Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A00058 - Yasar Kemal, Master Turkish Novelist

Yasar Kemal, Yasar also spelled Yashar, original name Kemal Sadik Gogceli, (b. 1923, Hemite, Turkey - d. February 28, 2015, Istanbul) was a Turkish novelist of Kurdish descent best known for his stories of village life and for his outspoken advocacy on behalf of the dispossessed. 

At age five, Kemal saw his father murdered in a mosque and was himself blinded in one eye.  He left secondary school after two years and worked at a variety of odd jobs.  In 1950, he was arrested for his political activism, but he was ultimately acquitted.  The following year, Kemal moved to Istanbul and was hired as a reporter for the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, where he worked in various capacities until 1963.  During this time, he published a novella, Teneke (1955, "The Tin Pan"), and the novel Ince Memed (1955, Memed, My Hawk).  The latter, a popular tale about a bandit and folk hero, was translated into more than twenty (20) languages and was made into a movie in 1984.  Kemal wrote three more novels featuring Memed as the protagonist.  In 1962, he joined the Turkish Labour Party, and in 1967, he founded Ant, a weekly political magazine informed by Marxist ideology.  He was arrested again in 1971, and in 1996 a court sentenced him to a deferred jail term for alleged seditious statements about the Turkish government's oppression of the Kurdish people.

Kemal's other novels include the trilogy Ortadirek (1960, The Wind from the Plain); Yer demir, gok bakir (1963, Iron Earth, Copper Sky), Olmez otu (1968, The Undying Grass), and Tanyeri horozlan (2002, The Cocks of Dawn).  He also published volumes of nonfiction -- including Peri bacalan (1957, The Fairy Chimneys),  collection of reportage, and Baldaki tuz (1974, The Salt in the Honey), a book of political essays -- as well as the children's book Filler sultani ile kirmizi sakalli topal karinca (1977, The Sultan of the Elephants and the Red-Bearded Lame Ant).  In 2007, an operatic adaptation of Kemal's Teneke premiered at La Scala in Milan.

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