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Safeta ObhodjasSafeta Obhodjas

Safeta Obhodjas, Author in German and Bosnian, Sargon Boulus, Poet in Arabic and English

Veröffentlicht am 01.03.2021

Article: Safeta Obhodjas and Sargon Boulus. Legenden und Staub:

Auf den christlichislamischen Pfaden des Herzens.   (Book review)

Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Vol. 44, No. 3 (Summer, 2009)

 Book Review

 Dr Prof. Allen Podet

State University College, Buffalo, NY


Article from:  Journal of Ecumenical Studies Article date: June 22, 2009 Author: Podet, Allen COPYRIGHT 2009 Journal of Ecumenical Studies.

This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group,

Farmington Hills, Michigan.  All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

In this book, Obhodjas has collaborated with Boulus to produce a literary arabesque, a dance in which first one, then the other, addresses themes including mentorship, books, the Gilgamesh epic, education of the young, and confrontation with the police.

Boulus, born in Iraq in 1944, died in Berlin 2007, he was a Christian Arab descendent of the threatened Christian Assyrian sect, a community that retains its own Semitic language. He eventually moved to Beirut, Lebanon, which offered a more secure Christian community. He was the poet who broke the classical forms and created an Arabic poetry, altogether fresh and exciting, that gained him an international following, especially among the New York arts community and later the San Francisco cognoscenti, among whom he lived forty years. He become a pillar of the “Beat” generation and was prominent in the usual political protests. He introduced Arab readers to Allen Ginzberg, Ezra Pound, Sylvia Plath, and the older English poetic tradition. His works in this book center on the confrontation of Christen and Muslim and how the two enrich one another. He remains best known, however, for his revolution of Arabic poetry, where his influence is profound and extensive.

Obhodjas, is a Muslim prose writer from Bosnia. Born 1951 in Pale, a small town near Sarajevo, she grew up in Bosnia, took her degree in journalism from Sarajevo University, and began writing radio plays and articles, often about the fate and difficulties of women. Obhodjas’s Bosnia has been in turmoil for the last half-century, with religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity leading to a fermenting and fascinating society at best, and perpetual strife to the point of murder at worst. Since she was forced into exile in 1992 by the “ethnic cleansing,” she has been resident principally in Wuppertal, Germany, und has published largely in German, sometimes in Bosnian. Her approach in this book and in general is that of phenomenology, observing her characters closely and analyzing their lives and actions with a sympathetic eye. Her characteristic humor is compassionate, not unkind.

 What emerges in this work is a cross-cultural love letter, with profound insight from the one tradition on the other. The book is fascinating for its contrasts and represents an extraordinarily successful intellectual collaboration.


Sargon Boulus died a long time ago. But I keep him and his stories in my memories. I want to give his poem Who knows the story to the readers of my blog. Please click to open it.


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Scheherezade in a Winter Country

Veröffentlicht am 21.02.2021

In 1997 I lived in the city of Stuttgart for three months. I had received a work grant with a condition to live and work in their Writers’ House that summer. For the first time in my life, I lived alone, with no family close by. I did not know anyone in that city and in my loneliness, I began contemplating my childhood and my youth, and my beginnings as a writer in Bosnia. What drove me to write stories about the life of Bosnians Muslims?

I wrote a story about my big success as a thirteen-year-old student in my hometown Pale: I had received a literary prize for my essays in a book publisher’s contest. This story developed further, and I found myself writing a novel about my life in Bosnia before the war of 1992. I was focusing on the time after the Second World War as I was trying to describe, through my own memories, the time when all three nationalities lived together in peace. And so, the novel “Scheherazade in a Winter Country” was born, a testimony of our dreams before the nationalists stirred up the hatred. I am glad I was able to get few chapters translated in English, to add to this blog.

