Why is Orhan
Orhan Kemal’s artistic arsenal consists of
novels which reflect lived experiences from Turkey in a broad
historical interval that spans from 19th century to the end of
1960s. Immigration from peripheral towns to cities, population
exchanges, transformations in farming etc. form the major themes in
his novels. To tell the truth, it is impossible to feel a lack of
emblemetic characters in Orhan Kemal’s writings: One of the
immediately recognized aspects of Orhan Kemal’s novels is Kemal’s
keen engagement to the worlds of the characters he creates. He gets
involved with his characters so deeply that pages-long dialogues do
not even tire or bore the reader. One feels as if he is in the
middle of the conversation and even like becoming a part of it.
Orhan Kemal’s characters are ordinary people and Kemal succeeds in
creating immortal figures from them.
What makes Orhan Kemal an important critical
realist is that he reflects the social world that surrounds him with
a distinct literary mode. He illustrates the fervent social,
economical and political transformations of Turkey. Kemal is not a
“village novelist” but a narrator of how peasants are being
exploited during their flee to big cities as means of cheap labor in
an aesthetic literary style. He is the first writer in Turkish
literature who mentioned women workers in the burgeoning capitalism.
He is the novelist of poor children, workers, peasants who came to
cities for the first time, agricultural workers who live under
feudal lords, women, and poor lives in working-class neighbourhoods.
He is an impressive humanist. None of his works contain despair. He
fleshes his characters out with their living conditions not their
ethnic identities: Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Kurds, Turks and Arabs
meet on a humanist point in his novels. He successfully narrates the
transformative influences of mechanization, technical knowledge, and
factories, of labor in other words, with a challenging aesthetic
language. All of his works mirror the historical and societal
transformations of Turkey. All the transformation therein, all the
facts, events, characters reflect the drastic change of Ottoman
Empire to Turkish Republic, and further changes in modern Turkey
until 1960s. If one needs literature to get to know Anatolia, Orhan
Kemal’s writings must definitly be the first stop in this long
journey. His novels Mourtaza, The Cobbler and His Sons, On
Fertile Lands,Birds of Exile, The Prisoners, The Farm of The
Mistress, The Incident, Bloody Lands are classics of Turkish
literature and they deserve taking place in the greater literary
canon of world literatures.
In short, Orhan Kemal’s oeuvre is a serious key
to Turkey and to Turkey’s past one hundred and fifty years, and also
a very entertaining reading experience.