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Leila Slimani and Fatma Aydemir: two young writers who are really changing my view of the world. You can meet them at Winternachten 2018

During the upcoming edition of Writers Unlimited/Winternachten in The Hague, two writers who are making exciting news with their work and their success will drop by. Fatma Aydemir, journalist from Berlin, wrote with 'Elbows' an abrasive debut about a Turkish girl who is somewhat less prepared for her future than anyone would like. Parisian author Leila Slimani won the 2016 Prix Goncourt with her novel 'A gentle hand'. In it, she describes how a child carer ends up infantilising the children in her care.

Rather intense themes for both books. What makes them both even more interesting is their handling of the relationship between different ethnic groups. Aydemir writes from the perspective of a Turkish adolescent girl, who must survive in a world defined by origins and segregation, self-selected or otherwise. She almost casually becomes a perpetrator when a drunken student challenges her, and she half-accidentally pushes him in front of an oncoming metro. Slimani's perpetrator is a blonde Frenchwoman, the victims are well-to-do Frenchmen of Moroccan descent.

Sensitivities

Fatma Aydemir. Source: Winternachten

Writing about derailed migrant children is tricky, especially when, in all their awkwardness, they don't really feature positively either. When an Ashkenazi male author 'Elbows', it could have caused quite a bit of trouble. That Aydemir does is therefore all the more striking, especially since she tackles the subject quite aggressively. Aydemir does not condone anything at all.

The anger she attributes to her main character Hazal also seems to drive the writing. The author gets angry about the position of daughters in traditionally Turkish families. But she also gets angry about indifferent adolescents who no longer know anything about the world around them. Turkish President Erdogan is not exactly pleasantly portrayed and the main character herself, thanks to her lack of empathy, is not exactly pleasant to be around for too long. When you leave her as a reader at the end of the book, you can find very little sympathy for her.

Class struggle

Leila Slimani. Photo: Thibaut Chapotot/Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication [CC BY-SA 3.0 fr (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/fr/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
In the novel by Leila Slimani, ethnicity plays a much less prominent role. The difference between the 'successful' parents with their successful lives and the nanny is mainly determined by social position, and the murder with which the book begins and ends has no obvious racist motive.

Yet the theme does come into play, if only because we don't so often see successful Moroccan couples as the main character of a novel, and a usually privileged blonde and white character in an evil supporting role. According to Slimani, it is not a conscious choice, but precisely because of that, in that unwillingness to stand out, it stands out.

Off the streets

After reading both books in quick succession, I realised how good it is that both authors are so successful in describing a hitherto underexposed, or more often, one-sidedly exposed side of our big-city society. We do see the cool girls, the migrant children who keep us at bay as much as we do them. We can, thanks to Fatma Aydemir, take a peek into their gaze. So we can also empathise what it is like to grow up as a young woman in a traditionally Turkish environment in Berlin. Without being forced into pity. Something that is also missing in the totally ordinary, yet slightly different world Slimani.

Indeed, sometimes you don't need to learn about the streets of the world, but a book will suffice. Two books, in this case.

Good to know

Fatma Aydemir narrates on 20 January during Saturday Night Unlimited at Winternachten in The Hague about the book that changed her life.

Leila Slimani acts during the festival. The exact time is not yet known.

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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