Ana Sayfa

Times Online - 27 June 2008 - Margaret Reynolds 

June 27, 2008

Classic - The Idle Years by Orhan Kemal

Orhan Kemal (1914-70, above) is one of Turkey's most famous and popular modern writers. He wrote novels, plays, short stories and screenplays. And yet, this translation of his early semi-autobiographical novels - Baba Evi (My Father's House) and Avare Yillar (The Idle Years) - is the first of his works to appear in English.

Kemal was born Mehmet Rasit Ögütçü in Ceyhan, a village in Adana, Turkey, at the beginning of the First World War. The old empire was still in place with its corrupt factions and extremes between rich and poor. But the upheavals that led to the construction of a modern republic were under way. Kemal's father eventually became a Member of Parliament and a minister, and his mother was a secondary school graduate and an intellectual. While he was a child, however, the family were driven into exile in Syria and Lebanon and the young writer's education was chaotic.

These early experiences form the basis of The Idle Years. Like his creator, the unnamed narrator is born to a well-off family whose impressive “chestnut-moustached” father was a lieutenant in the artillery corps. But then his father's political activities make them outlaws, and bare survival is all.

Kemal's style seems simple, but it is necessary to read between the lines. In Konya the child sees a protest in the streets: “We want Shariah! We don't want this foreign government!”. Days later, when the Army arrives, he witnesses another scene: “The horsemen rode by...Hats and moustaches resplendent under the glorious sunshine. These were followed by the Don't-Wants, the peasants in their caps, hands tied behind their backs”.

Being a child, the narrator and his brother go on playing. But their game is to arrest one of the family's hens “by order of Their Majesties”, try the accused, condemn it, and hang it from the mulberry tree to be beaten.

Kemal knows suffering, and yet goes on believing.

The Idle Years by Orhan Kemal translated by Cengiz Lugal
Peter Owen, £11.95 Buy the book here