Turkish Book Review - Mourtaza by Orhan Kemal - July-December 2008  





Ersan Uldes


One of the most important representatives of social realism in Turkish novels, Orhan Kemal created one of the funniest characters of the Turkish novel in his Mourtaza.


Mourtaza is an archetypical Don Quixote. While a plethora of possibilities await him, Mourtaza chooses to become a watchman for the sake of wearing a uniform. Like in Don Quixote, here too ‘mimetic desire' plays its part. Mourtaza's object of imitation is his uncle Major Hasan Bey, who had fallen martyr in the Balkan Wars.


Fulfilling his duties in a military discipline, Mourtaza exasperates the whole neighbourhood. The police commissioner says about him, ‘He is like Don Quixote' and ‘The bugger is practically not a watchman, but an officer appointed to discipline the entire Turkish Republic, a dictator'. In the second part of the book, upon complaints by the neighbourhood, Mourtaza is removed from his watch and appointed as an assistant inspector at a factory; however things do not change much there either.


A class problematic is underlined in this novel; Mourtaza belittles people of his own social strata, despises them. While standing to attention in the presence of his superiors, he torments common folk. He is poor but he likes wealthy people; according to Mourtaza if a person is rich, there must be a justifying reason fort his. Through Mourtaza, Orhan Kemal depicts a Picture of the general inclinations of ordinary Turkish people. On the other side of the coin, Mourtaza is very human. With his honesty, integrity and devotion to duty, he is like a litmus paper; beside him every fraud is exposed. Mourtaza is so naive and incorrupt that at his side everyone's masks fall off.


Mourtaza resembles Don Quixote also in dedication to an ideal; he never becomes aware of his ridiculousness. He is a pain for everyone, yet above all he is a subject of humour. In fact, Orhan Kemal discloses the reference he makes to Don Quixote, through the words of the Director of Technology in the novel; ‘As you know, Don Quixote was not the only one of his kind in this world… and the well of Don Quixotes never dried out in any era, so why should it in ours? Each nation has its own kind of Don Quixotes, and will always have.'


Yes, each nation has its own kind of Don Quixotes, just it has been through the history of the novel…