How powerful is fate

"The book wrote my fate"

The Turkish writer has lived for two years Aslı Erdoğan in Germany. She was detained in her home country, Turkey, for 132 days. There is still a trial against them for terrorist propaganda. Together with eight other journalists, human rights activists and publishers who have worked for the Kurdish-Turkish newspaper "Özgür Gündem", she is waiting for the process, which has been dragging on for over 30 months, to come to an end. In her poetic work "Das Haus aus Stein" (Penguin Verlag) about the infamous prison Sansaryan Han, which was recently translated into German, she is also looking for words for the trauma in an essay about her own imprisonment that was added to this issue.

You have just learned that your books have been removed from every university library in Turkey - how do you classify this message?
It's a shame. There are not many writers in Turkey, especially not many women writers who are internationally successful. By removing the books from the library, the Turkish government is not only showing disrespect, but also showing that it cannot stand literature. This is an alarming sign for Turkey today. We all associate fascism with the prohibition and burning of books - with these formative images from Nazi Germany at the time. The removal of the books shows that they have already advanced too far in the direction of a fascist regime. But that should worry her, not me. By "they" I mean the Turkish government, because such information is usually withheld from the public. Even when asked, the government does not comment or deny its actions. However, the fact that my books have been translated into 19 languages ​​shows me how powerful literature is because it has overcome so many barriers to cultural racism.

What does it mean to you that your book "Das Haus aus Stein" has just been published here in Germany - the country in which you have been living since 2017 as part of the "City of Refuge" (part of the ICORN International Cities of Refuge Network) ?
I was thrilled when my first translation was published in French in 2003, because as a writer in Turkey there were many prejudices against me - for or against me. Here in Germany I have the image of the writer who was in prison. Otherwise, however, German readers who buy my book for the first time seem to have far fewer prejudices. In a way, I see the German publication as a new test, a challenge, also because I take the German literary critics very seriously. If the German reviewers tear up your book, it will be a severe blow. You can no longer recover from that. But if you write something solid, you can draw on it for a long time. So the fact that the German literary scene liked the book gives me confidence. On the other hand, I can't take American reviews seriously - I often find them too superficial.

At your reading at the Litprom Weltempfänger Salon a month ago in Frankfurt you talked about wanting to find "a language for trauma" - how difficult is it for you to capture trauma in literature?
My book The stone house is like a cloud - nothing is clearly visible. This corresponds to the way my memory recorded the trauma of being in prison. I recently met a friend from prison here in Germany. It was the only time in my life that I had "outside" met someone I knew in prison. This friend couldn't remember her cell number. It shows me that memory has its own language. I think the book was quite successful in that sense. But the text is not a triumph - if anything, it is an admission of failure. One sentence in the book describes how I hear a melody, but every time I try to sing it, I fail. The text fails because nothing can describe the trauma. One can only try to approach the trauma experience, to circle around it. To convey the experience of torture accurately is fundamentally impossible. If you can't even say it to yourself, if your memory refuses to hold on to it, how are you supposed to tell others?

You wrote the book in 2009, seven years before you were imprisoned - has your relationship to the text changed after you were imprisoned?
The fact that I was actually in jail seven years after it was published really makes this book the book of my life. I can't get out of there anymore. The book wrote my fate for me, and now I have to rewrite it: the prison, all of that. For the rest of my life I am in the "house of stone", I feel that. That is also what I would like to say: trauma is not simply erasable, it remains part of you forever. I remember the prison exactly as I describe it in the book: a great cloud peppered with images that are indelible. You want to tear these pictures out of your head, but you can't. I am in line with my book in this regard. Of course it could have been more direct - if I wrote it now, I would be more open in some places. But that was a time when I mainly wrote poetry, a time when I had given up writing novels - and of course every book has flaws.

What do you think of the position of the European Union and the German government towards Turkey?
That is a very complex question. Many people here in Europe have helped us. Germany itself has taken in several hundred writers and academics who were no longer safe in Turkey. Nevertheless: There is currently a silence in Europe that gives the Turkish government a lot of courage. I don't mean that Europe is completely silent, no, that would be unfair, but the news is spread too inconsistently. 7,000 people are currently on hunger strike in Turkish prisons and there is absolutely nothing to be found about it in the German press - how can that be? If nothing is reported about it, people will believe that it is all over, and things are still dire! Still, I cannot blame Germany without looking at ourselves; and the Turks are as indifferent and quiet as the Europeans.

Should the Europeans protest louder against the conditions in Turkey?
How much should I, should one expect from Europe? After all, Europe has its own problems to contend with. I think the refugee issue and the resulting reluctance of Europe to take a more vehement position against Turkey may also be the reason for the confused news coverage. Europe is afraid of the three million Syrians in Turkey. And then there are the economic reasons: the German economy wouldn't go bankrupt without arms sales to Turkey, but it would lose a lot of money and of course it doesn't want that. I understand that Germany has to maintain its democratic system through strong economic power, but as an intellectual I am completely against this idea of ​​economic interest. For me the most important thing is the human right. To put it simply: Yes, Germany should protest louder.

What do you think of the fact that your work is often viewed as political literature?
To be honest, I wasn't aware that my work is perceived as very political here in Germany. Of course, all literature is political - there is no difference between political and literary writing. Even if you don't say a word about politics, you have made a political decision by having your main character be male or female, for example. Readers can freely choose their image of the writer. If my readers believe that I am a political writer, then it is their right. If, on the other hand, the readers like the poetic figure more, that's fine too. Even so, I find there is an element of injustice here, not against me, but against the real political heroes. It's almost ironic; I really am a very existentialist, extremely poetic writer. Me, a political writer? Most Turkish intellectuals must have laughed out loud! The idea that a writer should be some kind of guru is difficult anyway. We have our limits, after all. In fact, journalists are much better at analyzing - I may just offer a different point of view, but that's all.

Before you started your career as an author, you worked as a physicist for CERN in Geneva - how do you bring these two worlds together?
I'm not the only writer with a science education. There's Herman Broch, for example; or Anton Chekhov, who was a doctor. A science education can be enriching. I don't see literature and science as two separate worlds, as both can be very beautiful and aesthetic. To be honest, I'm glad I didn't study literature, because studying literature can be dangerous. It influences carefree access to literature and can even have an inhibiting effect. I wish I had studied philosophy; this is something that I still carry in my heart.

What are your plans for the future?
The "City of Refuge" program (part of the ICORN International Cities of Refuge Network) is set to run for two years and I already have nightmares when I think about the time after that. I will either have to find another program or make a final decision as to whether or not I should apply for asylum in Germany. People think that as a famous writer I am unmolested by the fact that it is easier for me, while I am just an asylum seeker. It was naive of me to think that I would return [to Turkey] because the court extends the process over and over again. August will be three years and there are still no charges, which leaves me hanging in the air. I know the Turkish courts can keep playing this game for ten years if they just want to. But, man is an animal capable of finding hope in despair; and the more desperate you are, the more capable you are of it. I was such a pessimistic person when I left Turkey and even I am now starting to think that maybe I will go back in spite of everything. But realistically it would be too dangerous. I can't trust them. I know if I went back the Supreme Court would sentence me and then I would be stuck there.