Authors: Yashar Kemal

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Turkish novelist and journalist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

İnce Memed, 1955 (Memed, My Hawk, 1961)

Teneke, 1955 (novella)

Ortadirek, 1960 (The Wind from the Plain, 1963)

Yer demir, gök bakir, 1963 (Iron Earth, Copper Sky, 1974)

Ölmez otu, 1968 (The Undying Grass, 1977)

İnce Memed II, 1969 (They Burn the Thistles, 1973)

A&gcaron;rịda&gcaron;ị efsanesi, 1970 (The Legend of Ararat, 1975)

Binbo&gcaron;alar efsanesi, 1971 (The Legend of the Thousand Bulls, 1976)

Çakịrcalị efe, 1972

Demirciler çarşịsị cinayeti, 1973 (Murder in the Ironsmith’s Market, 1979)

Yusufçuk Yusuf, 1975 (this novel and the previous one are collectively known as Akçasazin Agalri [The Lords of Akchasaz])

Al gözüm seyreyle Salih, 1976 (Seagull, 1981)

Yịlanị öldürseler, 1976 (To Crush the Serpent, 1991)

Deniz küstü, 1978 (The Sea-Crossed Fisherman, 1985)

Kuşlar da gitti, 1978 (The Birds Have Also Gone, 1987)

Kimsecik, 1980 (Salman the Solitary, 1997)

Hüyükteki nar a&gcaron;acị , 1982

İnce Memed III, 1984

Kale kapịsị, 1985

İnce Memed IV, 1987

Kanin sesi, 1991

Firat suyu kan akiyor baksana, 1998

Short Fiction:

Sarị sịçak, 1952

Bütün hikâyeler, 1967, enlarged 1975 (Anatolian Tales, 1968; includes the novella Teneke)

Üç anadolu efsanesi, 1968


Teneke, pr. 1965 (adaptation of his novel)

Yer demir, gök bakịr, pr. 1966 (adaptation of his novel)


A&gcaron;ịtlar, 1943

Sari defterdekiler, 1997


Yanan ormanlarda elli gün, 1955 (journalism)

Çukurova yana yana, 1955 (journalism)

Peri bacalarị , 1957 (journalism)

Taş çatlasa, 1961 (essays)

Bu diyar baştan başa, 1971 (journalism)

Baldaki tuz, 1974 (essays)

Bir bulut kaynịyor, 1974 (journalism)

Allahin askerleri, 1978 (journalism)

Agacin çürügü, 1980

Yachar Kemal: Entretiens avec Alain Bosquet, 1992 (Yasar Kemal: On His Life and Art, 1999)

Ustadir ari, 1995

Zulmün artsin, 1995

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Filler sultanị ile kirmizki sakallị topal karịnca, 1977


Yashar Kemal (keh-MOL), originally Yaşar Kemal Gökçeli, was Turkey’s best-known twentieth century novelist and a frequent candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature; his works have been translated into dozens of languages. He received numerous awards, including an honorary degree from the University of Strasbourg, and was named a commander of France’s Legion of Honor. Kemal was born in 1923 to Kurdish parents in a tiny hamlet called Hemite in south central Turkey. He early became acquainted with the dangers and brutality of life in that region. On his mother’s side all the men lived by banditry. At the age of five, he lost one eye in an incident when his father, Sadk Gökçeli, was killed while praying in a mosque, and a year later he developed a speech impediment that lasted until he was twelve.{$I[AN]9810000940}{$I[A]Kemal, Yashar}{$S[A]G”k‡eli, Ya{scedil}ar Kemal[Gokceli, Yasar Kemal];Kemal, Yashar}{$I[geo]TURKEY;Kemal, Yashar}{$I[tim]1923;Kemal, Yashar}

After attending the equivalent of eight grades in local schools, Kemal took on employment of various sorts; he worked in construction, on a farm, as a cobbler’s assistant, and as a substitute teacher. Along the way he developed a lively appreciation for the popular traditions and local lore of the area. His first published work was a collection of folk elegies, A&gcaron;ịtlar. His political leanings came under suspicion among police and local notables; he was arrested in 1950, and while he was in prison an unsuccessful attempt was made on his life. When he was later brought to trial, on charges of disseminating Communist literature, he was acquitted. To avoid further embroilments with the authorities, he left for Istanbul and began to use the name Yashar Kemal. There in 1952 he married Thilda Serrero, who later became his translator into English. One son was born to them, Rasit. Before becoming a full-time writer in 1963, Kemal worked for eleven years as a reporter for the Cumhuriyet. As a writer for this respected and influential newspaper, his reports were widely read, and many were later compiled in collections of his journalism. During this time his short fiction attracted interest as well.

For a time Kemal was a member of the central committee of the Turkish Labor Party, and in the 1960’s he was editor of the Marxist weekly Ant. He was imprisoned no fewer than twenty times, mostly for his leftist convictions, and he was, in his own words, tortured “a great deal,” as evidenced by deep scars just above his left knee. In 1994 Kemal faced renewed difficulties after making an accusation in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel that his government was systematically oppressing the country’s fifteen million Kurds in the southeast.

