Times Online co.uk - 27 June 2008 - Margaret
From The Times
June 27, 2008
Classic - The Idle Years by Orhan Kemal
The Times review by Margaret
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
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