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Janneke Donkerlo

Phone: +31 626 898 775
6 May, 1959 (All day)

 Janneke donkerlo wrote

 Saygili & Sons (Saygili & Zn)

In the fifties and sixties, West European countries like Germany, France, Belgium and also the Netherlands were competing for cheap labourers to rebuild their post war economies. In poor countries like Turkey, millions of people applied for temporary work abroad. In the book Saygili & Sons, Janneke Donkerlo tells the saga of the Saygili’s, a family originally from the heart of Anatolia.

Nevzat Saygili, the grandson of the old Saygili, is initially not meant to live. Since his mother is rejected by his father, he is left in a stable to die after birth. A dog keeps him warm until his mother comes to feed him at last. His Grandfather claims the little boy at the age of two, but little care and affections awaits him at the household of the Saygili’s.

Nevzats talent to survive, is exemplary for his further life. After a tough childhood, he runs away from home at the age of eleven. He manages to survive in Istanbul and later, in 1969, finds his way to the Netherlands, where his father does dirty work in a factory. Nevzat however wants to achieve more, always bearing in mind the top of the mountain Erciâys, which he used to gaze at while herding the sheep for his grandfather.

In the course of thirty years, with little education and hardly any money to invest, Nevzat develops from scratch a number of shops and restaurants. Through hard work he becomes a respected businessman. In the new millennium however, his dream - a strong family company - is cruelly disturbed through a conflict with a real estate developer.

Donkerlo places the personal events of the Saygili’s in a wider historical context of migration. What were people’s struggles, dreams and expectations? What happened to the family members who remained at home, how did they cope with the separation of their beloved ones? Which ideas did the Dutch have about the Islamic immigrants, their wives and their children? And how did migrants themselves relate to the population abroad? The book describes furthermore the political and social changes in both Turkey and the Netherlands between 1953 and 2006.

Saygili & Sons is based on the true story of Nevzat Saygili and his family. It does not only elaborate on Nevzats aspirations but also on the feelings of insecurity and loneliness of Nevzats wife, Ferziye, and the problems of bringing up their children in a strange country. Although Nevzat Saygili is an exceptional character, many Turkish migrants from the first second and third generation, recognize themselves in the book. For both Dutch and Turkish people in the Netherlands as well as in Turkey, the book is a meaningful document.


Janneke Donkerlo is Dutch by birth, but lived in Africa and Asia for many years. Coming from a migrating family, she became fascinated by the effect of migration on people’s lives. In 2002 she became a freelance journalist and published in daily newspapers and magazines on migration and other social subjects. She is presently writing about peoples lives in Mongolia.


- The story of  Nevzat Saygili and his family reads like an adventure novel – Contrast

- A well written book that spreads light on the history of the first Turkish migrants, very informative and certainly very entertaining. – Tulpia

-The book on Nevzats Saygili’s life is touching and very inspiring – Yusuf Avci

Publishing details

Saygili & Zn, Lotgevallen van een Turkse familie in Nederland (August 2009, 272 pp, 76.600 words)

Publishing house Atlas,  Amsterdam