With an increase in the number of migrants and diversity of migrants’ identity, more and more attention is paid to German migrant literature. German migrant literature has gone through three stages of development since 1960s. The trend of diversification is embodies in the constitution of writer groups, the development of various themes, and the employment of different literary devices.
German literature, migrant literature, culture diversity, migrant identity
In most people’s minds, German is not a migrant country, because of German race identity in the long German history. The Holocaust and other genocides in World War 2 also gave us an impression that it is difficult to connect German with a migrant country. However, in fact, German is a migrant country since many people come to German after World War 2. According to the statistics offered by German Federal Statistical Office, one fifth German people have migrant backgrounds and more than 2000 thousands Turkish people live in Germany now. Accompany with more and more people migrant into Germany, the migrant issue received more attention from the public.
1 The definition of ‘migrant literature’
With an increase number of migrants in Germany, the migrant identity also became diverse, even some people already became the second or third generation that born in Germany. As a result, the number of migrant writers also increases, and the ‘migrant writer group’ expanded a lot. The question about definition of ‘migrant literature’ turns into a significant issue for the whole German literary circle. Many media and research papers define the ‘migrant literature’ in different ways such as ‘transnational literature’, ‘labor migrant literature’, and ‘exile literature’. Comparing with those definitions, the ‘migrant literature’ seems more acceptable because, in this way, the works about migrant issue by non-migrant can also count and it will be more close to the final goal of ‘migrant literature’ that integrate into the Contemporary German Literature.
2 The development of German Migrant Literature
Compare with multiculturalism in American literature, Germany literature is changing ‘national’ into ‘global’ with German migrant literature play a more important role. Since 1960s, German migrant literature has gone through three stages of development, and it showed as three generations creative works of migrant writers.
Complain literature—the first stage
Almost all the authors of this stage were born in 1930s, and started to write around 1960s. These authors always prefer to use their native tongues to write, since most of them are coming from Turkey after the World War 2 as ‘labor migrants’ and did not understand and write in German. In their works, ‘labor migrant’ is an important part and they always use their own experiences as labor migrants in German to illustrate their pain of leaving home country and their pressure for finding their position in Germany– this strange country to them. The theme of their works usually be they are victims of German political system, so the German government should improve their living level in this country, that is so called ‘complain literature’. Most authors of this stage are coming from Turkey, Italy and Greek and the styles of their writings always are poem and prose since these two are the easiest ways to express feelings, nostalgia, and pain directly.
In first stage, the most important Turkish writers include Yuksel Pazarkaya, Sinasi Dikmen, and Arasoren. No railway station by Pazarkaya in 1967 is a masterpiece in this generation. In this work the railway station represents both start of new home and end of the old home and he complained about the unfair treatment between ‘labor migrant’ and Germans, also he pointed out that language is the most serious problem for labor migrant live in Germany. Except the Turkish authors in this stage, Italian authors also play an important indispensible role. The representative individuals are Franco Biondi and Gino Carmine Chielino. In Chielino’s work Shore in a foreign country, he said that: “You want to talk to me, but I should to speak your language”. This quote shows the vulnerable position of labor migrants in that period. Other than these writers come as labor migrants, some authors come to Germany as political exiles, such as Cyrus Atabay from Iran.
During that time period, most critics only concentrate on the identity of these migrant writers, not focus on literal values of their works. As a result, many of first generation migrant writers become the first generation of migrant literature researchers in 1980s, and they make great effort to the development of migrant literature in Germany.
Confusing literature— the second stage
This generation of migrant writers started to write around 1980s. The distinguishing feature of this stage is that the authors are confusing about their future in Germany since this period is the time that they were hesitant to accept its new, 'multicultural' face. Moreover, migrant authors started to use both their native language and German to write, and some author even use some European techniques in their work such as surrealism. Thus, this stage is the one to mixing up ‘national’ and ‘global’ together.
