The Voice of the Oppressed

Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 26

MUNICH, Germany—The stolen bride in the photograph has aged, her face thicker around the jaw, the lines that arch from her eyes thin but prevalent. Her war has ended. The one between her and her family, written in the book lying next to her restless hands.

She calls herself only Ayse, an alias to protect her from family retribution. A Turkish woman forced into an arranged marriage and shuttled to Germany, she says she was beaten by her husband, robbed of her children and relegated to a slave’s life in a nation with a constitution eloquent on human rights. It is a common story, she says. But Ayse’s anger, unlike most, found its way onto the page.

Ayse’s tale, “Nobody Asked Me,” is one of at least eight memoirs recently published in German about Muslim women trapped by arranged marriages, religious fundamentalism, tribal chauvinism and violence. Most authors in this increasingly popular coming-of-age genre are immigrants or the daughters of immigrants squeezed anonymously between a liberal Europe they were forbidden to savor and the clan customs of a native land they couldn’t escape.

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“Europe is discovering very late, especially in Germany, that these [Muslim] societies exist in a separate universe,” said Bernhard Suchy, an editor at Ullstein publishing house. “For a long time there had been no discussion in Germany about cultural relations. It was obviously ignored, but with these books and magazine articles, everybody’s finally catching up.”

The eastward expansion of the European Union also has provoked an examination of what is European, especially since the head scarf has become an emblem of debate between East and West.

“Turkey is the next country that wants to join the European Union,” said Linda Walz, an editor for Ayse’s publisher, Blanvalet. “We hope the book will be something to open the eyes of German women about the living conditions of many Turkish women in Europe.”

Like a peek over a reclusive neighbor’s fence, the books offer a glimpse of sequestered lives. The stories are simply sketched, elucidating hardships, beatings, rapes and young women’s attempts to flee oppressive clans, parents and rigid Islamic mentalities transported here from Turkey and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa.

Their titles are provocative: “I Accuse,” “Kidnapped in Yemen,” “Choke on Your Lies.”

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Ayse arrived in Munich in 1978. She enrolled in school, but her new husband had other intentions. He put her to work in a plastics factory. When her shift was over, she returned home and spent 10 more hours at a black-market job assembling electrical receptacles.

Ayse estimated that she earned about $1,500 a month, money her mother-in-law confiscated and wired to Turkey. She never learned to read or write German. Her first son, born when she was 15, was eventually sent to her village in Turkey so Ayse could spend more time working. Her husband beat and raped her often. Life, she wrote, had become a whirl of brutality and endless work.

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