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book cover of Karosh Taha's In the belly of the queen

In the belly of the queen

In an undefined neighbourhood of an undefined German town live a boy and a girl. They grow up, experience first love affairs, first disappointments. So far, so conventional – but Karosh Taha’s novel In the belly of the queen is not primarily a heterosexual coming-of-age story. Amal and Raffiq are not just concerned with themselves and each other; their lives seem to be under the spell of a woman. Both are spellbound by Shahira, the mother of their friend Younes. Shahira has no husband, she wears short skirts, she has sex, and she resists any stereotypes that the other Kurdish people in the neighbourhood want to impose on her. For Amal and Raffiq, she is scapegoat, comforter, object of desire, and canvas for their young projections – and the rest of the neighbourhood, too, seems to revolve around her. Subtly, the novel makes visible the complications implicated by a lifestyle that many Germans would at best read as “postmigrant”, but never as German. Viewed from the perspective of the young people, the absurdity of many everyday problems becomes apparent. Declaring migration the “mother of all problems” is rendered ridiculous when Kurdish fathers with university degrees all seem to work in kiosks or warehouses. The frustration bounces off some people better than others, but the strategy works: highly educated people look for a way back to Iraq, where their daughters meet for sex just as secretly as they did in Germany, but where the young Kurds socialised in Germany and “postmigrant” Germans feel strange and inferior because they don’t understand this world they are meant to call home. Raffiq puts this in a nutshell when his father wants to take him “back” to Kurdistan – immediately Raffiq rejects the “back” because he himself has never been there. When his father nevertheless tries to persuade him, the real reason becomes clear: “In Kurdistan I am what you are here”. Raffiq’s father, an architect in Kurdistan, works in a warehouse in Germany. Fathers leave their children in pursuit of no longer feeling like second-class citizens. This happens sometimes more, sometimes less dramatically. The women stay behind because they have support in the neighbourhood, because they are not allowed to work in Iraq,because they worry over their daughters.But in Kurdistan, his sister is not allowed to ride a bicycle. Raffiq doesn’t seem to understand why, but because Shahira tells him, it becomes a problem in his world as well.

Karosh Taha’s second novel relates with tenderness the contradictory realities confronted by children with a ‘migration background’. The so-called majority society appears only marginally: as a supervisor with excessively articulated pronunciation when he addresses the Kurds, as the classmate Tobi, or as a teacher who reacts in panic to a supposedly threatening Islamisation. And in headlines: “Suddenly mother is oppressed, mother is uneducated, mother is fanatical, mother is dependent, mother is weak, mother is not responsive, because mother speaks broken German, because she has no language, she is not a woman, she is an argument, she is a headline. She is the headscarf and I am ashamed […]” (p.42) The attributions projected onto Muslim bodies by white Germans have the same effect on the young people Amal and Raffiq, as the sometimes repressive norms of the parents, and the sexism that mothers encounter. While Shahira chooses to flee forwards, Amal’s mother withdraws. When her father returns to Iraq, she begins to wear a headscarf, so that her neighbours no longer ask when the man will finally return – the man who, as readers learn later, has already had a second family in Iraq for a long time. Shahira, on the other hand, does what she wants, sleeps with men and lives alone, thus becoming the subject of both desire and hate. Sometimes, as with Raffiq, both at the same time.

Taha describes painfully beautifully the growing pains of children growing up in two societies, one no less present than the other, and thus breaks with clichéd ascriptions of young people and communities read as migrant. Amal and Raffiq suffer not only due to puberty, but also due to inner conflicts between reality and projection, between everyday racism and their own demands, the linguistic alienation from their own mothers, and from Iraq, which seems to be both a place of longing and an impending punishment for many in the neighbourhood. Yet the book does not convey one truth, because the young people’s stories are like reality itself – fragmented, situated, contradictory.

(Translated by Grashina Gabelmann)

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