Emine Sevgi Özdamar
Özdamar is one of the leading contemporary German authors of Turkish origin, alongside Feridun Zaimoğlu, Zafer Şenocak, Alev Tekinay, Selim Özdoğan and Aysel Özakin. She was awarded the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in 1991 and the Kleist Prize in 2004. In 2007 she was made a member of the German Academy for Language and Literature (Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung).
In 2022 she was awarded the Georg Büchner Prize, the most prestigious literary prize in Germany.
Özdamar was born in 1946 in Malatya in Turkey. The first nineteen years of her life are fictionalised in her first novel, Das Leben ist eine Karawanserei; Life is a Caravanserai (1992).
In 1965 she moved to West Berlin and worked in a factory as a Gastarbeiterin (female guest worker) for two years. From 1967 to 1970 she attended drama school in Istanbul. She witnessed the military coup d’état which occurred in Turkey in March 1971, which led to the violent repression of leftist political parties. Özdamar remained in Istanbul and worked as an actress until 1975. This decade of her life forms the basis of her second novel, Die Brücke vom goldenen Horn; The Bridge of the Golden Horn (1998), which ends in November 1975 as the narrator boards a train for Berlin.
In 1976-77 Özdamar worked as a directorial assistant at the Volksbühne (People’s Theatre) in East Berlin. This experience forms the basis of Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde; Strange Stars Stare to Earth (2003). This text is the odd one out in the series, because it is not categorised as a 'novel', and it contains extracts from her diary.
Volume 4 in the series returns to the genre of autobiographical fiction ('autofiction'): Ein von Schatten begrenzter Raum; A Space Bordered by Shadows (2021).
Özdamar’s works address the theme of belonging to, and experiencing, different cultures simultaneously. Her characters are often in transit, and they are constantly forced to negotiate linguistic and cultural differences. These cultural negotiations are played out by means of linguistic experimentation. In this way, Özdamar’s fiction offers insights into the ways in which identities are shaped and reshaped through language.
Özdamar’s German appears simple, but it is deceptively so. Her narrative technique sometimes seems naïve, but this enables her to avoid sentimentality and maintain a distance from the events which she narrates, which are often comic and often tragic. Her prose weaves in neologisms, elements of Turkish and Arabic, as well as Turkish German slang and deliberate grammatical errors, in order to explore her own hybrid identity and the different cultures she encounters in Turkey and in East and West Germany.
According to Stephanie Bird, metaphors are an important aspect of Özdamar’s work because they have a cognitive function, suggesting both an affirmation of Turkish culture and an affirmation of the role of fiction in the articulation of subjectivity (see below, Stephanie Bird, pp. 209-16).
In 2007, Özdamar published a Turkish-language memoir of the Turkish poet Ece Ayhan Çağlar (1931-2002). The title is: Kendi Kendinin Terzisi Bir Kambur. A section from this text was translated into German by Dilek Dizdar as ‘Ein buckliger Mann, Schneider seiner selbst’; ‘The Hunchback as His Own Tailor’, and published in Akzente 5:5 (2008), 436-45.
Karagöz in Alamania; Black Eye in Germany (1982)
Keloglan in Alamania; Keloglan [Orphan Boy] in Germany (1991)
Sterben in der Fremde; Dying in a Foreign Country (2011)
Collections of Short Stories:
Mutterzunge; Mother Tongue (1990)
Ein von Schatten begrenzter Raum; A Space Bordered by Shadows (2021)
Mother Tongue, trans. by Craig Thomas (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1994)
Life is a Caravanserai Has Two Doors I Came in One I Went Out the Other, trans. by Luise von Flotow (London: Middlesex University Press, 2000)
The Bridge of the Golden Horn, trans. by Martin Chalmers, intro. by John Berger (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2007)
Further Reading in English
Leslie A. Adelson, The Turkish Turn in Contemporary German Literature: Toward a New Critical Grammar of Migration (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)
Elizabeth Boa, ‘Özdamar's Autobiographical Fictions: Trans-National Identity and Literary Form’, German Life and Letters 59:4 (2006), 526-39
Tom Cheesman, Novels of Turkish German Settlement: Cosmopolite Fictions (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2007)
Margaret Littler, ‘Intimacies both Sacred and Profane: Islam in the Work of Emine Sevgi Özdamar, Zafer Şenocak, and Feridun Zaimoğlu’, in Encounters with Islam in German Literature and Culture, ed. by James Hodkinson and Jeff Morrison (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2009), pp. 221-35
Margaret Littler, ‘The Fall of the Wall as Nonevent in Works by Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Zafer Şenocak’, New German Critique 116 (2012), 47-62
B. Venkat Mani, Cosmopolitical Claims: Turkish-German Literatures from Nadolny to Pamuk (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2007), Chapter 2 on Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde, pp. 87-117
Frauke Matthes, Writing and Muslim Identity: Representations of Islam in German and English Transcultural Literature, 1990-2006, igrs books vol. 6 (London: Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, 2011)
Isolde Neubert, ‘Searching for Intercultural Communication: Emine Sevgi Özdamar – Turkish Woman Writer in Germany’, in Post-war Women’s Writing in German: Feminist Political Approaches, ed. by Chris Weedon (Oxford: Berghahn, 1997), pp. 153-68
Azade Seyhan, Writing Outside the Nation (Princeton and London: Princeton University Press, 2001), Chapter 5 on Özdamar, pp. 125-50
Yasemin Yildiz, Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012)
Further Reading in German
Elizabeth Boa, ‘Sprachenverkehr. Hybrides Schreiben in Werken von Özdamar, Özakin und Demirkan’, in Interkulturelle Kommunikation. Zur deutschsprachigen Prosaliteratur von Autoren nicht deutscher Herkunft, ed. by Mary Howard (Munich: Iudicium, 1997)
Emine Sevgi Özdamar, ‘Ein unzeitgemäßer Üsküdarer. Über den Dichter Ece Ayhan’, trans. into German by Dilek Dizdar, Akzente 5:5 (2008), 436-45
Angela Weber, Im Spiegel der Migrationen. Transkulturelles Erzählen und Sprachpolitik bei Emine Sevgi Özdamar (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2009)
Annette Wierschke, Schreiben als Selbstbehauptung: Kulturkonflikte und Identität in den Werken von Aysel Özakin, Alev Tekinay und Emine Sevgi Özdamar (Frankfurt am Main: IKO, 1996)
Further Reading in Turkish
‘Emine’ Sevgi Özdamar, Kendi Kendinin Terzisi Bir Kambur. Ece Ayhan'lı anılar, 1974 Zürih günlüğü, Ece Ayhan'ın mektupları (Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2007)
Web Links in English
An introduction to the work of Emine Sevgi Özdamar by Harald Jähner
Introduction to Emine Sevgi Özdamar by Lizzie Stewart
Web Link in German
2012 Interview with Emine Sevgi Özdamar (in German)