Gefährliche Verwandtschaft (1998); Perilous Kinship (2011)
Şenocak’s most successful novel to date is Gefährliche Verwandtschaft (1998); English translation by Tom Cheesman: Perilous Kinship (2011) (the title could also be translated as ‘Dangerous Affinities’. The novel investigates the ‘three-way relationship’ between Germans, Jews and Turks. This mixed cultural heritage is embodied by the main protagonist, Sascha Muhteschem, whose father is a Turk and whose mother is a Jew.
Sascha lives in Berlin with his girlfriend Marie, who is filming a documentary about Talaat Pasha (1874-1921), one of the architects of the Armenian genocide, who was assassinated in Charlottenburg, Berlin by an Armenian student. Marie also has a mixed heritage: her father’s family were Huguenots, her mother’s family came from Silesia (p. 20). The location in Berlin enables Sascha to reflect on how Germany has changed in the last decade: since reunification in 1990, identity politics is back in fashion (p. 129). Sascha struggles to come to terms with his complex heritage: ‘Ich bin der Enkel von Opfern und Tätern’; ‘I am the grandson of perpetrators and victims’ (p. 40).
Sascha is writing a fictional account of his paternal grandfather’s suicide in Berlin in the summer of 1936 (p. 23), when he discovers a box containing his grandfather’s notebooks, written in Arabic and sometimes in Cyrillic script. There are twenty notebooks covering the years 1916-1936 (pp. 13-14). Aged 25, his grandfather was a perpetrator in the Armenian genocide – he was one of the first to draw up a list of deportees (p. 40). Later, in 1919-21, he worked for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, spying on the occupying forces in Istanbul. In 1921 he fought on the western Anatolian front against the Greeks. Sascha decides to have the notebooks translated – but the translation will take a year to complete.
Sascha feels a flash of recognition when he is described as ‘einen Möchtegern-Deutschen’; ‘a would-be German’ (p. 130); but the text recognizes that assimilation into German culture is fraught with difficulties. At one point in the novel, Sascha’s German friend Heinrich - who is researching the history of circumcision - comments:
‘Die Deutschen haben nichts aus der Geschichte gelernt […] jetzt haben sie sich die Türken ins Land geholt. Dabei sind sie nicht einmal mit den Juden zurechtgekommen.’ (p.82)
‘The Germans have learned nothing from history […] now they have brought the Turks into the country. And yet they never even came to terms with the Jews’.
Tom Cheesman argues that Şenocak has deliberately avoided writing a detailed family saga; instead he regards Gefährliche Verwandtschaft as a ‘collage of tropes and discourses’ that traces ‘the intensity of a struggle over “identity” in which that very term […] becomes a hollowed-out metaphor for something fatefully wrong in language, history and culture’ (Cheesman 2007, p. 106).
Further Reading in English
Tom Cheesman, Novels of Turkish German Settlement: Cosmopolite Fictions (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2007), pp. 102-08
Katharina Hall, ‘“Bekanntlich sind Dreiecksbeziehungen am kompliziertesten”: Turkish, Jewish and German Identity in Zafer Şenocak’s Gefährliche Verwandtschaft’, German Life and Letters 56:1 (2003), 72-88
Pelin Kivrak, ‘Unburdening the Past: Transhistorical Representations of Complicity in Contemporary Turkish-German Fiction and Film’, Comparative Literature Studies 56:4 (2019), 827-46
Margaret Littler, “Guilt, Victimhood, and Identity in Zafer Şenocak's ‘Gefährliche Verwandtschaft’”, The German Quarterly 78:3 (2005), 357-73
Monika Shafi, ‘Joint Ventures: Identity Politics and Travel in Novels by Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Zafer Şenocak’, Comparative Literature Studies 40:2 (2003), 193-214
Further Reading in German