Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Novel that Waxes Off Stereotypes

Three young women are meeting once a month to get their legs (and other parts of their body) waxed. They live in the Netherlands, they have a strong friendship and they talk freely about their choices in life: about their career, their lifestyle, their fears, their love stories and about sex. No, it's not the story of Carrie and her friends teleported to the land of the wooden shoes, and it's not an orientalist depiction of an escape from the Harem. De Harsclub, translating literally as "The Wax Club" is the story of Bahar -single girl living with her parents, Arzu -independent flight attendant living alone, and Yelda -married to the "perfect" husband. Stereotypes? No.

Senay Özdemir's novel goes far beyond its "Mediterranean Chick lit" label and its unoriginal cover. De Harsclub is a sincere novel and it is why it's such a pleasure to read. The author doesn't try to manipulate your thoughts about a certain community. In this novel, like in real life, Mediterranean/Turkish/Muslim women do care about and have a life full of fun, love, success and sex, and that is just ... natural. No stereotypical depiction of the "non Western" woman caught in the terrible-web-of-her-so-thought-doomed-culture. Being herself of Turkish descent, Senay Özdemir has a legitimate voice to tell the story of these three young women of Turkish origin living in the Netherlands. Because indeed, having Turkish roots does influence their thoughts and action, and it does shape their identity. But it does not ipso facto imply that they are trying to escape from an-OTHER world. These women are perfectly feeling in harmony with their identity, because it is composed by more than just nationality or tradition. Arzu, Bahar and Yelda are before everything else women, and Özdemir does not feel she needs to justify their needs, their passions, their stories, in any way. She doesn't have to and it feels so good. I recognized myself in these characters, I also recognized my mother, my aunt and my girlfriends, all with their own backgrounds, all with their own identities, all sharing stories of life as women, in their own way. I enjoyed their company and moreover, I enjoyed not having been put in a box again.

De Harsclub, by Senay Özdemir (Archipel Amsterdam - Antwerpen, 185 pages). In Dutch.
Senay Özdemir's blog: http://senayozdemir.blogspot.com/

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