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My Writing in German

Veröffentlicht am 17.02.2021

 Living and Writing as an Author in Exile

 Published in German, in Magazine “Frauenrat” 2007


My native country is Bosnia and Herzegovina. I didn’t want to leave my land. 1992 the Serbs carried out their Actions named “ethnic cleaning” in Bosnia. All Muslims had to leave, or they would be destroyed and executed. I immigrated with my family to Germany. Although it was an unknown culture for me, I was happy to be in a free country, where I could work and at the same time learn a lot. German became my second language; in which I developed my writing.

 My first phase in Germany 1992-95 was a refugee-agony: I worked as a cleaner, (I had 3 Jobs), took care of my family and studied German.  It was the time I couldn’t sleep because of war in my country. I had my parents, many, many friends and colleagues in Bosnia, who suffered hunger and bombardments. There had pillaged death, hunger, misery and there were so many needs in my country. Bosnian tragedy was present in all media; you could see its dieing live on TV every day.

Lot of Germans tried to help the people in Bosnia and collected humanitarian help for them.These Germans needed a person, who had war experience and could speak about that and the problems in Bosnia. I wanted to help with telling the truth about the war in Bosnia in Bosnian language. I couldn’t do it in German language without good Germans skills. Study of German language became my obsession. Few years later I could write in German.

 At this time the publishers were looking for Literature from Bosnia. But they didn’t want to publish my novels und stories. The mainstream of the German publicity had an illusion about life in ex-Yugoslavia before the war. They liked the books of authors, who described Sarajevo’s cosmopolitism and harmony between cultures and religions in Tito’s country. I didn’t have a fairy-tale story with this theme. In my prose I described the complexity of women’s situation in this patriarchal society, especial of Muslims women. Some lectors liked my still of writing and they wanted me to write a love-story. “I don’t write love-novels. I wrote about women in Bosnia, they were exploited in name of love, even of their own families – I answered. “Now we don’t need an emancipation. You should write a book about love between a Serbian boy and a Muslim girl. Such story we can good sell now.”

I couldn’t write about an order theme and I continued working as cleaner. Few years later I found a small publisher, who preferred the literature from the small Bosnian culture with Islamic roots.

My refugee-phase finished with my first published book between 1996-97. After that I was at the same time a cleaner and an author in exile. 1997 I got an invitation to Symposium “Publishing in exile”, where I should talk about my swing between cultures: Islamic, Slavic, Europeans and about my exile in Germany. There was so much discussion about situation of Authors in a foreign culture. At the symposium I would never forget a sentence of a female speaker: Women in exile are the best cleaner of Germany. Most of them are very educated.

I was a cleaner but an author too.

 1997-98 I was a happy writer because of support, which I got from few culture institutions. I had enough money for my existence and first time in my life enough time for my writing. German skills helped me to collect information about the situation of migrants in the German society.  I couldn’t understand, why politics and culture’s authorities didn’t show more interest to find a solution for the problems of migrants. Many of them did the problems identification of not to succeed integration but they seldom established the projects, which could prevent formatting of parallel societies in the German cities.  Women in exile are not only the best cleaner of Germany but they are keeping the old tradition and customs from forsaken land. And they should bear all cruel of this circumstance. The emancipation fighters stay always alone and get hardly support in the German society.

 1998 I met in the art village Schoeppingen a poet from Iraq with same destiny as me. His name was Sargon Boulus and he had roots in the old culture of Babylon. He was Assyrian and Christ from Orient and I Muslim and European. His absolute homelessness touched me, and I was enthusiastic about his knowledge of East history.

Both of as were swinger between cultures and curios about expiries of each other. Through exchanging of stories about our native countries and exile we developed a book project “Legend and Dust – on the Christ- Muslims paths of hearts.”  We finished the manuscript in Bosnian and German. But no one publisher wanted a dialog-book between a Christ and a Muslim. One of them told me, I should take only my story but there must be more sacrifices of a Muslim woman. If I described my suffering in the Family, she would publish our book because of my good writing.

