Millennium #15 Issue, May 2005
The Ant Drank Water
(Karincanin Su Içtigi)
A novel by Yasar Kemal
Book review by Emin PAMUCAK
North Carolina Turkish Book Club
"Karincanin Su Ictigi" (As The Ant Drank Water)
is the second book of a four volume anthology titled "Bir
Ada Hikayesi" (An Island Story) by the master Turkish
story teller Yasar Kemal. As of this writing
the fourth book of the series has not been published.
"Karincanin Su Ictigi" (similar to "deniz
carsaf gibi") is a Turkish phrase used by mariners
to describe the perfectly still waters at the edge of
a calm sea - referring to an ant's ability to drink water
from the sea without being washed away on such a calm
This four volume anthology is about the saga of a nation
trying to rebuild itself after the chaos following WWI
and the Turkish War of Independence. It deals with
the forced exchange (zorunlu mübadele - exchange
obligatoire) of peoples of Anatolia and Greece by the
Refugee Settlement Commission of the Lausanne Treaty which
was ratified on July 24, 1923. Close to two
million inhabitants of Asia Minor, Macedonia, Western
Thrace and Crete were uprooted and trekked to the coastal
cities as destitute refugees - a compulsory intermigration
under the supervision of the League of Nations.
Muslim residents Eastward to Anatolia and Greek Orthodox
residents Westward to the Hellenic Peninsula across the
Aegean Sea... A little known fact by many Turks
is that this exchange actually took place in the early
years of the young Turkish Republic, lasting through 1926.
In this volume of Yasar Kemal's novel, we learn more about
the fictional Western Turkish island, called the Ant Island
(vacated by the original Rum Orthodox inhabitants),
being re-populated by a mosaic of Ottoman Muslim subjects
who have come together in Turkey from the far corners
of the collapsed Empire. The island is described
as a "heaven" and its "ready to move in"
environment draws a diverse set of new immigrants
(mübadil) together. The author masterfully
illustrates the interactions of these different people
living together in harmony and in relative peace on this
somewhat remote island off the Anatolian coast.
There is a rich mosaic of people with different origins:
The Turk, the lonesome Greek, the Kurd, the Circassian,
the Laz fisherman, the Cretian islander, etc...
This novel is primarily about human drama; budding relationships
between new neighbors and the beautiful nature that surrounds
them. With the ending of wars, each of the characters
arriving on this picturesque island has a tragic story
to tell. Flashbacks are abundantly used to take
the reader back in time and to offer the reader sufficient
background and diligence about those unfortunate times.
This technique provides a realistic perspective about
the tragedies and atrocities of the wars: The psychology
of the fighting warriors, the poverty of the displaced
civilians, the heartache of mothers and wifes, the helplessness
of orphaned children, the fright of AWOL soldiers, and
the lost and new hopes of once wealthy but now destitute
land owners. Many of them innocent (and some not)
but each has a story to tell, and each has to piece together
a brand new life in a new environment in pursuit of their
own happiness. No matter the hardships they may
have suffered, each still has unfulfilled dreams and unfinished
plans for the future...
Discussion comments by the North Carolina Turkish
Kemal has created a small replica of the "Anatolian
Mosaic" on this remote island.
Through flashbacks, the reader is taken on an "exhausting
journey" all around Anatolia and the tragedies
that it suffered through.
Kemal has a very strong story telling technique and
a very rich vocabulary decorating his literary descriptions;
almost like "weaving a fine Anatolian carpet."
It appears that Yasar Kemal extensively researched
the subject matter and the events that took place
in that time frame. He most likely interviewed
actual people that lived through similar situations.
In the book one can feel Kemal's opposition to war,
disapproval of Enver Pasa.
Characters are very proud of their heritage and lands
left behind. Although they are in this new environment,
they are not ready to "let go of the past."
They continue to look for that perfect property of
land, house, boat, farm, food or scenery. Just like
the ones they left behind.
Some of the characters such as "Nisanci"
and "Dengbej" are very spiritually connected.
Both have a mysterious quality and a certain magical
charm or spell that transcends to other characters
in the plot, as well as the readers.
Much repetition (perhaps too much) is used in the
book. It is known that Kemal wrote poetry before
becoming a novelist and his repetitious and colorful
descriptions and illustrations of the scenes can be
connected back to his love of poetry. The poetry
of life, of people, of nature; repeating through out
About the Author:
Yasar Kemal was born Yasar Kemal Gokceli in Adana,
in autumn 1922, into a family of well-to-do landlords.
