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Bridge of the Golden Horn
Book Review by Beccy Reese, November 2007
Emine Sevgi Özdamar, Serpent's Tail, £10.99
The award winning Bridge of the Golden Horn was published in German in 1998 and fortunately for English readers has recently been translated with a wonderful introduction from John Berger.
Özdamar often uses her own life as a canvas for her narrative and there are many parallels here - arriving in Germany as a young woman in the 1960s from Turkey without a word of German and trudging back between the workers' hostel and a radio valve factory. Her descriptions of learning German from the sounds of words and reading captions in newspapers have such a sharp authenticity.
Her German writing has been noted for its "Turkish" style in the patterns of thought and speech. It is hard to know how much has survived translation, but there is unfamiliarity to the way the sentences run from one another smoothly and swirl around the scenes and the characters. The feeling of being a young woman surrounded by an unfamiliar world while at the same time discovering her social, political and sexual liberation is captured superbly.
While many of the people populating the novel are described in a nuanced manner, not through physical description but through their peculiar actions or mannerisms, other familiar characters appear. Salvador Allende and Richard Nixon hover in the background, Lenin's State and Revolution makes its mark and the communist hostel warden introduces Dostoyevsky, Gorky, Jack London, Tolstoy, Joyce, Sartre and a woman, Rosa Luxemburg.
The Vietnam War provides a focus for discovering the vileness of US imperialism as our nameless protagonist takes part in protests in Berlin and Paris. She discovers the political debates taking place in the Workers' Association and begins to take acting lessons too.
The acting takes us away from Germany on a freedom fling with a drama troupe into Turkish delight and delirium, where the next coup d'état is always just around the corner. Learning the necessity to lie low, the journey is made through Kurdish mountain villages to the Marmarasea.
A deft storyteller, Özdamar immerses you in these tales, reminding you how it feels when everything is new and everything is possible.
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