By Yashar Kemal 

Translated by Dr. Seyhan Aydýnligil 


Mourtaza is probably the only character in the Turkish literary world who reflects a manifold set of human complications and social contradictions. Mourtaza is only one of the many just like him - a man of the people, from the people, and for the people. He is alienated from all, forced by changing life circumstances which are formed by the social, traditional and human conditions. Mourtaza is alienated from himself, his children and the family and from his social environment altogether. This situation is not Mourtaza’s fault, however. He is only one of the many who are found in such a situation. The world is indeed full of Mourtazas.They exist because of the world misery and the misery continues because Mourtazas are many in number. A vicious circle, indeed. As such, Mourtaza is his own enemy. He creates and perpetuates the conditions, which reproduce his misery. The world is full with –men and women- who in their unfavorable life circumstances perpetuate their despair and become their own enemies. 

All of us, at least once in our lifetime, have been a Mourtaza. There is actually no escape from this happening. Even those who succeeded or thought to have escaped from being Mourtaza are misled, indeed. There are always moments / periods in everyone’s lives when they are Mourtaza. Being Mourtaza is indeed a vicious circle. As individuals, we feel helpless in controlling our own reality. We submit to all forms of authority, we then blame ourselves more than others; we accept punishment without questions and are enthused to serve the red tape and the ridiculing traditions. These are the conflicts and adversities of the human life experience- this is the human adventure. 

Against a life in despair, however, Mourtaza always retains a golden heart deep inside. He remains strong and statute like in facing adversities of life. We know then that Mourtaza is not so well - as a human being. He is ill and in misery just as many like him in the world. Yet, there is another side to him- not so visible unless you make an effort to penetrate into his deeper sensibilities. Mourtaza is not fully contaminated. He is still a hopeful man; he waits for and believes that goodness and brightness will eventually come. Mourtaza is the hope of humanity as in his reflection of an unrelenting hopefulness. Yet; he is the human misery- in despair. He is of contradictions molded in a human shape.  

This is the idea of a human being that Orhan Kemal so eloquently puts forward. The endless contradictions a man is. H e was in conflict with the society, and often the world at large. In his most characteristic novel personality -Mourtaza- Orhan Kemal introduces the reader to a man who manages to balance his extremities putting up always two faces. One face is that of the man who is dignified and who ardently believes in goodness. He has internalized values of compassion and friendship, hope and beauty. On the other side, he is detached, dutiful and submissive- night guard-without compassion. Thus, Mourtaza”s alienation is in -not yet completed. He is still to be recovered and he knows this.  Orhan Kemal’s people are willing to cope with life’s contradictions in order to bring about the goodness into their lives. They are hopeful that goodness and well-being are on their way towards them. The constraints that emerge perpetually will not disappear easily. But there is no escape from hoping for the best. 

Orhan Kemal’s Mourtaza is an integrated man. This is a quality found in all of Orhan Kemal’s people. They are wholesome people, balancing the good and the bad in themselves equally. They are strong and proud in spite of their undignified lives the misery that they often face. They are optimistic and hopeful in the misery and despair that surround them. Orhan Kemal’s people are good and bad, they are good and evil, human and inhuman all at the same time. They have equal capacity both for love and for torturing. They are a combination of all qualities and values that make up a human being- the social animal. This aspect is indeed what awes most the reader about Orhan Kemal’s characters. This is what Orhan Kemal himself is so much impressed about the people, and their capacities to changing and adapting to new life circumstances. And, depending on the extent of goodness and the evil they faced, they adapt and determine which of their sides will gain predominance over the other. 

Orhan Kemal had just started to write “Mourtaza”. I remember that he was so full with his character. He was telling us about him and making us laugh about his contradictions. One day, he took us to Mourtaza. We were all of a sudden talking with Mourtaza in person. He was sitting right across and speaking with us.”Hey my good men, do you happen to know me? I am the security guard, Mourtaza. I have been trained and have learned to be very disciplinary from my supervisors. We looked at each other with Orhan Kemal and laughed slightly. Mourtaza did not know why. 

