Emine Sevgi Özdamar
Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde (Strange Stars Turn to Earth)
Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, February 2003. 427 pp.
The title of this book is a quotation from a poem by Else Lasker-Schüler, the first three lines of the stanza from which it is taken being quoted intermittently as the story it tells unfolds. Its principal character is a Turkish woman who has left her home, her family and her ex-husband in the 1970s to go to Berlin and work in the theatre. Desperate to escape the political oppression in her own country but suffering acutely the pain of separation, she settles in a flat shared by seven friends in the Wedding district of the city and ‘commutes’ across the Wall to the Eastern sector to work in the Volksbühne (People’s Theatre) under the renowned director Benno Besson and the leading East German writer Heiner Müller. Given a part in Müller’s latest play, she is granted a temporary visa which allows her to move to East Berlin to live. Finally she is given the chance to work for Besson in Paris.
Özdamar is herself a successful actress and author and this is indeed her tale. But her narrator is subtly set apart and the focus is less on the author herself than on Berlin seen through her eyes. A host of memorable characters are introduced. There are members of the AA commune who practise free sex and the primal scream; the prostitutes whose voices the narrator can hear through the heating system; the elderly lady who drinks egg liqueur and locks herself out of her flat. There’s even Fidel Castro! The narrative captures the zeal of the actors at the Volksbühne and their commitment to their ideals. It conveys the earnestness of the West Berlin flatmates as they discuss politics and psychology. The whole book is steeped in politics, inside the theatre and out. Yet the political content is most tellingly conveyed in anecdotes, sketches and asides. It is the richness of the narrative, the poetic beauty of the language, and the originality of the observations that set this book apart.