The Idle Years by Orhan Kemal
(Peter Owen Publishers, £11.95)
ORHAN Kemal, who lived from, 1914 until 1970, is
celebrated as a writer in Turkey, if not here. This is
the first time that The Idle Years has appeared in
English, its past neglect by publishers influenced no
doubt by its plain and fragmentary story and lack of
sophistication in plot and character.
It's appeal lies in the atmosphere of friendship, family
intimacy and brotherhood, contrasting with physical
hardship and poverty.
It is set amid the political and religious turmoil of
the 1920s and '30s, after the foundation of the Turkish
The narrator's father, a lawyer and politician, is
forced into exile and his family exchange their mansion
and leafy garden for poverty in Beirut.
The teenager leaves home, taking up hard manual jobs
that he cannot adapt to, including working in a weaving
factory with its deafening clatter of machines, clouds
of dust and cotton particles.
His solace is his football team, made up of factory
workers, butchers' apprentices and the unemployed. He
feels that he belongs with them.
He eventually has a sumptuous wedding to a Greek
woman, a factory worker, only to discover that his
grandmother had borrowed all the finery from family and
friends. The dresses, cloth, suit, tie and shoes, even
the bed, all have to go back.
Fortunately, his bride shares his optimistic outlook,
saying: "So we carried on with our lives, appreciating
all that we had." And that is the story in a nutshell.