11 Mayıs 2009 Pazartesi

The Old Synagogue Place - Eski Sinagog Meydanı - Der Platz der Alten Synagoge

ISBN: 13: 978-975-05-0647-5

An uncanny story from the cities of Cologne and Freiburg (Germany). A story that keeps foundations of crime and love as well as foundations of criminal procedure and romantic involvement on the same track with the same conflict over identities and alterities. An exposition of the dialectical conflict between the (rather value-laden, necessarily prejudiced and stained language of) legal-fiction and the language of the "essentially romantic" quest for the fictional-fiction. Perhaps a meta-fiction over the genres of mystery and suspense which is a commentary on the relation between two fictional worlds, one of them being a fiction "inside" the other. Or even more, a commentary on the relation between the fictional fiction and the fictional reality in an analogous fashion to the relation between fictional reality and real reality.

If a prison-breaker with a terrifying story ever rings your bell?

Twenty-six-year-old Turkish immigrant from a gastarbeiter family, Jihad Guenesch -convicted of murder of his lover, Kerstin Schaefer, a former Skinhead girl (a Renee) once belonged to a violent group of 14 Neo-Nazis- reaches out for help from Dr. Aşkın Vonalı who works for the International Center for Crime Research in Freiburg. Jihad is a prison-breaker when he comes to ring Dr. Vonali’s bell. His crime appears to be quite an horrible one as Kerstin’s body was recovered from river Rhine and she was stabbed to death in her throat.

Jihad the prison-breaker, Aşkın the peculiar detective

Dr. Vonali, a thirty–year-old Turkish academic-immigrant from an upper-class Istanbul family, and an ex-convict herself, once mistried in Cologne for aggravated assault on German police officers, declares herself ready to help after a rather short period of pondering but for reasons other than those assumed by Jihad who claims that he killed a fully veiled person in self-defense, and did not lift the veil before throwing the body into the river. As he desperately loved Kerstin, he does not understand why German courts did not believe his "self-defense" account of the story. The prison-breaker Jihad lives clandestinely in Germany with a fake identity as German authorities were made believe that he had been arrested and put in prison in Turkey. Oddly enough, Jihad, his two brothers and Kerstin used to run a lucrative racket in fake marriages to facilitate the entry of illegal immigrants into Germany until Kerstin was murdered.

Book Project Turning into a Mystery

Dr. Vonali has rather unfamiliar methods, hires Klaus Stuhlmann for the "project", a literature student from the University of Cologne, specializing in Oscar Wilde who shall later introduce to her a competent and practically knowledgeable expert in Neo-Nazi crimes, Mr. Köllisch, an Agent Provocateur, a lay philosopher and also an ex-convict.
Yet what Dr. Vonali thinks might be a great subject for another book on immigration and crime to be written around the safe corridors of her Center turns into an absorbing detective story -or rather- a meta-fiction of a mystery from the cities of Cologne and Freiburg. The meta-fiction part is about a writer creating a detective story related to the fictious (and now only secterian) representation or reproduction of Jewish-German past within the Turkish-German present.

Game with Fourteen Words

With the assistance of Klaus and Mr. Köllisch, Dr. Vonali sets out to find out whether the crime of Jihad is what it seems to be. The bloody knife found at Jihad’s flat, a dreadful game with fourteen words ("We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children") played by the members of the skin-head gang, to which Kerstin Schaefer once belonged; and played on the articulate premises of the German Criminal Code; the mystery of the disappearance of drug-addict Tina Weiler, another Skinhead girl, the origin of a diamond ring made from human remains and ashes by an Antwerpian firm named "Forever Life" are the major ones of a string of clues which will demonstrate that it might not be so.

Two Hitler-Youth Knives

"What happened at that night of 9 November 1999 (on an anniversary of Kristallnacht) in the flat shared by Jihad and Kerstin? How about the second bloody Hitler-Youth knife anonymously sent to the prosecutor’s office immediately after Jihad had been convicted? What is this game with the fourteen words? Where are the members of the Skin-head gang now? Why is Mr. Koellisch, the Agent Provocateur of the story so cynical?" These questions are some of the major ones that the "upper layer" of the mystery puts. Indeed, there seems to exist another fiction (or a fictional-reality) which underlies the particular mystery (the fictional fiction). The underlying fictional-reality seems to be a meta-narrative on the particular circumstances which give rise to the creation of the very mystery. The undercover agent Köllisch represents a pivotal figure that interconnects various fictional "strata" of the novel.

A peculiar kind of love

In a parallel story, Dr. Vonali manages to resolve her own issues with the apathetic world of her scientific research center and her emotional indeciveness on a serious personal question, whether she really wants to stay attached to her Jewish-American lover, Professor Philipp Goldmann from Harvard Law School, an internationally renown figure in criminal law theory, who is thirty years older than her. The two meets each other for the first time in The Hague in a lecture on crimes against humanity trials.

Jihad's struggle as a Purim Gragger: To spin or not to spin?

With his rather difficult childhood marked by post-Great-Depression-Hungarian-immigrant status in the USA and his remembrances of the family accounts of his uncle's fate, who was murdered in Auschwitz, Goldmann is steadfastly attached to his rather self-developed Jewish identity. The bond between Goldmann and Vonali shall be tested to its extreme when Professor Goldmann dares to share Jihad’s clandestine struggle for retrial with public by publishing a series of insider op-eds for various newspapers including The New York Times. He will later propose Vonali that they write a book on Jihad's case together (Vonali will be wanting to write her own book).
The two lovers' opposing interpretations of the Old Testamental Jewish Purim as well as opposing attitudes on Jihad's case -Vonali for no-comment ("helping Jihad as an individual victim out) and Goldmann for publicity ("writing stories on numerous people like Jihad") will cast doubt on their ability to explain to each other, who they actually are besides being "Jewish" or "Turkish" for both of them seem to relate the most precious part of their identities to "German crimes". Goldmann's overwhelming sense of entitlement and grandiose self-image serve to mask and compensate for a complex of inferiority, which he used to experience in the past. Vonali experiences a similar threat to her integrity of identity yet she tries to cope up with it in a quite different fashion, when she resorts to multi-cultural universalism. It seems rather ironical that the most inarticulate characters of the novel, i.e. the immigrant Jihad, who runs after the truth about his "crime" and his enemies, the skin-head gang members, who dedicate themselves to destroy Jihad are the most resolute ones.
The end approches with a high-profile and stirring re-trial drama both for Jihad and the members of the skin-head gang. As to Vonali and Goldmann: Germany and over a "German" crime, the lovers shall part.

The truth shall set you free

In the last page, the main character repeats the motto of the University of Freiburg, "The truth shall set you free" and whispers to herself ironically "which kind of truth?"
"The Old Synagogue Place" asks some of the most human questions when it parallelly treats two love stories (Jihad/Kerstin- Vonali/Goldmann) and a mystery (murder of Kerstin and the role of her skinhead gang in that murder) in a fashion that makes the distinction between fact and fiction blurry. What holds people together indeed? What is the deeper truth no language is able to express? Can crime be artistically told about? How do history's murderous accounts repeat themselves in marginal and extremist groups? The novel eloquently and artfully examines and deconstructs twin-concepts such as crime and punishment, identities and alterities, innocence and conviction, offenders and victims, foreigners and citizens, past and present, and, death and life.

1 yorum:

  1. The Platz der alten Synagoge "Place of the Old Synagogue" is one of the more important squares on the outskirts of the historic old city of Freiburg AND The square was the location of a Synagogue until it was destroyed on the Night of Broken Glass in 1938. The novel's name is very interesting in this regard, if you consider its plot...