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Review: The Bridge of the Golden Horn, Emine Sevgi Ozdamar

In 1966, at the age of 16, our unnamed heroine leaves her native Istanbul and signs up as a migrant worker in Germany.  Lying about her age, she gets work on an assembly line in West Berlin making radios, and lives in a women’s factory hostel.

THE BRIDGE OF THE GOLDEN HORN is a witty, picaresque account of a precocious teenager refusing to become wise; of a hectic four years lived between Berlin and Istanbul; of a young woman who is obsessed by theatre, film, poetry and left-wing politics.

While this book was interesting, I’m not sure it was my cup of tea.  I think “hectic” is a fantastic way to start off describing it.  We breeze through quite a bit of the narrator’s life and it’s hard to be sure what it meant.  Despite the quick pace of events, the book felt very, very slow.  Since it was a memoir (or a semi-autobiographical novel, as I see elsewhere), I expected to feel some sort of attachment for the main character, but it was surprisingly difficult.  I certainly thought her journey was interesting.  How many stories take place within a Cold War-era Berlin factory?  Or in Istanbul?  Not very many, at least not many that I read.

Sevgi’s goal in life is to become an actress.  She’s willing to do more or less anything to get there.  Saving money for theatre school is the purpose of her time in Berlin, but she also does plenty of other things in order to fit the image of actress. This includes many attempts at giving up her virginity, which she calls her “diamond”.  Several men tell her that she is too young for sex, but she persists in thinking that her diamond is holding her back.  This is just one of the occurrences which made me struggle to relate to her.  When she does give up that diamond, she sleeps with men indiscriminately, often practicing her acting skills by faking her pleasure.

Something I did enjoy here was the book’s focus on literature, although not necessarily the political outcome of Sevgi’s learning.  Sevgi is determined to educate herself, beginning with a book received from the communist hostel warden and continuing throughout her life.  Books are treasures.  By the end of the novel, however, it seemed that all of Sevgi’s learning, in fact her whole journey, was centered on teaching her to become a communist.  While communism at its core is an interesting ideology, I found it hard to sympathize with someone who ignored the fact that communist countries regularly turn into dictatorships and continued following an idealized belief which has little to no real world value.  

I suspect that were I older, I would have found more to enjoy in this book.  If I’d lived through the events referenced in the USA, I would perhaps have been better able to draw connections and enjoy the allusions sprinkled throughout.  As it stands, though, I found this book difficult to get through and at times, very much over my head.  I can’t recommend it.

Here is a more favorable review.

Available through Amazon, Amazon UK, Powell’s, and IndieBound.

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