The reception accorded Kemal’s first novel, Memed, My Hawk, placed him among leading practitioners of his craft in Turkey. The work was an immense popular success and became the basis of a film directed by Peter Ustinov. In 1956 Kemal was awarded the prestigious Varlk Prize for it. The novel also brought him international recognition after it was translated into about twenty-five languages. In the story, which includes youthful romance, official corruption, and heroic banditry, the protagonist, Memed, is moved single-handedly to carry out extraordinary acts of defiance and retribution against village authorities whose brutal acts would otherwise have gone unanswered. As a result he becomes the object of respect and indeed adulation among the common people; in the end, Memed settles scores with the most dangerous, and devious, of their opponents by boldly shooting him dead in the man’s own house. As an effort that combines elements of realism and folklore, there are explicit distinctions drawn between brigands of a wanton, self-serving sort, who are encountered at intervals, and those who, like Memed, are motivated by a concern for social justice. Further adventures of the author’s leading character have been featured in sequels that continue the saga of Memed’s confrontation with unjust and rapacious people.

Kemel depicts other aspects of Turkish peasant life more extensively in works such as The Wind from the Plain, Iron Earth, Copper Sky, and The Undying Grass, which as a trilogy trace the fate of families who have migrated across the plains of central Anatolia with the start of the annual cotton harvest. The people that emerge from these novels can be callous, corrupt, cruel, and very superstitious but also generous, romantic, and in some cases larger than life. It is a world haunted by misery, terror, and death, but also by a certain beauty in the people and the rugged landscape that seems to transcend the horrors.

The plot structures of Kemal’s novels often turn upon turmoil and acts of mayhem, which are presented in stark, unsparing detail. Indeed, some commentators have been struck by the harsh and unrelenting undercurrents of violence that provide impetus to many of his works. Beatings and other acts of physical abuse are carried out by ruthless local officials, almost as a routine mode of operations; in response, other protagonists seek vengeance on their own terms through acts of armed defiance. In Murder in the Ironsmith’s Market bloody encounters between factions that support rival landowners lead to widespread and prolonged conflict, where repeated fighting seems to develop a specific momentum unto itself. The continuing vitality of folklore and popular legends is another recurrent theme in much of Kemal’s writing, and some of his most effective short stories have been drawn from material of this sort. Novels such as The Legend of Ararat and The Legend of the Thousand Bulls are in part based upon peasant lore of eastern and central Anatolia. The interplay of historical memories, both factual and fanciful, passed down from village elders, with rustic tales of a mythical background, provides memorable images of the way of life in the region.

In some of Kemal’s later novels he draws on his familiarity with Istanbul and the surrounding area. In The Seagull the conflict between man and nature in a fishing village on the Black Sea is told from the standpoint of an eleven-year-old boy. Although some critics have charged this work with sentimentality, others have found this coming-of-age story moving. The Birds Have Also Gone is a commentary on industrial pollution and political corruption. The sharp, violent edge that may be detected in many of the author’s works is also evident in The Sea-Crossed Fisherman, which provides a taut and suspenseful narrative of crime and pursuit in the villages and coastal areas that surround the country’s largest city. In his later works, in particular Kanin sesi (the voice of blood) Kemal focuses more on giving his characters psychological depth and his material greater vividness.

BibliographyBlassing, Mutlu Konuk. “The Lords of Akchasaz.” World Literature Today 55, no. 2 (1981): 370. A review that discusses this novel’s themes and Kemal’s growing popularity in Europe.Blassing, Mutlu Konuk. “Seagull.” World Literature Today 55, no. 4 (1981): 723. A highly engaging discussion of the novel’s sociopolitical themes and its protagonist’s affinity with Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer.Darnton, John. “A Prophet Tests the Honor of His Own Country.” The New York Times, March 14, 1995, A4. Discusses Kemal’s life, his literary accomplishments, and his political disagreements and troubles with the Turkish state.Dino, Guzine. “The Turkish Peasant Novel; Or, The Anatolian Theme.” World Literature Today 60, no. 2 (1986): 200-206. Traces the development of this type of novel and discusses Kemal’s contribution to it.Edebiyat 5, nos. 1/2 (1980). A special issue devoted to Kemal’s work.Halman, Talat Sait. “To Crush the Serpent.” World Literature Today 66, no. 2 (1992): 400-401. A detailed review of the novel by a critic who knows Kemal at first hand.Kemal, Yashar. “Literature, Democracy, and Peace.” Translated by Talat Sait Halman. World Literature Today 72, no. 1 (1998), 15-17. Kemal’s acceptance speech for the 1997 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade is an excellent overview of his approach as writer and political thinker.Pope, Nicole. “A Voice That Refuses to Be Silenced.” Guardian Weekly, March 24, 1996, 18. Provides important and intimate insight into Kemal’s thinking as a writer and political activist.Tharaud, Barry. “In the Rain Bird’s Nest.” Edebiyat 10 (November, 1999): 293-306. An extensive review of Salman the Solitary that relates the story to Kemal’s life and notes themes that persist across his work.
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