She was comfortable with it, so to speak, the Rotterdam schoolgirl. Even before we, three writers, had started the conversation with the students, she jumped out of the starting blocks Turkish fruit to the filth of history. The main character was a misogynist, he beat his girl. She didn’t understand why she should have read it, let alone why it belonged to the canon.
The book was bad because the main character was bad. According to this logic, the distinction between a racist character and a racist book also disappears – whereby an essential quality of the novel is lost: showing man in all his manifestations between angel and devil.
Kader Abdolah then told about the books that had to be written and the characters that forced themselves upon you in all their versatility; you were not in charge as a writer. I timed Turkish Delight in response to the stifling morale of the 1950s – a generation broke free from the narrow bourgeoisie; in addition to scorching love, sex and power, it also described a conflict between the generations. You could even take it as a doctrine about changing morals. Then a revolution, now an example of toxic masculinity; well, I tried something too.
Abdelkader Benali was silent.
The girl was not convinced, on the contrary. She is not alone in her criticism. The flea comb of time has found iniquity in Turkish delight, the book has been under fire for some time. In his very enjoyable, if somewhat one-sided study Police in the polder writes Sebastien Valkenberg about literary scholar Bram Ieven, who wrote off Turkish delight with the words: ‘Wolkers is just a sexist’. At the department of film sciences at Utrecht University, the book filming is no longer screened together – too confrontational. “This is a rape scene!” students shuddered at the sight of Erik doing his will with Olga without being asked.
Back then, Turkish Delight encountered old Puritans, now young ones. Iconoclasts with an aggressive function of conscience.
In his Loyalty-column Abdelkader Benali responded a week later to our meeting with the student. Kader Abdolah and I had gone on the offensive “to save male honor,” he wrote. “All I thought was, ‘Don’t, guys. Listen to her.’ Does she have a point, I wonder? Have we missed something as a generation? Do we identify too much with that tough, white self-narrator?”
interesting questions, dude, if you had asked them. But Benali saved them for his piece, without even formulating the beginning of an answer in it. Foolish questions, in short. Good decoration afterwards. And that Abdolah and I would have defended male honor is of course bad nonsense, because the discussion was about the autonomy of the artwork and nothing else. Benali poses here as a conscientious intersectionalist between two arrivals who do not want to give up their privileges.
Benali’s own contribution that day was the same as ever: his origins – the illiterate Moroccan-Rotterdam milieu that produced him – and his lonely road to the top. (Where he has been appearing in virtually all committees and juries for many years.) His humble background is his capital, he can’t stop talking about it. Also in his canceled but recently published May 4 lecture ‘The silence of the other’: little Abdel in front of the TV with his father, at school among white classmates, in the neighborhood library with Primo Levi.
Limited repertoire, badly sung.
In January, Benali withdrew from speaking at the May 4 lecture due to over-joyful anti-Semitic remarks long ago. I was then called by the February Strike Commemoration Committee, where he also appeared to have withdrawn as a speaker. If I wanted to intervene. The organization was unpleasantly surprised that, unbeknownst to them, he had accepted both the nomination of the February Strike Commemoration and the 4 May lecture. “Maybe he thought it was another war?” I inquired, but that seemed too strong to the organizer.
In any case, Benali’s May 4 lecture shows that he actually didn’t have enough material for one story already, so he can be thankful the circumstances were wiser than he was.
Tommy Wieringa writes a column here every week.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 19 June 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 19, 2021