Some time ago I was in a bar in Istanbul with some Dutch people and some Turks. One of the Turkish women started to talk about some family affair, in which supernatural powers played a big role. Call me unfriendly, but I just can’t let that pass easily, especially after two, three glasses of wine. At some point, I just can’t help asking: ‘But haven’t you considered for one second that supernatural powers had nothing to do with it? That the whole course of events was just coincidence and had nothing to do with a curse?’
The answer was a plain ‘No’. So I thought, okay, me and my big mouth, I’ll just shut up – which I managed to do. Forgive me, dear readers, but I didn’t grow up with this kind of stuff. I’m from Hengelo, a small city in the east of the Netherlands, and believe me, there is not much supernatural, spiritual or poetic about it. Not even religion was an important issue in the family I grew up in.
The funny thing is, one year before me, in that very same town, Nazmiye Oral was born. She grew up to be a pretty well known author, columnist, playwright and actress in the Netherlands and lives in Amsterdam now. Last year, her first novel was published, called ‘Zehra’. Nazmiye sent it to me and I finished reading it this weekend. It’s a beautifully written story impregnated with the supernatural. I was a bit hesitant at first, but Nazmiye has a way of choosing beautiful words and of writing down supernatural events very naturally – I just couldn’t stop reading.
Not for one second did I think, as would be my natural reaction: please, this is just too much! These things just don’t happen! There is a perfectly logical explanation for all this! Somehow, Nazmiye managed to convince me with her sad but beautiful story about the young girl Zehra, to convince me that the supernatural is just sometimes very natural in Turkey, where the story takes place.
I live in this country, but I never give any attention to that side of society here. I don’t open myself to it, and as a journalist I can’t check it, so in short, I don’t feel connected to it in any way. That’s where my reaction in the bar a few months ago came from. Now I wish I could do that conversation all over again, put my prejudice beside and ask the woman more about it. How do these things work according to her? How did she learn about it? Are these things mainly scary – as they were in her story – or does she have beautiful experiences with them too?
The great thing is, it was officially announced today that ‘Zehra’ has been nominated for a Dutch cultural prize, called the E. du Perron Prize. It is awarded every year to an artist who manages to break down walls between different cultural groups that live in the Netherlands. At first sight, you might wonder how ‘Zehra’ is doing that. But when I see the effect it has on me, even after finishing it just a few hours ago, I totally understand how this book can build a bridge.
A bridge between the very logical, non spiritual Dutch society, and the supernatural that has a solid place in Turkish culture. So funny, that Nazmiye grew up with this side of life in that small city that I only know as boring, polished, with no spiritual touch whatsoever. I’ll take this from Hengelo to Istanbul and whereever I go in Turkey, and you might find it back in a story of mine one day. Who wins the E. de Perron Prize will be announced on 12 May, I hope I can congratulate Nazmiye that day!