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Traditional Themes in the Novels of Yasar KEMAL
written for Light Millennium..
by Osman SAHIN

Yasar KEMAL (born in Cukurova, 1923)


In today’s Turkish Literature, Yasar Kemal is considered as one of the great storytellers where fact, fantasy and folklore are stirred to produce poetry with such enriched cultural roots like the great poet Nazim Hikmet… The great quality of the fictional work of Yasar Kemal borns of the sources that go from Sumerians to Hittites, from Assyrians to Byzantine, and from Seljuks to Ottoman bringing these civilizations close to each other and linking to our modern times and absorbing through the oral tradition recited by the errant Turkish bards. In this perspective, we can fairly honor YASAR KEMAL as a brave wanderer along Anatolian Cultures.. He then builds a fabulous world, expressive, full of an epic air, in which hunger, violence and the powerful secret codes confront poverty with oppression, the whole sublimated by formidable lyrical power. Thus, he has contributed decisively to the creation of Turkish as a literary language.

In world literature, he is one of the very few great writers whose childhood and adult life is lived in such a poverty as he shares in his novels. We can feel the sweat  in the unbearable humid of the Cukurova cotton fields and the brutal cold of the snowy Taurus mountains where he wandered in its endless woods guarding the water canals surrendered with a cloud of mosquitoes. All these extreme difficulties  of his childhood  are hidden in each of his novel that sometimes explore the intricate psychology behind the transformation of fascination into violence.

Yasar Kemal’s novels progress like the life of a walnut tree. Developing slowly, but growing into many sub-stories like the arms of a walnut tree turning into a grand epical monumental of writing-art.  There are many reasons why it is difficult writing about this great author and his works. Firstly, due to his world-renowned reputation. Secondly, there are internationally numerous valuable critiques, biographical books, write-ups and media releases on his works. Therefore, it is quite understandable the difficulty on writing for Yasar Kemal who received such honorable global media attention. Kemal’s story-telling in his novels  are like the layers of Cukurova’s soil, rooted deeply and nurturing. 

That’s the reason why we can feel such richness on each layer of his books. An ordinary reader may sense only the lives and adventures on the surface and simply enjoy that. But, as we go into deeper layers of his stories it is inevitable to discover hidden elements of history, nature, folklore, legendary themes and traditional lyricism. Adding his poetic story-telling talent into all these layers; there is a phenomenal reality of human psychology. I also have to admit how lucky and privileged I am comparing to those who wrote on him... Because, Yasar  Kemal  is the writer of my native Cukurova & Taurus region where I was born; my very first motherland feeding his stories.  He contributes remarkably to the recreation of local nomad Turkish worldwide as a literary language which was spoken by my ancestors, my parents’ and my own villagers. That is why I find many similarities and a relativeness in his words, portraits, his perspective of the nature and mostly in his ballads which take me back to the nostalgia of my childhood’s epic stories, ballads in its own local nomad dialect I grew up listening.. His words constantly paddle through uncharted territory of my childhood. .

He makes the readers secretly discovering  the color of Anatolian cultures with such intellectual level of novelism... As a cultural mosaic, the cultures of Anatolia have been a source of modern cultures that is because the soil of Anatolia is so rich in culture. This world is a graveyard of wrecked languages and cultures as stated by him..  

We can compare his writing style to a running horse which always runs toward his poor peasant villagers, yet with such dignifying innocence.  His pen always runs in the direction of his people of honor under such oppression. Yasar Kemal is a storyteller of worlds in the oldest tradition, spokesman for a people who had no other voice. With the brilliance of his epic, adventurous, passionate, poetic books, Kemal stands for and successfully hugs not only the humanitarian elements of our people & culture, but also all the world cultures and that is why each of his books have the freshness and vigor of a writer who, one suspects, is the exultant discoverer of such virgin territory, the Cukurova.