His parents came originally from the shores of Lake
Van, on the eastern frontiers of Turkey. After a long
trek on foot they settled on the South Anatolian plain
of Cilicia, a region populated by big landowners,
poor peasants, and the Kurds. This rocky and hot landscape
of the Taurus Mountains became the background of several
of Kemal's stories. At the age of five Kemal saw his
father killed while praying at the mosque, and during
the same incident, Kemal lost one eye. Due to this
traumatic experience, Kemal developed a stutter that
lasted for years. He started to attend a school at
the age of nine in a neighborhood village, and after
studying two years at a secondary school, Kemal ended
his formal education. In his teens and twenties Kemal
worked in odd jobs. He was a cotton picker, farmhand,
construction foreman, clerk, cobbler's helper, and
substitute teacher. During these years Kemal become
familiar with Turkish folklore. His first book, published
in 1943, was a compilation of folk elegies, which
he had collected in his region. He also wrote short
stories and published poems in a local magazine in
Adana and small magazines elsewhere. Kemal's experiences
among peasants and workers made him a devoted defender
of the underprivileged. After saving enough money
he bought a typewriter and became a public petition
writer. Kemal later became a columnist and special-feature
writer for major daily Turkish news papers. In 1952
he married Thilda Serrero, they had one son. In 1963
Kemal left journalism to became a full-time writer.
The author in his own words:
"Traditionally and temperamentally, I feel drawn
to the light and poetry in life. My search is for
the forces that bind us to life and the world
we live in, and I believe this is to be found in the
boundless energy and richness of the peoples of all
nations." (Kemal in World Authors 1950-1970,
edited by John Wakeman, 1975)
"People have always created their own worlds
of myths and dreams, perpetuating their lives in those
imaginary worlds. At times of duress, they have created
more such worlds, which have given them haven and
facilitated their lives. In their transition from
one darkness to another, having acquired the consciousness
of death, they have realized their lives and the joy
of living in the world of myths and dreams they have
created." (Yasar Kemal in his acceptance speech
of the 1997 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade,
translated by Talat Sait Halman)
Post Script - Research About "Ant Island":
The following paragraph from an interview with Yasar
Kemal is translated from the German website, Unionsverlag:
"Although I have never lived a long time on an
island, I have been conceptualizing this plot since
the 1970's. I obtained all the available books on
the islands, moreover I interviewed some senior citizens
who told me stories about their islands. So
gradually I became an expert. After finishing
the first volume, I spent some time on an island in
the Marmara Sea. It was to be sure
littler than my Ant Island, but everything was almost
as I had imagined it."
Island ("Koutalis" by its original
Greek name) in the Marmara Sea near Avsa closely resembles
Yasar Kemal's fictitious Ant Island. Its history
is much like many other islands, villages, towns and
communities throughout Anatolia and Greece that had
their ancestral lands (for many centuries and millennia)
shifted by the Lausanne Treaty. Just like
the Ant Island, Ekinlik Island has olive groves, grape
vineyards, fishermen, many varieties of colorful flowers,
birds, stray cats, wind mills, a rocky shoreline,
a church and the ruins of an old school. The
original inhabitants of Koutalis were relocated to
Greece as Lausanne Refugees (Lozan Mübadili).
Some of the old Koutalis residents built New Koutalis
on Lemnos Island. More of Ekinlik Island's
story and additional pictures can be found at the
About Emin Pamucak:
Emin Pamucak was born in 1959 in Kutahya, Turkey to
immigrant families from Ottoman Turkish towns in Bulgaria
and Greece. After receiving his elementary school
education in Karadeniz Ereglisi and Ankara, Emin attended
middle school and high school in suburban metropolitan
Washington, D.C. He holds BS and MS degrees in engineering
from Bogazici University and University of Maryland.
Employed by IBM since 1984,
he has worked at company locations in Minnesota, New
York, Connecticut and most recently North Carolina.
A firm believer in "by and for" grassroots
civic representation, Emin is involved in community
service and advocacy with emphasis in diversity relations
and social responsibility. He has been an active member
of ATA North Carolina since 1996, serving as the President
of the Association for the last three years. He has
received Association's Distinguished Member and Distinguished
Leader Awards. In 2004, ATA North Carolina was recognized
as ATAA's Component Association of the Year. Emin
is also a founding member and the current president
of Bridge to Turkiye Fund, which is a US charitable
organization focused on improving the underprivileged
segments of Turkish society. Emin is happily married
to Ayse and is the father of Ayca, a freshman at UNC.
-- Emin Pamucak, May 2005, North Carolina.
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Light Millennium #15 Issue, May 2005