Morning Star - JOHN MOORE - 2 November 2008

A tale of love and poverty


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 republic.

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.