“All of a sudden another Albanian slashed my shoulder with a shank. I didn’t even notice. I was numbed from anger, from coke and from vodka. And then my boys waded in, and the fucking cops turned up with their lights flashing, running all over the shop now that there was nothing left to do. Even an ambulance rolled up, but I’m too proud to be carried off on a stretcher by the fucking vultures. Fuck me I’d just fought off four serious assholes, to have managed that and not to walk out on my own two legs, well what sort of a shitty end would that have been I ask you? Then the fucking girls arrived yakking on ‘oh Ertan, no kidding, you held your own!”***
In Feridun Zaimoglu’s ‘Scum’, not yet translated into English and read in French as ‘Racaille’ we hear the true story of Ertan Ongun, and I use the word hear with purpose as the book is based on interviews recorded on tape for Zaimoglu. Ertan Ongun in his own words is a ‘dago, a junky and a gangster’, born in Germany and living back and forth between Germany and Turkey. The story is told in Ertan’s language, the language of the streets, remarkably translated into French and good luck to a future English translator!
Ertan takes us through his life in Kiel, as he slides inevitably from delinquency through drug abuse to prison and then finally, here, hopelessness. For the most part as the opening quote illustrates in his circles you can’t survive without pride and the young Ertan has ‘cojones’ to spare, he and his friends hang out in a bar known as the “Flohmarkt” where most of the actions begin or the ideas are hatched, told in short, mostly 3 to 5 page chapters. We learn of the different groups around them, the Kurds, the Albanians and the Yougoslaves which he paints in a couple of sentences as for example here with the Yougoslaves:
“The bloke that ran the club ‘Eros’, was a Yougoslave. He was called Zlatko. He had a large Mercedes 500, a massive gold chain with a huge cross studded with big diamonds and all the rest.”***
I can almost see Zlatko. As the book advances, everyone around Ertan just sort of naturally winds up in prison or dead and Ertan slowly slides into drugs, doing everything but slowly being destroyed by ‘H’ at first he manages to get off of it on his trips to Turkey but he then quickly finds a source there too.
The book is full of bravado and humour, he tells us who he is with the gloves off, this isn’t an attempt to get us to like him and as Zaimoglu concludes:
“He delivers his message: we’re the dagos that you, the Germans, have systematically put forward as representing. Well now, here we are, in every way identical to the image you have created of us, to your fears.”***
Since this book, Zaimoglu has gone on to be a well known literary figure in Germany, a playwright and author amongst other things but as yet not translated into English.
First published in German as ‘Abschaum Die wahre Geschichte Von Ertan Ongun’ by Rotbuch/Sabine Groenewold Verlage in 1997
Translated into French by Florence Tenenbaum as “Racaille La véritable histoire d’Ertan Ongun” and published by Stock in 2004
*** My translation