Friday, 2 March 2018

Book Review: Blue Jewellery by Katharina Winkler
In many families worldwide domestic violence is a painful reality. Where people are imbibed with respect for human rights from an early age like in major parts of Europe and Northern America, the physical or psychological abuse of any family member is considered as intolerable as harming a complete stranger. In other societies, especially less prosperous ones where children get basic education at best, people often think it normal, even necessary that a man gives his wife and children a beating. It’s a means to prove his absolute power, to keep the face in the community, and certainly to work off frustration too. To the Kurdish protagonist of Blue Jewellery by Katharina Winkler just as to all other women in her surroundings it seems perfectly natural that her husband Yunus beats her black and blue whenever he feels like it. Not even their emigration to Austria changes his habits.

Katharina Winkler was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1979, but grew up in Upper Austria where her father worked as a country doctor. She studied German Philology, Theatre Sciences and Musicology at the University of Vienna, plus Dramatic as well as Vocal Art and Ballet at the conservatoire of Linz. After graduation, she embarked on a successful career as actress working for TV, cinema and theatre. Inspired by a true story that had occupied her mind for nearly ten years, she made her award-winning debut as a novelist bringing out Blue Jewellery (Blauschmuck) in 2016. Katharina Winkler lives in Berlin, Germany.

In the 1970s, Filiz is born to poor farmers in a remote Anatolian village and not even her parents know her exact age. In her world fathers are almighty masters of the family and quite naturally provide their wives and children with what Filiz calls Blue Jewellery, i.e. with the marks of savage beatings in all shades of blue and black. In school, too, the children receive thrashings. Nonetheless, the teachers want their best and when Filiz shows extraordinary talent, one of them suggests sending her to town at his expense to attend better schools. Her father, however, refuses taking for granted that just like her eldest sister before she would never make use of her education becoming a stay-at-home wife and mother. Moreover, it would hurt his pride to accept the teacher’s help. So Filiz stays in the village and at the age of about thirteen she falls in love with an older boy named Yunus. When he tells her that she belongs to him, the naïve girl is over the moon. Three years later eighteen-year-old Yunus asks the girl’s father for her hand and is refused. Such is Yunus’ power over Filiz, though, that she elopes to become his wife despite all. The wedding is the beginning of a private hell in the house of her spiteful mother-in-law and Yunus, too, soon shows his true face beating her almost to death. He won’t let her go out on her own, forbids her to talk to other men under all circumstances, orders her to wrap herself head to toe into shapeless garments and even denies her to laugh. However much she tries, over the years she can’t help bearing him a boy and two girls. Filiz sets all her hopes on their emigration to Austria, but Yunus is Yunus…

From the perspective of the protagonist and first-person narrator Blue Jewellery evokes a series of distressing childhood nightmares that change into the ever more atrocious hell of married life. Already the opening scene reveals a fairy-tale world overshadowed by an archaic male role model that makes fathers exercise power over the family through brutal blows and humiliation. Thus the author skilfully shows how every generation gives the vicious circle of violence new momentum and how girls are taught to resign silently to a woman’s “natural” fate. Thanks to being based on many hours of interviews with the woman who served as model for the protagonist, the description of her agony is very authentic and psychologically deep. An epilogue that outlines the lives of the protagonist and her three children after the final attack in the book breaks the oppressive atmosphere and ends the story on a reassuring note. The author’s language is unpretentious, but forceful and often poetic with rich imagery and sometimes slightly affected metaphors. Among others in the form of blue marks of violence on human skin or as blue jeans kindling hope in a better future the colour blue runs through the entire novel as a symbol.

Due to many unvarnished scenes of violence, reading Blue Jewellery by Katharina Winkler has been a rather shattering experience, but one that held my attention and made me finish the slim volume in only one go. I appreciated very much that the Austrian author refrained from reducing the tragic and unfortunately true story of Filiz to its back-of-beyond Muslim-Kurdish dimension as would have corresponded with the zeitgeist. In fact, she gave religion only marginal attention exploring instead roots and mechanisms of (predominantly) male violence against women and children on a more universal level although by way of example of one woman. Dealing with domestic violence, the novel plays in the same league as Roddy Doyle’s (fictitious) The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (»»» read my review) and allows a look behind the victims’ carefully locked doors and into their buttoned-up souls. Therefore it’s an important read that I gladly recommend.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I can imagine that was hard to read. But timely. This male prerogative to harm women is far from gone anywhere in the world, even in the so-called civilized countries. But the will to fight back is growing.


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