On The Road

Review of ‘Yolda – Seçme Öyküler’ by Yaşar Kemal

Edited by Güven Turan

Doğan Kardeş Kitaplığı/Yapı Kredi Yayınları 2010

 

I bought this book along with several others by a variety of authors from a Yapı Kredi bookstore in Izmir last October. The series has dozens of book of collected stories by well-known Turkish authors and is ideal for someone who wants to get a taste of their writing for a very reasonable price.

The stories in this book are mostly founded in the difficulties of rural life in Turkey. The first “Sarı Sıcak’ starts with a boy pleading with his mother to wake him early the next morning. His excitement for the following day leads him to stay awake and of course the next morning he oversleeps. His mother can’t bear to wake him but his father does roughly. His excitement is that he’s going to work in the fields for the first time. The contrast between the treatment from each parent and the boy’s overriding enthusiasm is striking. The long day is spent with Osman, whose age we never learn, getting more and more tired, watched over by his aunt. At the end of the day he waits by the house of the landowner, reluctant to ask for the money he earned that day. The story does not let up, we are there beside Osman in the fields, we see the contrast of the landowner’s rich table and his parent’s desperation that he works to bring in some money. It is quintessentially Turkish in its sentimentalism combined with rough pragmatism.

Most of the stories are set in the same area of Turkey, Cukarova in southern Turkey. From the stories it is a harsh place, rich agricultural land is worked by poor tenants with rich landlords and mean foremen. The arid climate causes crops to fail; areas flooded for paddy fields produce huge numbers of mosquitoes and disease. In one story a woman loses her third child to illness living next to a swamp with an unresponsive, unhelpful husband. Some of the stories are set in an unnamed Aegean town. In one a boy talks endlessly about the wonderful deeds of his father. One story is set in Istanbul, the tale of a supervisor at a rubbish dump who brings home pens to his children. Grateful for the pens, his daughter doesn’t want to admit where they came from.

There is humour in some of the stories, Halis Serkisof, tells the tale of a foreman who is tricked into exchanging his mule for a watch that doesn’t work. Rather than admit his mistake he proudly uses the watch, guessing the time. The title story tells of a carter returning home from his journey. He meets a newly-divorced woman on the road and the story perfectly illustrates her pragmatism in the face of reality.

The characters and their situations are brought to life; we live their difficulties and hardships. The dialogue is local and contains slang. The language is not complicated with generally short sentences.

Overall I enjoyed the writing a lot, though some of the stories illustrated some of the difficulties I have with Turkey. The quick judgements, negative outlook and harsh circumstances nearly overwhelmed but were somehow held in check by the humanity of some of the characters. This is not an easy view of life, but it is realistic.

 

Yaşar Kemal was born Kemal Sadık Gökçeli in 1923 and continues to be one of Turkey’s most prolific authors. He was born in Osmaniye in southern Turkey to parents originally from Van in eastern Turkey. He lost his right eye in a knife accident and witnessed his father being stabbed to death as a young child. He worked as a cotton clerk, foreman, protecting river water against illegal irrigation and many other odd jobs before writing as a journalist and novelist. He began publishing stories in 1950 and gained notice after the publication of İnce Mehmet (Mehmet, My Hawk in English) published in 1955. His themes are the lives and suffering of the people and Anatolian legends and stories.

 

Yolda