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My Biography in English

Veröffentlicht am 18.01.2021

Switching Berween two Languages - Bosnian and German

Safeta Obhodjas , is one of the many writers and intellectuals from Bosnia und Herzegovina who, because of genocide and "ethnic cleansing" in
the period of 1992-95, had to leave their home country and become refugees in Europe und other continents. She was born in 1951 in Pale, near Sarajevo, in a Bosnian - Moslem family. There she got married und gave birth to her two daughters. She studied journalism at the University of Sarajevo. Together with her family, she lived in Pale and commuted to Sarajevo. In 1980-1992, she published various radio plays for Radio Sarajevo, Belgrade, and Zagreb.  She also published articles and stories in the literary magazines in these same cities. Her first book "The Women and the Secret" was published 1987 in Sarajevo by the publisher "Veselin Maslesa." She received numerous accolades for her stories and radio plays. In 1992, because of their Muslim religion, she and her family were driven out from Pale by Bosnian Serbs. Since then, she has been living and working in exile in Wuppertal, Germany.
She is the first Bosnian writer who writes about the challenges of modern times in Bosnia. Her main subject in her literature opus has been women's life and women's destiny in Bosnia's multi-religious and culturally complex society in the last 50 years. As a writer she keeps the role of a neutral observer who describes the events of peoples' destinies with very precise details and with a great deal of humor and irony. As a storyteller she upholds the suspense from the first to the last page
In Germany, she works in both Bosnian und German languages. Critics describe her prose as a compilation of writings that connect Orient and Oxidant together. She has received financial support from various German cultural foundations for her engagement and her writing.
In the last few years four of her books have been published in German: the novels "Hana", "On a Bosnia's Banquet", "Sheherezade in a Winter-Country" and short stories "The Woman and the Secret" by "Melina Verlag;" and "Sheherezade in a Winter-Country", by "Bosanska rijec" (Bosnian word) Tuzla and Wuppertal in Bosnian language.
Her most recent book is “Sisters Love – a Halal-Soap Opera” in German and  "The Fruits in Goethe's Garden were Bitter" in Bosnian, the publisher "Bosnian Word" Tuzla, Bosnia.


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Stories in English

Veröffentlicht am 01.01.2021

 Dzamilla’s Ideal


This morning I was to deliver a lecture for the upper level students of the Siblings Scholl Gymnasium. As I was about to enter the room, I instantly noticed a familiar face. Who could have overlooked the dark glistening eyes of my neighbor Dzammila? This unexpected encounter was not exactly pleasant for either one of us. We knew one another well, even though until this very moment, we had barely exchanged few words with each other. Only a small fence separated our backyards in the Wiesenstrasse. Nonetheless, the modest shrubs and flowers that grew there could not prevent us from observing and getting to know one another. Thus, every day I watched Dzammila play in the backyard or at the terrace with her younger siblings. I watched the little ones eagerly make noises and run around ferally. Yet, when her father returned home from work, they would instantly change back into quiet and well-behaved children without him raising his voice. I saw a friendship develop between Dzammila and a neighborhood boy as they exchanged their CD’s and videotapes. If it so happened that Dzamilla’s brother caught them, a grand finale with a slap in Dzamilla’s face would generally conclude this exchange. Also, Dzammila’s mother would intervene loudly and screamingly. Although I was not able to understand her language, nevertheless I could easily guess what she was saying. This little woman seemed to be a good guardian of her tradition and tried to teach Dzammila the virtues of an obedient daughter. I was certain that these were the same orders that I used to hear back then from my Nana and later on even from my mother: “ Girl, shame on you, your skirt is too short! Go and change fast before your father comes back!  Dzammila, where are your siblings? Haven’t I told you that you should be watching them? If they did something again, you’d have to pay dearly for that! Haven’t I told you to come home right away after school?” 