Many years went by. Both Orhan Kemal and I remembered Mourtaza as he was on that day. We reminisced about Mourtaza several times after that. Later in the years, Orhan Kemal became such good friends with Mourtaza that he could not actually stay away from him. Every so often, he would fetch Mourtaza and they would walk along the streets of Adana. The most interesting and enduring literary character of the contemporary Turkish literature was born as a result of this genuine friendship between the author and the real life character. 

Until Orhan Kemal, we do not come across a novelist who wrote or depicted workers while they are on the job. This is a unique and very unusual aspect of Orhan Kemal’s literary world. He created wholesome characters by focusing only on one aspect of   the character and detailing him through this single focus. The wholesome realism of the conversations that Orhan Kemal constructed between his characters were extremely beautiful and unusual at the same time –a style of realism not to be so much found in other writers. As a writer, as a novelist and as a storyteller, Orhan Kemals feet were always on the ground. 

Orhan Kemal must be further studied. The richness of his human characters must be analyzed in detail. As I have said it so many years ago “Orhan Kemal is one of Turkey’s greatest novelists”. No other Turkish novelist could create a character like Mourtaza. He created many literary opportunities and contributed much towards contemporary developments in the Turkish classical literature.Orhan Kemal’s works will continue to be favored and widely read in Turkey. 

In these days of dim lights and blurriness of our times, the light of Orhan Kemal is not sufficiently bright. The fog will clear away and Orhan Kemal will shine once again. Many years ago our ways went in separate directions. But, I am his relentless admirer as my master and my teacher. In his own direction, Orhan Kemal remained statute like and strong. Many adverse things were also said about him. They said he was too prolific but his writing quality was not as good as before. I am in disagreement with all these interpretations. The Master could not perhaps create another character like Mourtaza. Nevertheless, “Inspector of the Inspectors” and his other late works are easily placed amongst his best stories and novels. 

Orhan Kemal was not known as he deserved both in his own country and in the world. His life circumstances and adversities prevented him from being better known as one of the most talented contemporary authors. The world would gain a lot from knowing him and his characters a bit more. We still need to refer to his characters to reflect upon the human reality- an area, which still calls for further learning and understanding. It will indeed be a great loss if we do not attempt further to get to know him and his works.

However, Orhan Kemal remains as one of the best classical novelists of our time. His shine is approaching and the world literature will enrich, as he is better known on international scale. 

One loves human beings as they come closer to understand the human reality and the changes that occur to the human nature in the life as a human adventure. Seen this way, one develops a limitless tolerance towards the human beings, the people and their aspirations. The human adventure requires us to be compassionate and modest therefore. There is no other choice. For Orhan Kemal, the only alternative was to be a human being, with all its contradictions and compassions and with modesty. Orhan Kemal was a modest man so much so that he was never aware of the greatness he had created in the Turkish classical literature. To live the life and the life experience of Mourtaza was Orhan Kemal’s life as well. And for Orhan Kemal living is always a very ordinary thing. It is a plain and modest in spite of all of the complications it offers to men. Despite the profoundness that he builds in his characters, Orhan Kemal is a keen believer that humans are simple, modest, and very plain beings, indeed. 

Speaking on a radio show the other day, I said that no one living the life of Orhan Kemal as he did in Istanbul could actually survive as a human being. He was a modest, committed and compassionate man. He survived just as his characters did. He went on living and shined as he did-adding much to the enrichment of the Turkish literary world. He lived in poverty. Not so many could survive in such circumstances as an integrated man as Orhan Kemal did .His zest for life was his sanctuary. His insistence on life made him one of the greatest personalities of the contemporary Turkish literature. 

Orhan Kemal is all of the happy and sad, painful and joyous, hopeful and desperate, brave and scared, modest and proud and fully indulged in the many adventures of being a human.


Yashar Kemal, 1970