Lana Mathis '08

Defying Stereotypes of the Migrant Experience: Emine Sevgi Özdamar's Literary Negotiations of Legal, Cultural and Gendered Identity within Two Worlds

While studying abroad in Freiburg, Germany during the spring of my junior year, I became intrigued by the population of Turkish migrants living in Germany.  Both in Freiburg and in other areas of the country I visited, there was a visible Turkish presence with German culture, and also apparent feelings of resentment and even in some cases discrimination toward these Turkish-Germans.  My experiences and observations of the Turkish population in Germany, as well as a short report on the guest worker movement which I conducted as part of my coursework at the university in Freiburg, left me wanting to explore the complex issue of Turkish migration and integraton further.  Upon returning to Bowdoin, I chose to pursue my interest in the subject through an honors thesis.

mathis-ozdamarMy research focused on the writings of prominent contemporary Turkish-German author Emine Sevgi Özdamar.  Although my initial interest lay in exploring issues of the Turkish "migrant experience" within Germany, my project evolved into an exploration of the ways in which Özdamar's writing defies stereotypes often placed on Turkish-German migrant writers and this migrant experience.  My project focuses on reading of two of Özdamar's primary texts, the novel Seltsame Sterne Starren zur Erde (2003) and the short story collection Der Hof im Spiegel (2004).  In my thesis, I argue that through her writing in both these books, Özdamar rejects common stereotypes placed on the migrant experience to bridge cultural divides between Turkey and Germany, and also challenges stereotypes often placed on Turkish women.  In this way, Özdamar creates a space for herself within the German culture as much more than simply a Turkish migrant woman, and within the literary world as much more than simply a Turkish-German author.

This place that Özdamar creates for herself is largely a result of her clever use of intertexts within her writings.  By drawing on the works for Bertolt Brecht and Heinrich Heine, to name a few, Özdamar is able to give her writings a cosmopolitan flair.  In this way, she creates a space for herself as a global citizen.

This project was certainly the highlight of my Bowdoin academic career.  Pursuing a topic in which I was genuinely interested for an entire year was extremely fulfilling, and I learned a great deal from working with my thesis advisor, Professor Smith.  I could not have been happier with the process or the outcome of the project.