When I reached of the commandment Yasar Kemal’s death, I will think of a late night two days before New Year’s Eve 2006 – Havana.
Gabriel García Marquez sat with an entourage of beautiful women and serious, broad-shouldered, men in suits on the couches in the back of the nightclub “The one-eyed cat”, below the storied Hotel Nacional where the mafia bosses , spies, movie stars, politicians, writers and other celebrities rubbed shoulders with each other at one time.
Encouraged by my friend Lars Asklund I went up to the author and thanked for magnificent reading experiences. Marquez nodded and asked guardedly where I came from.
– Sweden. But I’m originally from Turkish Kurdistan.
– Oh, from the same country as Yasar Kemal , he exclaimed, delighted and raised his drink glasses.
Although I have not mentioned that I occasionally met with Yasar Kemal continued Marquez:
– A very nice and inspiring colleague. Health virtually from me when you meet him.
Five months later, we were a few people who sat with a sad Yasar Kemal at a Chinese restaurant at Fridhemsplan in Stockholm. To cheer him up – he had come to visit her in death sick friend and fellow author Mehmet Uzun – I told him about the meeting with Marquez.
– He said therefore, “inspiring colleague”? laughed Kemal. Maybe it’s the good Márquez way to admit that I was ahead of Latin Americans with the magical realism.
No, unlike his Colombian colleague got Kurd Yasar Kemal, who wrote in Turkish, never the Nobel Prize in Literature. A price he rarely wanted to talk about – even though he was the candidate for many years.
– If you get the stories of mother’s milk should not go around thinking about prices, you should just tell you, he snorted on a tavern in Istanbul after a literary seminar at the Swedish consulate in 2004.
Kemal told vividly how his Kurdish parents had fled from Lake Van to escape the Russian armies in 1915. How growing up in the only Kurdish family in a poor Turkoman village, Hemite, in the lowlands between the Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea led to his command of the Turkish language better than their mother tongue.
Yasar Kemal lowered his voice when he came into his life-long regret for his father who was shot dead in a mosque of his adoptivbror when he was just five years. And raised the tone and temper again when he said it was bards, oral storytellers who, before he had learned to write, inspired him to wander from village to village to collect more or less true stories, memorize and retell them in dramatized shape. Journals which could be days. And the work of sorting books in the empty library in the region of the city of Adana and the meeting with Homer , Cervantes , Stendhal , Chekhov …
– The Western literature gave me a new world. These authors made me realize later that “my” Literature must be sprung from my family and my people’s history with its treasure of tales, folk songs and myths.
Even with his first novel Let thistles burn (“İnce Memed,” 1955), he became the Turkish literature prominent figure. The inspiration for the works of the little lean one fatherless rebel Mehmed, explained Kemal, came from the men in his mother’s family. All were outlaws, revolutionaries, none of them died because of age.
His childhood landscape in the fertile Çukurova plain was his own Macondo. Yasar Kemal depicts in his epic of the oppressed lives and what happens to both man and society in times of upheaval. When the peasant society meets modernity, poverty confronts capitalism, desire for liberation encounter yet another brutalized political system.
Despite the fact that Kemal’s works mainly takes place during the 1900s permeated the stories of thousands of years of breathing where each object has its secret story and different epochs going into and out of each other. On Çukurovaslätten liver ancient settlements from the Neolithic and the ancient Cilisien left. With temples, stone writings and prophetic cave villages. Hettiteter and Babylonians, Persians, Armenians and Kurds, Romans, Greeks, Arabs and Turks. A chorus of rulers and slaves, peasants and feudal lords as everyone moves between nocturnal shadow landscapes and dazzling dream worlds.
The novels sounds in many different parts simultaneously. It’s breakup, mass exodus and settlers. Hatred, revenge, suspicion and violence is always present. But the revolt, the love, the beauty, the overheated imagination and man’s indomitable quest that even in the midst of a tattered time dream of light and peace.
For the atheist Yasar Kemal, man was the measure of all. Man is, however, an empty vessel without nature. When asked why he commences almost all his novels with long, lyrical depictions of nature, he replied:
I’m an atheist with a sometimes crippling agony. Nature is neither good nor evil, it’s just grand, and its beauty is perhaps my main argument against death.
As a child, he could for hours, days watching a butterfly’s journey, flight of the birds, shimmering blue wild bees flying up and down the glittering clouds over the plain, cloud formations, the Taurus mountain’s light shades, Tistlarna maces, peach and apricot trees blossom, wild almond trees when they hit the pink and purple. He inhaled the scent of wild thyme and closed his eyes as he listened to the wind, the stream of sounds and the brown and rödspräckliga rapphönornas songs.
The old farmer, tractor driver, cotton picker, night guard, letter writer, teacher vicar, rebel and socialist, was under many years one of the Turkish nation’s few public conscience. Reluctantly, like his friend Orhan Pamuk.
Yasar Kemal hated to talk politics, but still could not stay away from politics. Mainly when it came to issues of freedom of expression and the systematic repression of the Kurds.
– I’m a writer, not political commentator. My task is to write as good as possible, but what choice do I have when freedom-hungry people on the street are persecuted and even sentenced to several centuries of imprisonment, tortured and murdered?
It was for him immoral to be politically neutral lock themselves and just indulge in fiction, while the world around him burned. Particularly in dictatorships and in fragile democracies where all can not read and write, it was the intellectual’s duty to put ethics before aesthetics, highlighting inflation in society civilizational value and disrupt social order.
Turkish media ran for many years incitement – and hate campaigns against Kemal. Through the years were prosecuted or threatened, he often the prosecution and imprisonment of supporting terrorism and propaganda for separatism. I remember Yasar Kemal’s sad face when a young woman during a writers meeting in a bookstore asked how it felt to now be known as a human rights activist than as a writer:
– I am no more than a man among men. To be human means perhaps primarily to feel responsible for everything that happens in the world and are grappling with both the present and the past. Especially now in the libertarian pluralism market hysteria.
The times I met with Yasar Kemal interrogated, he always about Sweden – “my second homeland” – and mentioned the street he lived in during his exile in the country for a few at the end of 70s. Årstavägen 29th
He described the cold, the dark, the deserted streets and solitude. And what språklösheten do with man, to be shielded from the rest of society, feels like a helpless victim. For what ultimately saves man is her ability to communicate. But …
I have never been as productive as exile in Sweden, I wrote several books in a few years. The silence and tranquility that I met there, I have met before or since. Although I missed my home, I was very happy in Sweden.
Two years ago, when we met briefly on a gallery in Istanbul, I asked Yasar Kemal if he knew he during the 70s was the most lent foreign writer at Swedish libraries.
His boisterous laughter echoed from the walls:
– This in any case no Nobel Prize.