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TürkçeOrhan Kemal

15.09.1914 - 02.06.1970

           Orhan Kemal, (Mehmet Raşit Öğütçü) writer of short stories and novels was born in Adana in 1914 and died in Sofia in 1970. His father, Abdülkadir Kemali, was an MP from Kastamonu during the first term parliament of the Turkish Republic. Abdülkadir Kemali, a lawyer by profession, established The Ahali Party which was dissolved causing its founder to have to flee to Syria. In order to accompany his father, Orhan Kemal had to miss his final year of secondary school. Orhan Kemal stayed in Syria for a year, returning to Adana in 1932. He worked as a laborer, weaver and clerk in cotton gin mills. During his military service he was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment for his political opinions. Bursa prison became a turning point in his life and art work as he met Nazım Hikmet who greatly influenced him. On his release in 1943, Orhan Kemal, moved to Istanbul (1951), where he worked as a labourer, a vegetable transporter and then as a clerk for the Tuberculosis Foundation. From 1950 onwards he tried to live upon the income gained from writing. Orhan Kemal died in Bulgaria. His body was returned to Turkey and buried in Zincirlikuyu cemetery.

           Kemal’s first poem was published in Yedigün under the name of Raşit Kemal (Duvarlar 25.04.1939) Further poems written under the same pen name are Yedigün and Yeni Mecmua 1940. On meeting Nazım Hikmet, Kemal wrote under the name of “Orhan Raşit” (Yeni Edebiyat 1941) Impressed by Nazım Hikmet, Kemal concentrated on stories as opposed to poems. His first story, “Bir Yılbaşı Macerası”, being published in 1941. In 1942 he adopted the name Orhan Kemal when writing stories and poems in Yürüyüş. He found fame through stories in Varlık in 1944, his first collection of short stories “Ekmek Kavgası”, and first novel “Baba Evi”, was published in 1949. Early works depicted characters form the immigrant quarters of Adana Kemal described the social structure, worker employer relationships and the daily struggles of petty people from industrialised Turkey. He aimed to present an optimistic view through the heros of his stories. He never changed his simple exposition and thus became one of the most skilful names of Turkish stories and novels. He also wrote film scripts and a play called “İspinozlar”. Dramatisations have been made of “72.Koğuş”, “Murtaza”, “Eskici Dükkanı”, “Kardeş Payı”. After his death a novel award was arranged in his name (1971).


Ministry of Culture & Tourism - Chocolate
Kultur & Tourismus Ministerium - Schokolade

Orhan Kemal's Movies on the Internet Movie Database
Nazim Hikmet's Web Site (02.12.03)



             By Dr.Mehmet N.Gültekin

             Aesthetics and literature provide us with information regarding changes and transformations which are evident by their effects on social life. Realist literature, in particular, conceals worlds of different meaning that the fiction of aesthetic dimensions of social facts show us. Along with modernization, the processes of mechanization, urbanization and migration have radically changed the social and economic life in Turkey. Orhan Kemal’s novels try to fictionalize the aesthetic dimensions of social transformation and disintegration which Turkish society experienced prior to the 1960s. In his novels, it is possible to see examples of social disintegration, the qualitative changes of class structure and the type of individuals that these produced. A society which is undergoing a modernization process, experiences concrete changes in the transformations in social class relations, the degeneration of traditional values, the fundamental differentiation in village and agricultural structure, and rises and falls of  social status. It is the hermeneutic readings of the writer’s novels that give us the aesthetic dimensions and the general characteristics of the modernization process. Orhan Kemal, as a member of the realist literature tradition, shows us types of characters which occur in the process of modernization. Generally speaking, in those of his novels that we have studied, periods of social continuity and disintegration follow each other.





“My aim as a writer... I wonder if I could summarize it as follows: The happiness of the Turkish people and all of mankind in general under the free conditions provided by a materialistic approach.

Lincoln describes democracy as ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people’.

Couldn’t we then say art is for the government of humanity, by humanity, for humanity.”




“...There’s a great deal of injustice in life. It’s the writer’s duty to fight against this. The socially oppressed and underprivileged are in need of hope. But even this is not enough. Hope is not something abstract. It is something that exists in life itself, in the very nature of man. I disagree with writers who try to instil hope without taking this into consideration. A writer must have an aim. And I say that this aim should be for people.

In order to be a writer one must live, feel and understand the people. It is the most important thing for a writer to remain in close contact with the people and to observe the changes that take place amongst them.”




“... Ought not a writer to portray characters who do not and must not conform to the dictates of a rotten society? Aren’t there such characters in our society today? I think there are. Mankind in general is striving towards a better way of life. I’ve noticed that even the worst person is trying to improve himself. What prevents him is the social order. I hope I’ve made it clear enough.”




“... I use a kind of reportage technique in my novels and short stories. In other words, I get my characters to reveal their own psychological states of mind. And for that reason. I employ the dialectics of dialogue.

Therefore I never interfere with the conversations of the characters in my novels and short stories. I let them speak as it comes naturally; I very rarely correct their mistakes. I don’t make a man in rags speak as if he were wearing a pin-striped suit. This approach insures the atmosphere of the work and at the same time it makes it plausible to the reader.

Apart from the dialogues, when it is the writer’s turn to speak, he should use the language in the finest and the most correct manner. By doing so, he will show the present day state of the language and at the same time point out the direction in which it ought to develop.”




On The Fertile Lands  ( Bereketli Topraklar Üzerinde )


“Every year thousands of workers come down from Northern, Southern and Central Anatolia to the fertile Chukurova  plain to look for work in factories, in the village economy or wherever they can find a job. Tens of thousands of labourers wander around in great cities where they expect  “To earn their bread”  in hunger, suffering and despair.”