Turkish authors is still a major part of this stage, the most famous Turkish writers includes Zafer Senocak and Ismet Elci. At the same time, some female Turkish writers began to write. The Turkish females in Germany have both an inferior position at home and in society. Thus, in their works, they analyze their double pressure from the Turkish tradition and German society. All the works of a famous female Turkish author named Emine Sevgiozdamar are about the pressure and pain of Turkish female in Germany. In one of her work called Sunshine in the half way: Istanbul to Berlin, she described a Turkish girl’s happy childhood in Turkey and gloomy manhood in Germany. Although Turkey, Italy authors still a major part of this stage, some authors from non-Europe country come in to this ‘German migrant writer’ group. One of them is Yoko Tawada from Japan and has been living in Germany since her college time. Because of her European study background, she enjoys to add some European writing techniques into her works. For example, in her book Where Europe Begins, a collection of short essays, she used ‘surrealism’ in. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. Just like in the chapter “The Bath”, it said that “In each of the woman’s eyes reflected the flame of a candle. The flames wavered and swam out of her eyes like tropical fish and began to dance about her ears. When I looked carefully, I saw that they were not flames, but earrings in the shape of red tropical fish.” (24) This quote is a great example of surrealism.
In this period, novel becomes the most popular way to write because they always tell their own story in the novel and want to get more sympathy from the public. Since they lived in Germany for a long time, they more focused on the relationship between the familiar and the alien, the migrants' change in language and culture, and the problems encountered by German society. This stage is a transition stage in the development of German migrant literature.
Intercultural literature—the third stage
Most of this stage’s migrants are born in Germany or live in Germany for many years, so German is the native language for them. In this generation, they come and live in Germany for many distinct reasons, so they do not belong to a certain group or have a specific feature. Also, the creative methods for writing are diverse, some authors prefer to use prose, some authors prefer to use fiction, and some prefer to use poem. These authors with a non-German race background but live in German are attempt to liberate themselves from the "conflict between inclusion and alienation“, and have created an exceptionally wide range of intercultural forms of expression. We can see the non-German culture and German culture get together in this stage, and people want to show their own specialties instead of a group.
One excellent writer in this stage is Zsuzsa Bank original from Hungary, and her first book named Swimmer is talking about a child’s life after abandon by her parents. This book received many positive advices from the public because of the using of beautiful language and the theme about migrant identity. Another author in this stage is Selim Ozdogan original from Turkey. These two writers are both born in German and learn German as their native language. From their works, we can see the self-identity is built in this generation writers’ minds. One perfect example for this claim is Sasa Stanisic’s work: How the soldiers repair the gramophone. In this book, Sasa wrote: “In every day, I am Sasa Stanisic for twenty-three hours, I am German for half an hour, I am Bosnian for 15 minutes, and another 15 minutes I am taking a shower.” (Translated by Chinese Version) In Sasa’s work, he shows that he is himself more than a German or a Bosnian.
German migrant literature is becoming more like German literature, and the intercultural parts are fit in the ‘culture diversity’ concept well. The German Contemporary Literature field will become more energetic and attractive because of these third stage migrant writers.
3 The thought about German migrant literature research
From the changes in three generations of German migrant writers, we can see German migrant literature itself also changed over time. Language itself also show an identity, since only when we communicate with others, we can show our distinct identities. As the individual identity changes, the social identity also change.
Living in a transnational environment, the three stages of migrant generations changing the confusing about migrant group identity change into find individual identity step by step. Thus, the German Contemporary Literature will become better and better.
Tawada, Yoko. “Where Europe Begins”. Chapter Bath
Stanisic, Sasa. “How the soldiers repair the gramophone”. Chapter Grandma
Pazarkaya, Yuksel. “No railway station”.
Chielino, Gino Carmine. “Shore in a foreign country”.
Sevgiozdamar, Emine. “Sunshine in the half way: Istanbul to Berlin”.
Bank, Zsuzsa. “Swimmer”.