Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s Bridge of the Golden Horn is an unusual book. The story of an unnamed Turkish girl working in German factories in the 1960s, it eschews many of the conventions of plotting, pace and characterisation usually expected with a novel.
When the narrator travels from Istanbul to Cold War Berlin, she joins an immigrant culture that is fractious, mutable and wonderfully fertile. She becomes involved with expatriate Turks, but also with Germans, and other foreigners working and studying in the divided city. Their politics, couplings, restlessness, even their housecoats and slippers, are recorded in a calm and changeless voice, at once intimate and detached. This uniformity produces a book that reads at times like a list – events shocking or mundane, catalogued with slow precision.
At times a prose poem, at others a laborious index of minutiae, partly autobiographical, and with a hint of political confession, The Bridge of the Golden Horn is by turns beautiful, infuriating, funny and obtuse. Those who love Georges Perec’s Life: a User’s Manual will find some of its charms here in a sort of reverse. While Perec describes a single moment as if it were an epic, Özdamar presents half a decade as if it were a single moment, and the past as an indivisible unit.