Yashar Kemal 1922–
(Born Yașar Kemal Gökçeli) Turkish novelist, short story writer, essayist, dramatist, and poet.
Kemal is the most prominent of contemporary Turkish writers and the best-known outside his own country. His first novel, Ince Memed (1955; translated into English in two parts: Memed, My Hawk and They Burn the Thistles), earned him widespread recognition in his own country and brought him to the forefront of international literature. Like most of Kemal's works, Ince Memed focuses on life in a peasant village on the Chukurova Plain in South Anatolia. Encompassing traditional Turkish myths, folklore, and customs, this work has been praised as a narrative of epic ambition and minutely realistic detail. Paul Theroux has stated: "The landscape, the seasons, the wildlife, the flowers: Kemal works on a huge canvas but there is interest in every inch of it."
Kemal's fiction is directly informed by his political concerns. He is outspoken in his leftist principles and has spent a large part of his life supporting the Turkish peasantry. Viewed as an undesirable by the Turkish government, Kemal has been dismissed from numerous jobs and arrested several times. His fiction frequently addresses the brutal, destitute existence of the peasants under the reign of the agha, as well as the power struggles and blood feuds which rage among the peasants themselves. Beyond their depiction of savagery, however, Kemal's works affirm his compassion and respect for humankind. Unlike most of his works, the novel Akçasazin aνalari: Demirciler çarșisi cinayeti (1974; The Lords of Akchasaz: Murder in the Ironsmiths Market) is written from the perspective of the wealthy landowners rather than the peasants. Another of his later works, Al gözüm seyreyle Salih (1976; Seagull), portrays a boy's struggle to save a dying seagull's life. Described as a "fiercely moving account of a young boy's coming of age," Seagull is an intimate, psychological novel which complements the predominantly epic nature of Kemal's work.
(See also CLC, Vol. 14 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 89-92.)
The translation of Yashar Kemal's Anatolian Tales is in perfect keeping with one's stereotype idea of Eastern languages; the English in these three long and four short Turkish stories seems as timeless as the language of The Arabian Nights…. But for all the romantic associations the prose style may conjure up in the English reader, the stories are savage, far crueller than the emotional cruelty dreamed up by avante-garde western writers, for Kemal deals with the oppressed, the poor, and the frightened who are oppressed, poor and frightened in a very real physical sense; there is no shade of Franz Kafka peering out of the closet in these tales. Yet Kemal, for all his being the unblinking terrible Turk, is a writer with a great heart, and the passionate talent to show the human spirit enduring. In every story he captures at once the quality of life in the village of the Chukurova plain, the power structure of the village society, and the fineness of the line between existence and extinction. Terror, misery and death haunt the stories, but the writer balances indignant passion against a faith in the individual all too rare in western writers.
Stanley Reynolds, "Weirdies," in New Statesman (© 1968 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 76, No. 1947, July 5, 1968, p. 21.∗
Here [in Anatolian Tales ] are seven miniature folk-epics from a brutal and elemental society—a sun-smitten plain in Turkey—that offers the perfect milieu for an art like Kemal's, pungent, controlled, harshly coloured, touched sparingly with lyricism or bitterness. It is his society, and he writes perfectly from within it, without overt sympathy or abhorrence. The villagers brutalise one another as hideously as they are brutalised by the local aghas or by the numbing heat that pounds almost audibly through these pages. A well-meaning young Commissioner is defeated by the stratagems of the rice-planters who flood out a...
(The entire section is 3,313 words.)