The atmosphere in the neighbor’s family reminded me of my own childhood in a desolate place far away from here in a Bosnian provincial nest. And still it appeared to me that in comparison to my current situation, my childhood was a single sunny oasis. To rid myself of my war experiences and of the recently acquired condition of being a refugee in a foreign country, I started to use my childhood memories as a foundation for new stories. First, I wrote a story with the title ”The Prize,” and was very content with the depiction of the contradicting traits of my father’s personality. Thus, I was able to forgive my father everything that had hurt me before. My newly discovered childhood gave me strength to overcome the challenges of a foreign country. This could have been a fast healing experience, if it were not for my husband’s insistence to dwell psychologically on the war and the fleeing. That used to be a time of horrible arguments between us. Only deaf ears in our neighborhood could have overheard these quarrels. In order to get away from his never-ending analyses of the situation on the Balkans, I would retreat to a table under a plum tree in the backyard, and work there during the summer. Nevertheless, the apartment soon became too narrow for my husband. He could not stand being lonely anymore, and would come outside to share his new insights on the war, the reasons why it happened, and who was to blame. He dealt with this in such a manner as if we were living in a waiting room, and were never allowed to forget our suffering. Thus, he failed to notice that our relationship was breaking apart gradually. In order to distance myself from him, I used my readings and writings to build my own defense wall. In this little niche, I attempted to become better acquainted with the new language and the new culture. My husband was upset because I found an activity for myself alone and hence allowed myself to continue living spiritually in exile. Consequently, our mutual respect sank to point zero, and would continue to sink even further until we both realized that it was impossible for the two of us to be living together. As a matter of fact, Dzammila and her mother were able to hear our last fight in the backyard. I was working under the tree when he came by firmly convinced to victoriously set an end to our marriage. He blamed me for not having any understanding for him and his suffering. “ I have not been exactly spared. I, as well, have lost everything!” I said and stuck my nose deeper in a book in order to hide from him. Suddenly, all the books, papers, and notepads flew all over the backyard. “ Stop showing off your strength to me! Who do you think you are? To me you’re nothing but a conceited, ignorant and insensitive witch that only deserves to live in solitude,” he yelled at me, pale with anger. “ Fine! Go ahead, leave at last!” My voice was shrill. “ I’d rather choose solitude over you being buried next to me. You’re not living any more; instead you’re only eking out a miserable existence. And, you’re also forcing me to die spiritually! You take great delight in torturing me mentally!” I was happy that Dzammila and her mother, who were sitting in their backyard, could not understand us.

After my husband returned to our home country, I found a new occupation. I collaborated on the projects of intercultural organizations that dealt with the situation of female immigrants in Germany. There, I was often introduced as a role model and invited to give readings. The organizers and moderators were always able to find very nice wording for my feminist engagement. “A woman, who was born and raised in a traditional Islamic family and later dared to pursue her own paths. A writer who had the courage to represent the society from a point of view of a woman...” – These flattering words were the balm for my wounds. This made me forget how much I missed my husband and how being in solitude had been torturing me lately. Now I was convinced that my work had a purpose. Hence, the commission to give a lecture about the women in exile led me to Dzammila’s classroom this morning. The principal, who invited me, introduced me emphatically to the students and asked me to read my narrative “ The Prize,” that has already been familiar to her. She was curious, and kept asking if I let my own experiences come across through my literature. “Only a little bit,” I said with a smile. While I was reading and revealing my paths between the cultures, Dzammila’s eyes were following me attentively. “Girls, please do not get me wrong, “ I thought, and stressed how my father, despite his patriarchic behavior, allowed me to have a happy childhood. When the reading was over, I immediately sensed that the principal was, all of a sudden, cold and distanced towards me. I could read her discontent from her petrified face expressions. It was obvious to me that I had not fulfilled her expectations. While we were drinking coffee in her office, an unpleasant silence prevailed between us. I wondered if that had anything to do with my German. She noticed my embarrassment and tried to act more friendly. “ You know, you have really learned to speak our language well. Good for you!” she said. “Thanks, but I apparently must have done something wrong.“ My curiosity superseded my embarrassment. Her face regained a somewhat milder expression. “ You did not ... You did not emphasize enough that you had been distanced from your family. The girls have to hear clearly how you have won your struggle against tradition. You probably have to give more readings in schools. I would like to give you a few tips for your next appearance...“.

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