994 - NewYork The Best 20 Books Of The Year (Mother Toıngue)
 1994 - London Times The Best Book (Life Is A Caravansarai)
 1998 – North Ren Westfalya The Artist Of The Year
 1998 – Germany Northern Cities Literature Prize
 1999 – Adelbert-von-Chamisso-Preis
 2003 – Frankfurt City Writer Prize
 2004 - Kleist Award
 2010- Carl Zuckmayer Medal

Studies on Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s Works:
In Turkish:
Aytaç, Gürsel: “Dil-Kültür Bağını Sergileyen Cesur Bir Roman: E. Sevgi Özdamar‟dan Das Leben ist eine Karawanserei. Edebiyat Yazıları III, (1995): 221–226.
Ekiz, Tevfik. “Avrupa Türk Edebiyatı ve bir temsilcisi: Emine Sevgi Özdamar”. Çankaya Üniversitesi Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi, Journal of Arts and Sciences 7, (Mayıs 2007): 33-47.
Kuruyazıcı, Nilüfer. “Emine Sevgi Özdamar‟ın Son Romanı: Die Brücke über dem Goldenen Horn. Gurbeti Vatan Edenler. Almanca Yazan Almanyalı Türkler”. (2001): (265–272).
Timuroğlu, Senem. “Anne Dili‟ Arayışında Minör Bir Roman: Hayat Bir Kervansaray”. Lacivert Öykü ve Şiir Dergisi 33 (Mayıs- Haziran 2010): 61-68.

In English:
Brandt, Bettina “Collecting Childhood Memories of the Future: Arabic as Mediator Between Turkish and German in Emine Sevgi Özdamar's Mutterzunge”, Germanic Review, (2004): 295-315.
Fröhlich, Margrit. “Reinventions of Turkey: Emine Sevgi Özdamar‟s Life is a Caravanserai.” Jankowsky, Karen and Carla Love, eds. Other Germanies: Questioning Identity in Women‟s Literature and Art. Albany: SUNY Press, (1997): 56-73.
Ghaussy, Sohelia. “Das Vaterland verlassen‟: Nomadic Language and „Feminine Writing‟ in Emine Sevgi Özdamar‟s Das Leben ist eine Karawanserei.” German Quarterly 72.1 (1999): 1-16.
Jankowsky, Karen. “German‟ Literature Contested: The 1991 Ingeborg-Bachmann-Prize Debate, „Cultural Diversity‟, and Emine Sevgi Özdamar.” German Quarterly 70.3 (1997): 261-76.
Litter, Margaret.“Diasporic Identity in Emine Sevgi Özdamar's Mutterzunge”, Recasting German Identity: Culture, Politics, and Literature in the Berlin Republic (eds.) Stuart Taberner & Frank Finlay, Rochester, NY: Camden House-Boydell & Brewer, 2002. 219-234.
Mani, Bala Venkat. “The Good Woman of Istanbul: Emine Sevgi Özdamar's Die Brücke vom Goldenen Horn”, Gegenwartsliteratur 2, (2003): 29-58.
Seyhan, Azade. “Scheherezade‟s Daughters: The Thousand and One Tales of TurkishGerman Women Writers.” Brinker-Gabler, Gisela and Sidonie Smith, eds. Writing New Identities: Gender, Nation, and Immigration in Contemporary Europe. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, (1997): 230-48.
Seyhan, Azade “Lost in Translation: Re-Membering the Mother Tongue in Emine Sevgi Özdamar'a Das Leben ist eine Karawanserai” German Quarterly 69.4, (1996): 414-426.

Emine Sevgi Özdamar's novels deal with the story of a young girl who is in the phase of growing up. Her novels are examples of bildungsroman, novels whose main concern is the growing up phase of an individual. Özdamar‟s bildungsroman plot is characterised by her being an immigrant and a nomad, the central motivations behind her protagonist‟s acts. The first book of the trilogy begins in Istanbul and ends when the protagonist goes to Germany. The second and the third books tell the pratoganist‟s struggle to move to Germany permanently after she returned to Istanbul and her pursuit of a life in Germany. The young girl who is flying away from home, slowly loses her given identity and recreates herself through the experiences she has on her own. It can be said that German has given Ozdamar a freedom field to express and form her thoughts without being oppressed.

When read with the perspectives of Deleuze and Guattari, her novels can be considered as minor literature as they are the examples of a literature that is using the language of the majority and yet dealing with the minority. Her novels also meet Deleuze and Guattari‟s three principles: her language becomes a nomad itself, her political space and private space are intertwined with each other and she uses the sound of collectivity. While as a woman in a foreign country, her marginality is doubled, she also takes a dissident position against the central power. As a woman writer she uses her language as a war arena to weaken the patriarcal discourse. By translating Turkish phrases to German directly, she aims to deform the usual meanings of the words. As she makes the voices that are accepted as insignificant, heard, her own language also loses its nationality and it becomes a nomad or a wanderer just like herself. Her works can be considered feminist because her narrative language belongs to the ones hierarchically placed at the bottom: Little girls, crazy women, Armenian and Greek women, worker women and old women. Her search for an alternative identity and language as opposed to “woman identity” which is given by the cultural, ethnic or sexist discourses, stands out in her novels. Therefore, her novels stand at the crossing roads of minority literature and “feminine literature”.

