Zülfü Livaneli – Serenade für Nadja

Livaneli Zulfu: Serenade für NadjaIt happens very rarely that a book moves me so deeply that I have to cry. This book by the Turkish multi-talent Zülfü Livaneli (musician, author, columnist, film director, …) is one of them. The story turns around the visit of Maximilian Wagner, a professor from the US visiting Istanbul university, where he has worked during and after the second world war, and his meeting with Maja, an employee at Istanbul university.

Jede Macht tötet, die eine mehr, die andere weniger. (Every power kills, some more, some less)

Thanks to Maximilian, Maja uncovers parts of her own past, the story of her partly Armenian grand parents, and the sad relation between Turkey and Armenia, including the Armenian holocaust, i.e., the planned murder of Armenian minorities in the Ottoman empire.

But Nadja learns also about the history of Maximilian, who escaped from the Nazis to Turkey, which graciously allowed many German professors to enter the country with the aim of modernizing University system in Turkey. Maximilian tried to escape with his Jewish wife Nadja, but she is caught on the way. The story then retells also the incident of the greatest civilian ship accident in the history, the sinking of the Struma.

The Struma was a ship carrying around 850 refugees from Romania to Israel, but the ship had engine problems right from the beginning. It finally managed to come close to Istanbul, where the Jewish passengers wanted to leave the ship, but this was refuted by the Turkish government. Also, the British protectorate of Israel, in personam Harold Mac Michael (see poster on the left), did not allow them to enter Israel due to rising insurgence against the British there. In effect, the ship lied in front of Istanbul for months, with barely any food and support, and nobody could leave the ship (besides a few special cases).

Finally, the ship was towed through the Bosporus into the Black Sea, where it was left abandon, without a working engine. Shortly after the ship sunk in a big explosion and all but one passenger died. It later turned out that it was sunk by a Russian submarine. In effect, the lives of around 850 Jewish people were destroyed by the Turkish and the British government, an atrocity that neither of the two countries ever accepted at their fault, and never gave any excuse.

The story of Maximilan, Nadja, and Maja is the center around a very moving, very simple but deep anti-war, anti-aggression book is revolving. Writing about the atrocities of WWII is easy, but writing about it without using the horrors of concentration camps and still conveying the horrors of the time, just by telling a love story in a simple way, sets this book apart from many others.

Unfortunately, as far as I see, there is by now only the original Turkish version and the German translation, and no English, not to speak of Japanese. But for those capable of one of the two languages, I can recommend this book with all my heart.

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