Orhan Kemal was a modernist pioneer of the Turkish novel
whose works continue to be relevant more than half a century
on. Producers cannot seem to get enough of his works, with
two new adaptations
Kemals Kötü Yol is the story of a young woman, played by
Şükran Ovalı, who escapes from an arranged marriage, as well
as a cheating boyfriend.
The frustrations of the working class, the changing face of
feudal Turkey, the crippling effects of patriarchy over
women and men, the ever-fascinating appeal of untamed
chemistry between the sexes. All of these themes are the
go-to material for TV producers trying to create the next
best TV series in a period where dozens of new shows replace
dozens of others.
All of these themes are at the core of Orhan Kemals novels
and stories. Kemal is one of the greatest of Turkish writers
and a modernist pioneer of the Turkish novel. His realist
novels on class differences and the poor in Turkey left
their mark on a period spanning two decades after the early
1950s, now called the Golden period in Turkish literature.
Meeting another great literary name, the romantic
revolutionary Nazım Hikmet, in prison in the early 1940s
had a profound effect on Kemals literary direction and
social politics. He began writing poetry and stories,
eventually trying his craft in novels and plays.
Kemal was one of the first authors to write about the
working class, the alienation of immigrants in big cities,
mass urbanization and the changing social structure of
Turkey after World War II. He shed a realist light and took
a brutal look at poor people living in dignity. Kemals
stories, novels and plays also lent a voice to working-class
women for perhaps the first time in modern Turkish
Kemal has always been relevant. No wonder TV producers
havent been able to get enough of his work in the last
three years, not to mention the early TV adaptations dating
back more than two decades.
His trilogy of novels Vukuat Var, Hanımın Çiftliği
(Ladys Farm) and Kaçak (Fugitive), written between 1958
and 1970, became the first to capture the attention of TV
producers in the recent boom of TV series in Turkey.
Adapted both to TV and screen in the past, the trilogy is a
reflection of the political and social changes in 1950s
Turkey, especially on landlords and the working class. Set
in southern Turkey, home to Kemal, the books offer a vivid
portrayal of the changing classes and Turkeys democratic
transition and entry into the capitalist world. The trilogy
is also memorable for its strong female characters, albeit
more often than not, they define themselves through men.
Feels like a celebration
In 2009, the trilogy was adapted into a popular series that
chose the more audience-friendly title of the second book,
Ladys Farm. Starring acclaimed actors Özgü Namal and
Mehmet Aslantuğ, the series ran for two seasons, changing
the events of the original books as they went along.
Now, two other novels of Kemal have been turned into TV
series, both set in the 1960s, and both similar in subject
and tone, dealing mainly with problems of migration to
Istanbul. While Kötü Yol (Going Astray) sticks to the
original period, Evlerden Biri (One of the Houses), has
been adapted to todays Turkey, albeit with mostly
Kötü Yol is the story of a young woman, played by Şükran
Ovalı, who escapes from an arranged marriage, as well as a
cheating boyfriend, from (once again) southern Turkey to
Istanbul in the vain hope of becoming an actress in the most
glittering period of Turkish cinema, coined as the Yeşilçam
Evlerden Biri is the story of a family living in the
outskirts of Istanbul. The story is about the frustrations
of the working class, the retired and university students,
and depicts the eventual fall of the family, fuelled by the
newcomers to the neighborhood, an attractive mother and
daughter. Unfortunately, the mix and match of 1960s
sensibilities with todays mores dont really play true to
What makes Kemals novels and stories so appealing to
filmmakers and TV producers? Işık Öğütçü, Kemals son,
answered this question in a recent interview in daily
Orhan Kemals works are visual, very cinematic. All of his
stories are structured like movies and TV series. When you
read his books, you find yourself immediately inside the
story, inside the characters and the places. There are
[only] a handful of writers who can tell stories so
vividly, he said.
Öğütçü cites one other appeal of Kemals stories: Producers
choose his books [because] they are full of dialogue. He
didnt use long sentences; instead, he preferred
characterization through long dialogue. All of his 50 books
can be turned into TV series.
Asked how he feels about two more of his fathers novels
being turned into TV series, Öğütçü said, Heading toward
Orhan Kemals centennial in 2014, this all feels like a
celebration. Some adaptations might be better than others,
but this should feel like a celebration.