Her personal history follows by the histories of Turkey and Germany. Her novels, each of which tell different historical phases of Turkey and Germany, are also important when taken as an alternative personal history standing against the patriarcal point of view of the major historical discourse. Her poetic language has similarites to Gabriel Garcia Marquez‟s magical realism. As the writer of the preface of The Bridge Of The Golden Horn, John Berger says, the secret behind Özdamar‟s success is her ability toturn the “truth” into a fairy-tale-like narrative with her exxagerated narration.

Life Is A Caravanserai With Two Doors, Through One Of Which I Came, And Through One Of Which I Left is the first novel of the trilogy. In the book, she tells her life story connecting her first 17 years in life starting from her mother‟s belly with three generations of her family and the political, economical and social history of Turkey. The girl is born in Circassian Mehmet‟s house in Malatya who is her grandfather that has immigrated from Caucasus. She moves to Istanbul with her father who aims to be an engineer in a metropolitan city, her mother Fatma, her grandmother Ayşe and her brother Ali who is three years younger than her. But in the unstabilized economical conditions of the 1950s, her father‟s work does not go well, he has debts, spends his money in night clubs and is imprisoned for a brief time. In order to run away from the payees and with the hope that Mustafa can try out new works, first they change their region in Istanbul, then they move to Bursa and Ankara. The family grows with the births of Orhan and Siyah Gül, but their financial issues don‟t improve. The little girl becomes a teenager surrounded by songs, prayers, fairy-tales, hopscotch, milk powder and TomMiks next to the strong women in her family. After her brother, Ali, went to Switzerland for his university education with a government scholarship when she was in high school, she decided to be a worker in Germany in order to see her brother easily. The novel begins in the train with her in her mum‟s belly and ends in the train with her headed to Germany.

The novel is new with both its subject and its hybrid language in the genre of “the literature of the guest workers” whose subject was the depression of the immigrants caused by the language and conformity problems, written by Turkish authors living in Germany. She is seen as a leading name by Turkish and German litterateurs for she has created a new way for the Turkish writers in Germany. Some Western critics accused her novels of being oriantialist and claimed that her novels were succesful because they present Eastern images to the Westerners, even through the titles of her books. While the Turkish bath scenes, superstitions, Eastern customs and usages and the emphasis on the central role of Islam in this picture remind the reader of orientalism, when it is analyzed carefully it is clear that Özdamar‟s aim is not re-creating orientalism, but to criticize and satirize it. Also, it can be said that the strong, independent, brave, sexually free and comfortable in her own skin young woman in her books is not the typical image of Eastern woman in the eyes of the Westerners.

The Bridge Of The Golden Horn takes place in the years between 1966 and 1975. The first part of the book, “The Sullen Station”, tells the story of a young woman who has come to Berlin for a year to work in a radio factory while she dreams of becoming an actress, spending her time only in the factory or in the women‟s dorm. She learns aboout Marx, Engels, Brecht, Chekhov and Gorki with the new communist dorm manager; she starts to go to Turkish Workers‟ Association and she becomes a part of the leftist Turkish students. In order to be an actress, she is adviced to get rid of her “diamond” which symbolizes her maidenhood in the novel. When her father finds out that she has not learned German yet after she returns to Istanbul, he lets her go back to Germany again to learn the language of German. Therefore, she returns to Germany to learn German and to get rid of her diamond in order to become a good actress. There, she reads Kafka and goes to a language school. She goes to Paris, falls in love for the first time and gets rid of her diamond. The second part, “The Bridge of The Golden Horn”, covering her return to Istanbul and her new life there, tells the story of her theater school and her experiences in the intellectual circles of the time. The first half of the book tells the story of Europe in the 1960s, immigrant workers, student organizations and literature, theater and sexuality in the new free atmosphere. The second half witnesses how 1968 was experienced in Turkey. The young girl becomes a member of the Workers Party of Turkey. As readers we see the party winning representation in the national parliament, events in the parliement, the leftist members of parliement like Çetin Altan being beaten by the rightist members, the intellectual sphere in which the girl takes part, her boyfriends, the newspaper titles and headlines, the university invasions, Deniz Gezmiş; briefly a whole panaroma of the era through her eyes. If Özdamar had written it in her mother tongue, Turkish, she would not have been free enough to express all of her thoughts. It is possible to think that as a woman who is sharing her sexual experiences, writing in German helped her to express her thoughts freely, too.

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