The Turkish influence on contemporary Germany, and Berlin in particular, is undeniable. Some 200,000 people with Turkish heritage call the Hauptstadt home; without them, it would not be the Berlin we know and love. It’s time we acknowledged literature from Turkey (and Turkish Germany), and there is no better time to do so, with a slew of fabulous recent and upcoming translations.
Anglophone readers have long associated Turkish literature only with the melancholy, Istanbul focus and vague liberalism of Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. Now they probably also know novelist Elif Shafak, who has generated a global following – and some controversy – by exploring topics like sex work, patriarchy and the Armenian genocide.
Özdoğan’s beautiful novels are standalone literary achievements; as sources of insight into the 20th century’s complex Turkish-German story, they are indispensable
And last month saw the New York Book Review release celebrated author Ferit Edgü’s The Wounded Age and Eastern Tales (trans. Aron Aji), his first major appearance in English. Edgü’s dark, lyrical stories are all impressive, but the opening novella, which dramatically confronts readers with the ethnic-nationalist violence committed in eastern Turkey’s mountainous regions, is unforgettable. Two more exciting 2023 releases are Tezer Özlü’s Cold Nights of Childhood, a feminist novel exploring sexism and desire, and Dying is Easier than Loving, a new novel about the Ottoman Empire by formerly imprisoned author (and minority rights advocate) Ahmet Altan.
Turkish Germany, especially Turkish Berlin, continues to produce a rich current of literary activity. Last year, playwright, author and national treasure Emine Sevgi Özdamar was awarded Germany’s coveted Büchner Prize. Readers of German should check out her recent autobiographical novel as well as two gems published by Verbrecher Verlag, the epic poetry sequence Berliner Trilogie (“Berlin Trilogy”) by Aras Ören and the intergenerational novel Vater und Ich (“Father and I”) by Dilek Güngör. Shamefully little Turkish-German writing has been translated into English.
Still, those interested in Özdamar can read The Bridge of the Golden Horn (2009), while a translation of Dschinns (“Djinns”), the impressive second novel by star journalist and author Fatma Aydemir is forthcoming. Meanwhile, Berlin’s own V&Q Books is about to publish A Light Still Burns, the third and final instalment in Cologne-born Selim Özdoğan’s border-crossing Anatolian Blues trilogy (all translated by Ayça Türkoğlu and Katy Derbyshire). Özdoğan’s beautiful novels are standalone literary achievements; as sources of insight into the 20th century’s complex Turkish-German story, they are indispensable.
- This article was originally published in print shortly before devastating earthquakes struck parts of southern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday February 6th. You can read about how to donate to victims of the tragedy here.