‘A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Woman’


Istanbul is the beauty hidden in chaos. The man selling the spices is shouting. Taks und/and tocks of the feverish shoes pass by. It is time to hear the sound of imam that is hidden in the walls of the mosque. Smell of fishes and mosses. Smell of sea. The smell my mum adores, breathes in and never lets out. Sun warms, sun gets into your cells. In fact, RA becomes the skin.


I encountered this photo in a book at a second hand bookstore in Paris. The image of the beautiful woman near, probably, the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, seems like rushing for some reason, caught me immediately.


The reason that made me recall this photo is a review of a book of Emine Sevgi Özdamar about Istanbul and the life of a woman − Bridge of The Golden Horn with a foreword by John Berger. Özdamar is an actress, writer from Turkey living in Germany. Her works, mostly autobiographical, should be in the must-read list. After coming to West Berlin, alone, as a worker between the years 1965 and 1967, she went back to Istanbul to fulfill her dreams as becoming an actress. Afterwards she learned German and came back to East Berlin in 1976 and started working as a dramaturg, actress and writer. In 1979 she went to Paris to get a Ph.D. degree. Now, she is living in Kreuzberg-Berlin a.k.a Little Istanbul.


In the website of the project ‘Migrants Moving History: Narratives of Diversity in Europe‘, it is possible to watch her videos talking about life; her relation with the language and how she started writing in German; thoughts about immigration and body.


“I mean the streets, the city were like a movie I was watching.
I wasn’t in the movie yet. I knew that for sure. I was outside and I myself watched this movie.”


Shame on me because of discovering Özdamar’s wor-k/d-s that put the reader under a spell so late by a recommendation of a friend. Harald Jähner, in his review originally published in Berliner Zeitung, mentions the success of the writer to depict space and time in her words as if someone would literally touch, feel, be in there. In a way her words are not two-dimensional anymore, rather three, even four!




Also in her book “Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde” (strange stars stare at the earth) the spoken word is not only heard but also seen. A passage describes a memory of a winter in an unheated shared apartment in Berlin, where breath condensed in the air:”When two of us stood in the doorways of two opposite rooms and talked to one another in the cold, I saw two breaths speaking with one another in the corridor. (…) When we all sat in the kitchen at the big round table and ate while talking with one another, I saw seven streams of breath form over the table, like the beams of light from seven pocket torches on a dark night.”