Without a Country

Written by Ayse Kulin Kenneth Dakan (trans.)
Review by Waheed Rabbani

Ayse Kulin has several successful novels to her credit, and she has picked another interesting topic for this one. Its basis is an obscure fact that educated German Jews—doctors, scientists and others—were invited to Turkey to assist in building that nation just before WWII. Despite political roadblocks imposed by Hitler, many managed to settle there. Kulin covers, in depth, the chronicle of one such family well into their fourth generation.

In 1933, Dr. Gerhard Schliemann, his wife Elsa, and their young children, Susy and Peter, are living comfortably in Frankfurt, Germany. Gerhard unexpectedly learns about an impending roundup of Jews, and the family flees to Switzerland. From there, Gerhard, using an ingenious scheme, manages to secure a position at a Turkish university, relocating with his family and a maid to Istanbul. The majority of Turks welcome Gerhard and other Jewish scientists, who are there not only to escape Hitler’s wrath, but also to help in the modernization of Turkey. However, there are still undercurrents of prejudice. Nevertheless, the Schliemanns continue to prosper with Gerhard at work, the children at school, and Elsa managing their home and making friends. Susy assimilates readily. She learns Turkish, goes out with the locals, and even calls herself an “Ataturk’s daughter.” Before long, the family faces a crisis that threatens their tranquil life. However, this family saga continues to thrive all the way into 2016.

While Elsa’s and Gerhard’s and Susy’s accounts are captivating, the reading of the narrative of their descendants is much like a concise biography and is somewhat arduous. The plot relies mostly on family relationships and their squabbles. Although the characters individually exhibit tenacity to achieve their destinies, more interaction between them would have made for a better theme. Overall, the novel offers valuable insight into the development of Turkey into a modern nation.