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Book review of the novel “Ellbogen” by Fatma Aydemir. What is the story behind this coming-of-age tale?
Lost in self-discovery and at the same time on the run to Erdogan’s Turkey, Fatma Aydemir’s novel “Ellbogen” recounts the journey of a young woman.
Book review: What is Fatma Aydemir’s novel “Ellbogen” about?
At first, Fatma Aydemir’s debut is the story of a young woman born and raised in Germany and trying to find her place in the modern country among the old-fashioned traditions of her Turkish parents. Under these conditions, however, the failure of a forward-looking woman is almost prescribed, according to the author.
„Ellbogen“ is littered with clichés
The lines just spit out cultural clichés. Clichés that paint the picture of a supposedly typical young woman with Turkish roots and tradition-conscious parents in Germany. The family of first-person narrator Hazal lives in a far too small apartment in Berlin’s Wedding neighborhood, which is known primarily for a socially weaker society. The stereotypes are surrounded by current events that pile up. These events show the reader that this is not pure fiction, but could very well happen. Precisely by bringing it back to reality, Fatma Aydemir fails to break stereotypes, but rather reinforces them to an extreme.
Whether it’s the terrorist attack at Istanbul airport, the totality of Erdogan’s regime or even the Kurdish independence efforts – it seems as if every political situation, no matter how important, is addressed in this book. However, the situation of the German nation also gets enough space to boast. Fatma Aydemir has also included the subway beating that often occurred during this time.
Surprising break from the subway beating
The beating hits the reading person completely unexpectedly. The main character Hazal celebrates her 18th birthday with her three best friends – despite her parents’ prohibition. But rejected by the bouncer, the party ends sooner than expected.
“The only person on the track is a guy in his twenties, a student. He wears a striped jute bag and funny glasses with small round lenses.” The student is also stereotyped by Fatma Aydemir almost out of habit. “I like dominant women. […] Do you want me to show you my dick?”*
Under the influence of alcohol and drugs, the girlfriends beat this complete stranger to death at the subway stop because of this very statement and throw him onto the train track. Out of nowhere, Hazal then wakes up in Istanbul. Again, a completely unexpected break. In the second part, Fatma Aydemir describes Hazal’s escape.
Hazal’s family, a German-Turkish family that fits the stereotype?
The protagonist Hazal is the daughter of a cab driver and a housewife who has a penchant for melodrama. Apart from drinking tea and watching Turkish love series, the portrait of the mother does not reveal much else. Whereas she would like to get divorced. Hazal’s brother is a petty criminal and under the perspective Hazal still gets off quite well. She attends a vocational training program and works moonlighting in her uncle’s bakery. In the evenings, when the whole family has fallen asleep, Hazal skypes with her Facebook friend Mehmet. Mehmet is also a German-Turkish citizen, but he was deported to Turkey because of criminal offenses.
We don’t get an answer in the book to the question why Fatma Aydemir doesn’t surprise us with the portrayal of the family. In this day and age, we no longer need all these clichés and alleged patterns. However, there is one person who stands out in the so frustrating portrayal.
Aunt Semra is the bright spot of the novel. She studied social pedagogy and is terribly emancipated. A little too much for the rest of the family, because Aunt Semra has no children in her early 30s and is unmarried.
Who is the author Fatma Aydemir?
Fatma Aydemir, who was born in Karlsruhe in 1986, is a journalist. She studied German and American studies in Frankfurt am Main. The Berlin-based editor of taz also writes for various magazines as a freelance author. Through her work at taz, she dealt a lot with Turkey’s political issues, which thus explains her picking them up in the novel.
Nevertheless, the plot suffers heavily under the weight of the many political themes. They sometimes seem out of place. Much is described very superficially, especially the milieu. Everything just rushes by and the coming-of-age novel doesn’t pull you in. It seems heavy.
In the second part of the novel, when Hazal has fled to Istanbul. The anticipatory clichéd plots just pick up speed. She finds accommodation with Mehmet, who is apparently always high, and his roommate, who is classified as dangerous by Turkish police and is also arrested relatively quickly. Hazal’s behavior has not changed in Istanbul. As if in a trance, she continues to live despite everything.
Wake up Hazal!
The only thing you wish for the whole time is not full-filled by the novel – to pinch Hazal tightly, maybe shake her and hope she wakes up. One wishes Hazal would wake up and think with a dose of common sense. The protagonist goes off the rails in front of the person reading one would so love to help. The right decisions are presented to her on a silver platter, but she resists. One wishes for more depth to this novel, which could have gained so much strength with it.
With enough distance and internalizing that clichés don’t fit the norm, this coming-of-age book can definitely be placed in the recommended reading pile.
“Ellbogen” by Fatma Aydemir was published by Carl Hanser Verlag in January 2017. Hardcover edition around 20 euros via Amazon.
*The quotes are translated into Englisch and might differ from an original translation.