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Light Millennium #15 Issue, May 2005

As 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 day.
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 Book Club:

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 the book. 

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."

Ekinlik Island

Ekinlik 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 following links:
English: http://www.ekinlik.org/tarih/tarihe.html
: http://www.ekinlik.org/maint.html

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.

_ . _

Light Millennium #15 Issue, May 2005
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