Zafer Şenocak (born 1961)

Zafer Şenocak was born in Ankara. His family moved to Munich in 1970. He studied German, politics and philosophy at the University of Munich. Since 1989 he has lived in Berlin. He is a poet, a novelist and an essayist. His works often mediate between Turkish and German culture; they show a deep awareness of the many tensions in today’s multicultural Germany.

Şenocak is one of the leading contemporary German authors of Turkish origin, alongside Feridun Zaimoğlu, Emine Sevgi Özdamar, Alev Tekinay, Selim Özdoğan and Aysel Özakin. 

Şenocak’s most successful novel to date is Gefährliche Verwandtschaft (1998); English translation by Tom Cheesman: Perilous Kinship (2011), which investigates the ‘three-way relationship’ between Germans, Jews and Turks.

Şenocak considers himself politically ‘neither “left-wing” nor “right-wing”’, rather ‘he sees himself more as a discerning free spirit’, in an interview with Lewis Gropp (2012) available here.

In practice, this means that Şenocak’s political positions are often liberal and neoliberal, not left-liberal. Politically, he draws on Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), which he references a newspaper article in Die Welt (25 February 2018), available here.

Şenocak supports the ‘open society’ and the rule of law, but he is also elitist and opposed to social equality, even claiming that ‘equality is against human nature’ (in Deutschsein. Ein Aufklärungsschrift, 2011, p. 42). Şenocak is also a cosmopolitan intellectual who insists on his hybrid identity, which is rooted both in East and West, in Europe and in Turkey. In the opinion piece ‘Von der Einsamkeit der aufgeklärten Muslime’ (On the Loneliness of Enlightened Muslims), published in Die Welt newspaper on 22 November 2015, he even calls himself a ‘bastard’; available here.

As Şenocak points out in another interview, he comes from a ‘mixed family’: ‘Ich selbst komme aus einer gemischten Familie. Meine Mutter kommt aus einer kemalistischen, mein Vater aus einer muslimischen Familie’; ‘I myself come from a mixed family. My mother was from a Kemalist (secular, modernising) family and my father was from a Muslim family’. In the same interview, he also states: ‘ich bin kein Gruppendichter. Ich bin viel zu sehr gemeinschaftskritisch’; ‘As an author I do not represent any group. I am far too critical of social groups in general’. The full interview is here: http://www.foreigner.de/in_zafer_senocak.html

Şenocak’s father was an enlightened, moderate Muslim, a publisher who emphasized liberal tendencies within the Islamic tradition. Like his father, Şenocak prefers progressive, enlightened tendencies within Islam. Unlike his father, he has openly denounced Islamic fundamentalism. His reflections on his father’s faith can be found in his book In deinen Worten: Mutmaßungen über den Glauben meines Vaters; In Your Words: Conjectures about my Father’s Faith (2016).

In his articles for Die Welt he has been highly critical of fundamentalist Islam and the current President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He has accused Islamist regimes such as Saudi Arabia, and, increasingly, Turkey, of abusing the rule of law and promoting fundamentalism.

Zafer Şenocak’s novels include:

Der Mann im Unterhemd (1995); The Man in his Undershirt

Die Prärie (1997); The Prairie

Gefährliche Verwandtschaft (1998); Perilous Kinship (2011)

Der Erottomane. Ein Findelbuch (1999); The Erottomaniac/The He-Ottoman: A Foundling Book

Der Pavillon (2009); The Pavillion

Zafer Şenocak’s poems include:

Das senkrechte Meer: Gedichte (1991)

(with Berkan Karpat) nâzım hikmet: auf dem schiff zum mars (1998); republished in futuristenepilog. poeme (2008); nâzım hikmet: on the ship to mars (2009)

Zafer Şenocak’s non-fiction works include:

Atlas des tropischen Deutschland (1992); Atlas of a Tropical Germany (2000)

Zungenentfernung. Bericht aus der Quarantänestation (2001); Tongue Removal: A Report from Quarantine

Das Land hinter den Buchstaben: Deutschland und der Islam im Umbruch (2006); The Land Behind the Letters: Germany and Islam in Transition

Deutschsein: Eine Aufklärungsschrift (2011); Being German: An Educational Essay

Mutmaßungen über den Glauben meines Vaters (2016); In Your Words: Conjectures about my Father’s Faith

Das Fremde, das in jedem wohnt: Wie Unterschiede unsere Gesellschaft zusammenhalten (2018); The Foreign in Everybody: How differences hold our society together

English Translations

Zafer Şenocak, Atlas of a Tropical Germany: Essays on Politics and Culture, 1990-1998, trans. by Leslie A. Adelson (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000)

Zafer Şenocak, Door Languages, trans. by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright (Bookline, MA: Zephyr Press, 2008)

Berkan Karpat & Zafer Şenocak, nâzım hikmet: on the ship to mars, trans. by Tom Cheesman (Swansea: Hafan Books, 2009) [free download available here]

Zafer Şenocak, Perilous Kinship, trans. by Tom Cheesman (Swansea: Hafan Books, 2011) [ebook download available here]

Zafer Şenocak, ‘Fragments of Memory: Excerpts from Zafer Şenocak’s Zungenentfernung’, trans. by Jessica Nicholl and Martina Schwalm, Transit 8.1 (2012) 

Further Reading in English

Tom Cheesman and Karin E. Yeşilada (eds.), Zafer Şenocak, Contemporary German Writers (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2003)

Tom Cheesman, Novels of Turkish German Settlement: Cosmopolite Fictions (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2007)

David N. Coury, ‘Enlightenment Fundamentalism: Zafer Şenocak, Navid Kermani, and Multiculturalism in Germany Today’, in Edinburgh German Yearbook 7: Ethical Approaches in Contemporary German-language Literature and Culture, ed. by Emily Jeremiah and Frauke Matthes (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2013), pp. 139-58

Lewis Gropp, ‘“It is a privilege to live in Germany” – An Interview with Zafer Şenocak’, Migration und Integration Magazine (Goethe Institut, 2012): http://www.goethe.de/lhr/prj/daz/mag/ksz/en8636968.htm

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

Zafer Şenocak, To Exit or To Escape, in Tales That Touch: Migration, Translation, and Temporality in Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century German Literature and Culture, ed. by Bettina Brandt and Yasemin Yildiz (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2022), pp. 337-38

Vera Stegmann, ‘Deutschsein: Zafer Şenocak’s Poetic and Enlightened Vision of a Cosmopolitan German Identity’, in Türkisch-Deutsche Studien Jahrbuch 2016: The Transcultural Critic: Sabahattin Ali and Beyond, ed. by Şeyda Ozil, Michael Hofmann et al (Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen 2017), pp. 119-38

Further Reading in German

Daniel Schreiner, ‘Deutsche Seelenzustände: Mittendrin und doch nicht dabei? Interview mit dem Schriftsteller, Herausgeber und Publizisten Zafer Şenocak an der University of Texas at Austin am 23. April 2015’, German Life and Letters 71:1 (2018), 89-110

Karin E. Yeşilada, Poesie der Dritten Sprache: Türkisch-deutsche Lyrik der zweiten Generation (Tübingen: Stauffenberg, 2012)

Web Links in English


‘“It is a privilege to live in Germany” – An Interview with Zafer Şenocak’, Lewis Gropp (Goethe Institut, 2012)


Zafer Şenocak on BBC Radio 4 ‘Letters from Europe’ (2015 – 15 minutes) 

Web Links in German


‘Ich bin kein Gruppendichter’ – Interview with Zafer Şenocak


Opinion piece by Zafer Şenocak in Die Welt, 5 June 2019 (other articles are also available on the same site)