The Role of Memoirs in Questions of German Collective Identity in Z. Şenocak’s and V. Vertlib’s Novels
Pajak, Anna K.
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Doesn’t immigrating to Germany also mean immigrating to, entering into, the arena of Germany’s recent past?” Turkish-German author Zafer Şenocak discusses this question in his essay “Germany-Home for Turks?” (1990). His novel Gefährliche Verwandtschaft (1998) offers a literary examination of the role of recent German history, especially the Holocaust, in contemporary German identity. The text was published in a decade of fundamental changes in Germany: most notably German reunification and the radical liberalization of citizenship laws. Vladimir Vertlib, a German-language Austrian writer of Russian-Jewish descent, deals in his work Am Morgen des zwölften Tages (2009) with Germany’s long-standing political and cultural connections with the Middle East. Written in the first decade of the 21st century it engages with the continuing “Leitkultur” debates, especially the place of Islam in Europe. Sascha of Gefährliche Verwandtschaft feels increasingly “othered” by German society in the 1980s and 1990s when the increasing appearance of “Ausländerliteratur” put all “foreigners” and “guest workers” into a certain “oppressed worker category,” into which he doesn’t fit. Astrid Heisenberg of Am Morgen des zwölften Tages, whose daughter doesn’t know about her mixed German-Muslim heritage, and who after her failed relationship with her daughter’s Iraqi father, has yet another unhappy affair with a Muslim man, feels lost in her fascination for the Orient and delves into her grandfather’s notes from the Anglo-Iraqi War. She also joins a support group for German women who suffer abuse from their Muslim partners. The group’s discussions reveal an Islamophobia verdant with stereotypes of Muslim men as misogynist terrorists. My thesis deals with a question that is central to discussions of German collective identity today: If National Socialism occupies such a prominent position in the German collective identity, what does that mean for immigrants? Conversely, might a true integration of immigrants create a space in the collective identity and lead to a “positive symbiosis”? I explore this question through the analysis of the role of grandfather memoirs in the two novels. My readings are informed by the theoretical insights of cultural memory studies.
German National Identity.