Going Dutch with German Writers (16) : Drinking with Deniz

Debut novelist Deniz Utlu shows Katy Derbyshire a couple of Schöneberg nightspots over margaritas. The evening features stroboscopes, Kermani, falafel, Camus and the Beastie Boys. No one falls off a bus.

Bad shave? Doesn't matter, the picture is bad too: Deniz Utlu and Katy Derbyshire.
Bad shave? Doesn't matter, the picture is bad too: Deniz Utlu and Katy Derbyshire.Foto: Katy Derbyshire

Deniz Utlu writes plays, essays and micro-stories and curates a literary events series for the Maxim-Gorki-Theater. His marvellous debut novel, Die Ungehaltenen, came out on the 10th of March.

Mister Hu bar, Habibi Winterfeldtplatz, Green Door

We both start off with margaritas (with salt) and I switch to gin and tonic at Green Door because they have posh gin, then we have a Coke and Deniz has a mini-whisky to finish off.

What did we talk about?
Things get off to a slow start because we were originally supposed to meet at Maigold on Merseburgstraße, which looks totally classy but is closed on Mondays. But Schöneberg is Deniz’s hood and he knows it like the back of his hand, so off we trot to Mister Hu. On the way there, it turns out that once again, I have failed to communicate the purpose of our drinking session efficiently. Poor Deniz thought it was just a social occasion (we’ve known each other for a couple of years, since he was a student) and thinks he ought to have shaved if I’m going to be taking photos. I think I really ought to ask men out for a drink more often; they do seem to like it.

Deniz works part time for a human rights organization, saving the world, and has just been to Columbia for a meeting. Apparently this sounds more glamorous than it is, but there were some margaritas involved. Margaritas it is, then – we don’t even open up the menu. They take a while to arrive but when they do they’re scrumptious. So how’s the new book doing? Deniz is cautiously optimistic; he’s from Hannover and had a reading there a few days ago and the Hannoversche Allgemeine gave it a good review. Ah, yes. I’ve been thinking about him coming from Hannover rather than Kreuzberg, like the narrator of his novel. It’ll be interesting to see how people react to that, because it would be very easy to assume the protagonist is his alter ego. I say I can see a couple of parallels to his life, but they’re more in the character’s sentiments than his actions.

The book is about Elyas, a young Turkish German who grows up in Kreuzberg, an only child with no one to argue with on the back seat of the car. In the first part he’s an angry young man and his father is dying, and the second part is a road trip to Turkey with a woman whose father is dying. We talk about Turkish-German writers of various generations. There’s a great woman poet around Deniz’s age, he tells me, and I’ve forgotten her name but I’ve seen her reading, I’m fairly sure. Gorgeous, with amazing curly hair? And her poems are very kitsch? Yes, that’s her, but they’re supposed to be like that, he says, because they’re based on the divan tradition. I feel bad because I totally didn’t get that. I’m not quite sure what the divan tradition is but it all makes more sense now.

We talk about kitsch in his writing – he’s a big Leonard Cohen fan and he puts it there on purpose, and there’s humour and sadness too. Did I not notice how funny his book is? I did at his reading at the Maxim-Gorki-Theater, which was an amazing occasion with three actors and a wonderful musician, although one of the actors hammed it up too much for my taste. But when I read the book beforehand I was really stressed and found it mainly depressing, in a good way. But it’s actually very funny as well as angry and sad, and very good of course. We talk about Navid Kermani, speaking of kitsch in novels, because I’ve just read his Große Liebe and loved it. It’s full of medieval Persian literature, which just drips with sentiment. I love the way Kermani plays it off against his rather banal 1980s love story; I promise to lend Deniz the book.

The Blogger: Katy Derbyshire

Katy Derbyshire is a London-born translator who moved to Berlin in 1996. She has translated many contemporary German writers, including Felicitas Hoppe, Francis Nenik, Clemens Meyer, Inka Parei, Dorothee Elmiger, Simon Urban, Sibylle Lewitscharoff and Christa Wolf. She likes talking about books.