ORHAN KEMAL. The Idle Years. London: Peter Owen Publishers,
2008. 223 pages.
Paper £UK11.95 ISBN 978-0-7206-1310-0.
The Idle Years is a realistic novel set in the 1920s and
1930s that masterfully
portrays the struggles of a once well-respected, financially
family caught up in the upheaval of the early decades of the
Turkey. The first two of Orhan Kemals semi-autobiographical
Fathers House (Baba Evi, 1949) and Idle Years (Avare
Yillar, 1950) comprise
this poignant work. Kemal, a giant of the Turkish short
story and novel, is
well known for his realistic and compassionate portrayal of
In this highly accessible work Kemals true to life
the reader a rare male perspective of the internal dynamics
of a Turkish
household. Kemal presents his complex cast of charactersthe
of the poverty stricken neighborhoods, his friends and
individuals acting and reacting as actors caught in a
some of which overlap and some of which do not overlap.
At first glance, the subject matter of this novel appears
The narrator, the son of a well to do household, finds his
his life interrupted when his family suddenly flees to
Beirut, where they are
faced with daily struggle against poverty and hunger. It is
not merely this
family that is suffering but entire neighborhoods. The
to escape poverty take him back to Adana and then to
Istanbul and finally
back to Adana again. Throughout his travels, he creates
of the poor, hungry people by whom he is surrounded.
However, The Idle
Years is far from depressing. Narrated with a great deal of
empathy and a
sense of humor suffused with minor gestures of unexpected
work captures many of the authors own experiences.
Orhan Kemal was born Mehmet Raşit Öğütçü in 1914 in Adana.
was a lawyer who was the MP from Kastamonu in the first
parliament. Due to his fathers political activism, the
entire family had to
flee to Syria. Kemal returned to Adana in 1932 and held a
variety of menial
jobs. He started his literary career as a poet. Kemal
published his first poem
Yedigün under the name of Raşit Kemal (Duvarlar 25 04 1939).
his military service in 1939 he was sentenced to five years
in prison for his
political opinions. His time in prison was pivotal in his
development as an
artist. Here he met the great Turkish poet Nazım Hikmet.
him and influenced him but perhaps also intimidated him. He
focus on prose. He won the highly esteemed Sait Faik award
twice with his
books Equal Sharing (Kardeş Payı) and Bread First (Önce
Ekmek). Bread First
also won The Turkish Language Institute Short Story award.
He adapted some of his novels, such as Ward 72, Murtaza, and
The Junk Shop, for the
theatre. Kemal was chosen as the playwright of the year by
Institute of Art in 1967 for his play Ward 72.
Mr. Lugans translation of The Idle Years is very readable.
Orhan Kemal is
well known for his simple but beautiful prose, and Mr.
reflects Kemals style. The translator has not only
translated the content
but also rendered his translation into a book that is a
pleasure to read. This
book should find many constituents, such as readers
interested in the early
years of the Turkish Republic, readers interested in the
issues of modernization,
urbanizations in a rapidly industrializing society and those
interested in a well-written book about a different segment
of society from
a different part of the world should find this book worth
their time. This
reviewer can only hope that Cemile and Dunya Evi, the other
two parts of
the tetralogy will also be made available soon.