Translated from German by Ayça Türkoglu and Katy Derbyshire
The Anatolian Blues Trilogy is the story of Gül, who migrates from Turkey to Germany with her husband Fuat to become Gastarbeiter. Book one, The Blacksmith’s Daughter, tells of her childhood, early marriage and move to Germany. Book Two, 52 Factory Lane, details life and motherhood as a Gastarbeiter, saving to build a house back in Turkey. During this time, Turkey remains the place Gül calls home and she moves back there once said house becomes a reality. Book Three, A Light Still Burns (published today) starts with a surprise. After eight years in the Turkish sunshine, Gül decides to move back to cold, grey Northern Germany to reunite with her husband, Fuat, who remained in Bremen to earn more money.
Gül is shocked when she discovers that Fuat hasn’t been alone during the time she was away. Though there are no great ructions – the affair seems to end soon after Gül’s return, – it does make for frosty relations. Gül is angry but, rather than confront her husband, she would just keep quiet. This is another thing to be endured.
It is also a marker, for as Gül’s children grow and marry themselves, attitudes change. Not only towards marriage, but towards Germany. For some it is home – they were born there after all, and German becomes their first language. Exacerbating the divisions in Gül’s heart, one daughter settles in Turkey, the other in Germany. Leading to much toing and froing between the two countries. This is not only the case for Gül, but for other characters as well. There is a large cast, much movement, and it’s is at times difficult to keep track of what happens where and when. I suspect this is purposeful the author’s part. Why should Gúl be the only one with a sense of dislocation?
Gül’s passivity can be a trifle annoying, but as she ages, she starts doing things for herself. Such as her surprising friendship with Can, a young drug dealer, with whom she drinks coffee on a weekly basis. Auntie Gül, as she becomes, tries to persuade him to return to the straight and narrow; he shows her – in between jail terms – how to get ahead! Not all migrants are willing to work hard for years on end, living in shabby accommodation in order to achieve their objectives.
Back in Turkey, following the deaths of Gül’s father and stepmother, the summer home, scene of Gül’s happiest memories, becomes the source of a bruising family conflict. Gül becomes painfully aware that the sacrifices she made in The Blacksmith’s Daughter, foregoing an education to care for her younger siblings, have not earned the gratitude and respect she feels she is due. She finds herself not only outvoted, but also estranged from her family. Her Turkish roots are withering, and for a while, she is completely at a loss.
Help comes from a surprising source. When Gül, despite her aversion to technology, discovers the internet, she is able to connect with former classmates and acquaintances, one of whom has a valuable lesson to teach her. That home might not be the place she believes it to be. And indeed so, it proves. The trilogy ends with Gül in retirement, in a new place, with new friends. Reflecting on her life and discovering that “Home is not where you’re born, it’s where you get your fill.” Fuat, who has become more Germanised than he thought, might not be so content but que sera, sera. It’s time Gül caught a break, and her Anatolian Blues are now the blue skies of her new home, and not the blues of yearning and disappointment that characterised her years in Germany.
This trilogy with its humour, humanity, affection for the characters (even Fuat has his good points), its ups and downs, gains and losses has been one of the most pleasurable reading experiences of the past two years. So especial thanks to Katy Derbyshire who set up V&Q Books to bring it to an English speaking readership, and also for the opportunity to interview the author. Come back on Thursday to find out more.
Thank you Lizzy, for the interesting review. I really like the story of these three books. It must be difficult to emigrate to another country. Maybe not if you are free to choose, but if you are trying to find a better life. Going back might not be so easy either. Sounds fascinating.