In an interview I had back in ‘80s with the villagers of Saribahce in Cukurova, the responses to questions about YASAR KEMAL and Ince Memed, most claimed they had heard stories about the legendary folk hero, Ince Memed, in early childhood. They have since come to know YASAR KEMALas a writer, but also identify with him as a native of Cukurova.

Some of the richest soil in Turkey is in Cukurova, to the north of the Ceyhan-Iskenderun highway, extending all the way to Anavarza. Yet some of the poorest peasants, that is, peasants who own the smallest amount of land are inhibited in the vicinity of Adana and Ceyhan. Saribahce is a typical village of the Anavarza region that YASAR KEMALdescribes in his novels. Situated amid gigantic farms on fertile soil, it consists of small houses covered with weeds, hay, reeds, cane and tin. A lowland village of 800, it lies to the east of the Adana-Kozan road between  Anavarza and Ceyhan.

Ince Memed – Memed, My Hawk -  has been by far, the most successful novel of postwar Turkish literature.. Certainly, Turkish critics have tended to view Kemal’s novels from a rather narrow vantage point of social criticism. The grip which social-realist writing generally held on Turkish readers at the time may help explain this paradoxical situation. The narrative roots of Ince Memed are planted deep in the soil of traditional Turkish storytelling…

Okkes Memet.Education:primary school. Owns no land. Sharecropper.
“YASAR KEMAL is a remarkable man. Think of it, he was an irrigation guard in the fields of Kadirli.  Come down from a vale in the Taurus mountains, cut through thistles and tread a path of rocks with blistered feet and then go on to become a great writer of stories. Anyhow, son, they hounded him saying “Blind Man”, “Commie Kemal.” The aghas had stones thrown at him. Then he left and went to Istanbul. But see what a good person he is: instead of writing petitions in Kadirli, he petitions the whole world by telling about the troubles of the country. Do I know Ince Memed?  I know about him since my childhood. My grandfather used to tell me he was a very brave & bold man.

Memedo. No Education. Owns no land. Sharecropper:
I can’t read or write, son. I never learned how to handle a pen. But I know YASAR KEMAL. Well, once upon a time INCE MEMED rose against the aghas of Cukurova and became a bandit. I respect such people.

Zeynel Bakir. Education:primary school. Farmer, a former candidate for village headmanship:

YASAR KEMAL is a great revolutionary writer of our region. He is one of us. He knows our language, dialect, conditions. Because of this, we are happy reading his novels. In them, we see our own lives as if looking into a mirror and we cannot resist saying, “indeed it was like this”.  In my opinion, Ince Memed is a hero created by poor sharecroppers, villagers like us against the cruelty of the aghas.  Whenever friends and I go up to Anavarza Castle for a stroll, whenever I step on those rocks, I can’t help but think INCE MEMED must have trodden here, INCE MEMED must have a lit a fire in that cave, he must have lain in ambush here… I admire Ince Memed.

Ismail Kasaboglu. Education:primary school. Avid reader and poet:
YASAR KEMAL presents facts without complicating them. That is to say, in embellishing reality, he doesn’t add artificial things. He has such a way of telling a story: It’s as if there is a gentle humming in his novels. One reason he narrates so well is the fact, there is conflict, struggle, injustice, oppression for people living in Cukurova.  Bitterness, sadness, joy and pain all figure together in Cukurova. Laughter and dirges are together. We can say that INCE MEMED did what YASAR KEMAL wrote and YASAR KEMAL wrote what INCE MEMED was capable of doing. 

 _ . _

Translated by Buket Sahin

Related Links:

Yasar Kemal on Peace
by Buket SAHIN
Yasar Kemal, My Hawk
Dmetri KAKMI
Biography of Yasar Kemal (External link)

Editor’s note: Author, Screenplay Writer Osman Sahin is working on a BIOGRAPHY book on “YASAR KEMAL”to be published in 2003.

E-mail to Osman Sahin:  
© Osman Sahin, February, 2003 - Goztepe, ISTANBUL

This issue is dedicated to the Peace Process of SRI LANKA & prominent Turkish author Yasar KEMAL

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