The Old Shoemaker and Sons   ( Eskici ve Oğulları )


“If one is to give a broad outline of the main theme of   “The Old Shoemaker and Sons”, one might say that it is a cross section of life in which old and new, progressive and reactionary thoughts and attidues are in conflict. It is the drama of  The Old Shoemaker  and his family, the mechanisation of agriculture and the unbridled increase in the prices of agricultural products. The migration of the peasants to the great cities. And the decline and collapse of the small craftsmen unable to hold their ground in the face of rapid spread of factory production.”








“On The Fertile Lands, is the story of three landless peasants coming down from a poor village in Central Anatolia to work in Chukurova.”


Konur Ertop




“If someone were to ask what has been the most common distinguishing feature of an Orhan Kemal novel, I imagine we would all say ‘simplicity’. But is an Orhan Kemal novel really simple? Quite the contrary. What we call his simplicity is actually a clarity that is very difficult to attain, a lucidity, an orderliness. If you approach  it sincerely, you will appreciate it.”


Demirtaş Ceyhun




“Orhan Kemal is a writer full of love for mankind. This is clearly proved by the way he sees and treats characters. Because he does net see people merely from outside; he knows them and love them as if he experiences them from within. He is one of them himself. He is a writer who has observed, experienced and felt in his heart the striking human qualities of these, small insignificant people; workers, labourers and clerks...”






“In may opinion the significance of  Vukuat Var lies in its revealing the social essence of the people living in Chukurova and in achieving a synthesis of a sense of reality and of social psychology in creating the relations between the characters.”


Ömer Faruk  Toprak




“... Gurbet Kuşları  is one of the writer’s most important and most successful works. This socio-political novel treats the most immediate and important problems of  its time and reflects the basic reality of contemporary society.”


İbrahim Tatarlı




“Orhan Kemal has again, in this work, proved himself a master in depicting the destitute working people of his country.

Gurbet Kuşları is a work we read with interest and suspense and which after reading, deserves serious thought and deliberation.”






“With Kanlı Topraklar,  Orhan Kemal has once again presented the Turkish readers with a highly accomplished novel.”


Behzat Ay




“In relating the struggles for survival of these small people of all ages torn between love and livelihood, he displays a mastery and ease arising from an intimate familiarity with the circles he is describing.”


Tahir Alangu




“... With Üçkağıtçı, which can well be described as the finest of all his novels, he acquired an honourable place among modern Turkish satirical writers....Üçkağıtçı proves, how the writer succeeded in the satirical field by turning to wider perspectives.”


Xenia Celnarova




“To sum up, My Father’s House is a very  successful work and Orhan Kemal is a masterly writer. He has a poetic, lively and absorbing style.”


Necati Cumalı




“... Avare Yıllar may be considered as a didactic work based on real life experience and the thoughts evoked by these experiences, summoning people to a conscious attitude to the life around them.”


Vedat Günyol




“As Yashar Khemal has pointed out, Orhan Kemal immortalized the character of Murtaza. It is equally true that Murtaza, in turn, immortalized Orhan Kemal.”


Adnan Binyazar




“.... The Old Shoemaker and Sons occupies a special place of its own in recent Turkish literature as a social document because of the external realism with which it depicts the evolution of life in Chukurova and the social class, types and characters that it makes accessible to us.”


Hulki Aktunç




“.... He has furnished us with a new approach to contemporary realism and humanity....The writer has unbounded faith in his people and writes for his people....

All these make up the main features of the socialist realistic style in Orhan Kemal’s art.”


Svetlana Uturgauri





Reflecting life in the mirror of literature


Orhan Kemal, one of the most respected names in Turkish literature, was a master at portraying in his stories and novels the transitional periods of our lives and the relationship between individuals and society. His works consist of observations and memories related to different sections of society, presenting realistic and vibrant cross-sections of Turkish society with beautiful, straightforward language and sincerity, all of which have made him a pioneer of originality in Turkish literature. The real name of this great writer was Mehmet Raşit Öğütçü and the recurring themes in his work are prisons, children, employees, villagers and love between ordinary men and women. Born on 15 September 1914 in the town of Ceyhan near Adana, Orhan Kemal’s life was, like that of his heroes, spent struggling with unemployment, working for many years in unskilled jobs, such as waiting tables and manual labour and being arrested and thrown in jail for his beliefs. In 1938 he was charged with ‘spreading propaganda that supported foreign regimes and inciting to rebellion’ and was sentenced to five years in prison in 1939.He was incarcerated in the Kayseri, Adana and Bursa prisons in that order. He made the acquaintance of  Nazım Hikmet in Bursa Prison in 1940.This meeting would be a turning point in his approach to writing. Orhan Kemal settled in Istanbul in May 1951 and made his living as a writer. On 7 March 1966 he and two of his friends were arrested again on a tip and charged with ‘thoughtcrime’. The writer was released on 13 April 1966 and acquitted of the charge in 1968.He passed away in the hospital in which he was receiving treatment on 2 June 1970 in Sophia, which he was visiting by invitation from the Bulgarian Writers Union. With stories like Struggle to Make a Living, Strike and Drunks and novels like The Idle Years, Gemile, On Fertile Lands, Birds of Exile, Deceptive World, Con Artist, Mourtaza, The Cobbler and His Sons, Outsider Girl, My Father’s House and The Prisoners, this valuable writer left us with an immortal legacy. In 1972 his family organised for the first time the ‘Orhan Kemal Novel Award’, which was given to Yılmaz Güney for his work entitled They Died With Their Heads Bowed and it is still considered the most coveted and respected reward in Turkish literature.