Yaşar Kemal Gökçeli Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Yashar Kemal (keh-MOL), originally Yaar Kemal Gökçeli, was Turkey’s best-known twentieth century novelist and a frequent candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature; his works have been translated into dozens of languages. He received numerous awards, including an honorary degree from the University of Strasbourg, and was named a commander of France’s Legion of Honor. Kemal was born in 1923 to Kurdish parents in a tiny hamlet called Hemite in south central Turkey. He early became acquainted with the dangers and brutality of life in that region. On his mother’s side all the men lived by banditry. At the age of five, he lost one eye in an incident when his father, Sadk Gökçeli, was killed while praying in a mosque, and a year later he developed a speech impediment that lasted until he was twelve.{$S[A]Gkeli, Ya{scedil}ar Kemal[Gokceli, Yasar Kemal];Kemal, Yashar}

After attending the equivalent of eight grades in local schools, Kemal took on employment of various sorts; he worked in construction, on a farm, as a cobbler’s assistant, and as a substitute teacher. Along the way he developed a lively appreciation for the popular traditions and local lore of the area. His first published work was a collection of folk elegies, Aịtlar. His political leanings came under suspicion among police and local notables; he was arrested in 1950, and while he was in prison an unsuccessful attempt was made on his life. When he was later brought to trial, on charges of disseminating Communist literature, he was acquitted. To avoid further embroilments with the authorities, he left for Istanbul and began to use the name Yashar Kemal. There in 1952 he married Thilda Serrero, who later became his translator into English. One son was born to them, Rasit. Before becoming a full-time writer in 1963, Kemal worked for eleven years as a reporter for the Cumhuriyet. As a writer for this respected and influential newspaper, his reports were widely read, and many were later compiled in collections of his journalism. During this time his short fiction attracted interest as well.

For a time Kemal was a member of the central committee of the Turkish Labor Party, and in the 1960’s he was editor of the Marxist weekly Ant. He was imprisoned no fewer than twenty times, mostly for his leftist convictions, and he was, in his own words, tortured “a great deal,” as evidenced by deep scars just above his left knee. In 1994 Kemal faced renewed difficulties after making an accusation in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel that his government was systematically oppressing the country’s fifteen million Kurds in the southeast.

The reception accorded Kemal’s first novel,...

(The entire section is 1112 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Yashar Kemal is the anglicized form of Yaar Kemal; the author’s full name is Yaar Kemal Gökçeli. His parents, Sadik and Nigar Gökçeli, were the only Kurdish family in the poverty-stricken village of Hemite, near Adana in the southeast of Turkey, where he was born in the fall of 1923. Kemal grew up in the region of Turkey featured in his early novels, the Taurus Mountains and the coastal plain (the Chukurova) around Adana, and he personally experienced the conditions about which he writes. At the age of five, he witnessed his praying father’s murder in a mosque. In the same attack, one of young Kemal’s eyes was put out, and he had a severe stutter for years afterward. His stutter temporarily disappeared only when he sang, an activity at which he excelled, sometimes improvising his own songs.

There was no school in young Kemal’s small village, Hemite, so at the age of nine, he began walking to the neighboring village to attend a three-class school. Later, he stayed with relatives in Kadirli, where he completed primary school and two years of secondary school (equivalent to the eighth grade) before he had to start working. He held numerous jobs—farm laborer, construction worker, factory worker, clerk, substitute teacher—but was driven out of them by the powerful landowners, the aghas, who labeled him a communist because he openly criticized the rural tenant-landlord system. When he became a public letter writer (a respectable type of...

(The entire section is 577 words.)