TRAILBLAZERS / ORHAN KEMAL

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 organized 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.