The Letter in the Suitcace
Menekşe Toprak is a rising voice of Turkish literature with a decidedly transnational outlook. Born in 1970 in Turkey and alternately raised there and in Germany, she lives in Istanbul and Berlin. Although fully bilingual in both German and Turkish, and a close follower of contemporary German literature, she writes only in Turkish. In this language, though, she frequently tells stories with multiple homes. To date, she has published two story collections and two novels, all with prestigious Turkish presses. Her first novel, Temmuz Çocukları (July Children, 2011), explores the longterm impact on a family of the parents’ decision to leave their children behind in Turkey when they move to Germany for work. Her most recent novel, Ag¯ıtın Sonu (The End of the Elegy, 2014), which explores an unsettled woman’s life, won the Duygu Asena Ödülü, a major feminist literary prize in Turkey. She has been translated into French, German, and English. In “The Letter in the Suitcase,” Toprak’s literary debut and the title story of her 2007 collection Valizdeki Mektup, Turkey barely figures. Instead, this Turkish-language story intimately engages with, but also transgresses, contemporary German cultural and literary preoccupations. In a present-day German city, a Turkish-German woman visits a bunker museum that showcases life under the bombs of World War II. Already with this premise, Toprak deftly brings together the legacies of two large histories that are not generally imagined jointly, either in Germany or in Turkey: that of the war, Nazism, and the Holocaust on the one hand, and that of postwar labor migration to Germany on the other. While the legacy of Nazi crimes has been at the heart of struggles over what post–Holocaust Germany and German culture could be, the transformative impact of immigration on that same country has long been downplayed. Immigrants themselves have been seen as disconnected from and most likely ignorant of the Nazi era and the Holocaust. Particularly those from majority Muslim countries like Turkey have even been cast as a potential threat to Germany’s attempts to come to terms with this history.