Dialogue and Storytelling
The story of Selim and Alexander begins in the Bavarian village of Rosenheim with minimalist dialogue. When a train reserved for migrant laborers from Turkey stops briefly in January 1965, a young German soldier defies the stationmaster’s admonitions not to board the northbound train. Concerned only with returning to base on time, Alexander initially ignores the welcoming gestures made by one of the five Turkish men sharing a compartment for six. The absentminded interloper finally responds to a tap on his shoulder and the German word for “please” by occupying the sixth seat and greeting his traveling companions as custom warrants. They all reply in kind, but then silence sets in. Quickly burying himself in his newspaper, the awkward newcomer spends the remainder of the journey exchanging stolen glances with the Turks around him, especially Selim, the most attentive observer in the compartment. When another traveler intones the laborers’ destination as a question, to ask whether Alexander is also headed for Kiel, the uncomprehending soldier merely shrugs his shoulders, says nothing, and wonders to himself what the presumably foreign utterance could mean. Eventually the industrial recruits resume their Turkish conversation, and Alexander reads on. The two protagonists of Sten Nadolny’s Selim oder Die Gabe der Rede [Selim or The Gift of Speech], a novel that made literary history in 1990, do not cross paths again until 1967, when circuitous routes and diverse experiences in postwar Germany lead them to the same bar in West Berlin.
KeywordsMigration Coherence Turkey Fishing Bedding
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