Culture clash leads to journey
by Sezen Tumer
“Hanne” by Bahadir Yenisehirlioglu Fiction, November 2020
The Turkish novel “Hanne” is based on the true story of a woman who searches for her roots and identity, while revealing the clash of the two cultures she exits in. Though author Bahadir Yenisehirlioglu is a man, I think he did an amazingly good job of expressing a woman’s feelings, ordeals and intimacy.
After World War II, Germany invited Turkish workers to help put the German economy and industry back on track. These men, called “guest workers,” were to leave their families behind, then return to their homeland after a few years. However, most of them ended up bringing their families to stay in Germany.
Hanne is the daughter of such a worker. The discrimination and humiliation her father faced as a Turk only intensified his rage and violent tendencies. And when she is 13 years old, the most tragic event of Hanne’s life happens: During an argument between her parents, her father kills her mother. Hanne’s brother, Omer, is sent back to Turkey to live with their uncle, while she is adopted by a German family.
She grows up in a loving household and goes to university, where she meets Suleiman, who is Turkish, and the wealthy Herbert Kruger. Although Herbert’s German family is against their relationship, the two get married anyway.
Hanne becomes a busy wife and philosophy professor, but she is also often depressed and sad. In therapy, the now almost-40-year-old Hanne realizes that her problems lie not so much with her traumatic past, but rather with an identity crisis, a clash between her Turkish roots and German upbringing.
So she takes a sabbatical. Hanne decides to divorce her husband, who has been having affairs, and rekindles her friendship with Suleiman, whom she runs into after a meeting with her lawyer. She also reconnects with her brother, who shares with her disturbing new details from that fateful night. Omer gives her two books that belonged to their late mother: the Quran and Masnawi by Rumi. Inside the latter is a letter she had written to Hanne.
The rest of the novel explores Hanne’s relationships, as well as her journey to make peace with her past and build a new life.
Yenisehirlioglu’s book mainly focuses on three characters— Hanne, Herbert and Hanne’s father—and how they dealt with the clash of Turkish and German cultures. Hanne’s father destroys himself and his family, and her husband commits suicide. But Hanne finds her true self. While providing a clear, detailed view of Hanne’s conflict, the author only hints at the reasons why the men reacted as they did.
Migrations of workers from poor to rich countries has been happening everywhere since the World War II, especially here in America. Societies such as ours have become multicultural, though we rarely read about the effects on other countries. This story, which examines how the clash of cultures affects everyone involved, is a revealing insight into this situation through a woman’s path of self-discovery.
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