German-Turkish journalist and writer Fatma Aydemir is a rising star in her country's literary scene. (Photo courtesy of Bradley Secker)

Fatma Aydemir: Germany's New Literary Voice


MAY 03, 2018

Berlin. German-Turkish journalist and writer Fatma Aydemir is a rising star in Germany’s literary scene. Her critically acclaimed debut novel "Ellbogen" ("Elbow"), first published in 2017, follows the story of 17-year-old Hazal Akgündüz who grows up in Berlin between two different cultures, trying to find her place in this challenging world.

From May 2 to 5, Fatma will attend the Makassar International Writers Festival (MIWF) 2018. Already in its eighth edition, this year’s MIWF is held under the theme "Voice/Noise."

Invited by Goethe-Institut Indonesien and having caused quite some noise with Ellbogen by lending a voice to a whole generation of Germans with Turkish origins, Fatma seems to have been an obvious choice to join the festival.

Fatma, who herself lives in Berlin and works as an editor for newspaper "taz" as well as a freelance writer for several magazines, spoke to the Jakarta Globe prior to her departure to Indonesia.

Is this your first time visiting Indonesia? What are your expectations?

Yes, it is my first trip and I am really excited because I have been curious about Indonesia since my childhood. I will have the chance to see Yogyakarta, Makassar and Ubud, so I am expecting to learn more about the country, its culture, its history and the current political circumstances. I am sure that it will be a wholesome experience because Indonesia seems to be a very complex place.

You will, among others, be part of this year's Makassar International Writers Festival. Tell us more about your activities during the festival?

I will participate in several events during the festival, including panel discussions and readings. I am particularly looking forward to a reading for which I am paired with Indonesian writer Feby Indirani, whom I find really interesting. On Thursday, I will join a discussion at Universitas Negeri Makassar, where four writers, including myself, will talk about the influence of tradition and historical events on our writings.

Your debut novel Elbow was published during a time when the world seems to be at a crossroad. Many recent events have found a way into your book, from the refugee crises to the coup attempt in Turkey. Why was it important to you to write something contemporary?

I wanted Elbow to be a timeless book on the one hand – talking about themes that will always be part of human existence: loneliness, power, love, longing. But on the other hand I wanted the novel to tell something about its time. It's a story that takes place between two different countries, languages and societies, namely Turkey and Germany. But I also wanted to show that there are borders within society that separate people from each other. There are cracks in the belief that we all have the same privileges, because we don't. So the refugee crisis or the coup attempt are basically reference points, which ought to reveal how fragile certain structures have become at this time.

Growing up between two worlds and cultures can be challenging. Hazal, the main protagonist of your book, feels like she doesn't really belong anywhere and it makes her incredibly angry. What do you think could have been done in order to prevent this frustration and pain?

I don't know if anything can be done to prevent pain. I don't think pain is something that should be avoided, because it's what makes us sensitive human beings. But in Hazal's case, there is also a deep frustration about the unbalanced power situation in the world she is living in. Of course, it has to do with her being part of a minority – she is the daughter of Turkish immigrants – but it is also because she comes from a poor working-class family. And this is a worldwide problem. It's frustrating to not have the same access to certain privileges, such as a good education or a well-paid job. So, what can be done against that? This question is really bigger than me.

How much of yourself, Fatma, can we find in Hazal, and the other way around?

Hazal is my imaginary best friend. She is completely made up. But when I make something up, of course it consists of perspectives relevant to me, like certain situations and feelings I am familiar with. Hazal is a part of me and always will be. But I guess she doesn't really care about me.

Stereotypes play a big part in your book as well. What do you think can be done to shatter stereotypes, prejudice and clichés?

I think honesty and an open mind are very important. Because, to be honest: we all think in stereotypes, and that's okay, because it makes things easier for us. But we should be really careful and not stop questioning the clichés in our minds; because life can be much more interesting when the stencils in our head become useless and we try to get to know people as individuals and not as representatives of certain countries or religions.

You are a journalist and editor, and Elbow was your first novel. Was it difficult to make the switch from journalist to author mode?

So difficult! As a journalist, I learned to write down precise facts, to describe every detail and motivation as clear as possible. But if you do that in prose, it will probably be the worst novel in the world. Good prose also lives from the questions you leave unanswered and the mood it creates.

Are there any writers you look up to and who inspire you?

 It's really hard to come up with names because there are so many of them. A new writer inspires me every month! At the moment, I am reading a book by American writer Junot Diaz, which I plan to finish during my trip to Indonesia. Diaz is a very sensitive writer and he makes me laugh all the time, but then at some other point my heart aches. I like it when a book is able to bring forth so many different emotions.

Can we expect more novels from you in the future?

That's the worst question you can ask a writer! Just kidding. No, actually I’m not kidding, because of course I want to write another book. But it takes time to find that one idea that I want to spend the next few years with.