Idle Years

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Idle Years by Orhan Kemal

Translated from Turkish by Cengiz Lugal

Published by Peter Owen Publishers, June 2008


In his foreword to Idle Years, Orhan Pamuk describes an optimistic fascination with the small pleasures of family, community, romance and daily life that imbue Kemal’s work. An optimism that pervades even as he trenchantly describes the hardships and injustices faced by common people during processes of mass urbanization and capitalist transformation that accompanied Turkey’s early transition from empire to secular, western-influenced republic. It is an optimism that makes his work universal and essential. Kemal is considered one of the modernist pioneers of the Turkish novel. A laconic realist whose style is comparable to Hemingway’s, and whose stature within Turkish culture has been likened to Gorky’s in Russia and Steinbeck’s in the United States. Kemal’s life was bound intimately with the history and social strata he chronicled. He was a man of the people. He was imprisoned for his political stances; and it was in prison that he discovered his vocation as a writer. Henceforth he dedicated himself to depicting the lives of ordinary Turks caught up in the economic and political turbulence wrought by modernization, its impingements on traditional communities and ways of life.


Orhan Kemal was born in Adana in 1914. His father, a political activist, emigrated to Syria, leaving his son unable to complete his education and forced to do menial jobs. During his military service in 1939 Kemal was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for his political views. In prison he befriended poet Nazım Hikmet, who greatly influenced Kemal’s socialist politics and his commitment to writing. He moved to Istanbul in 1951 and began to write full time. His works concentrate on the struggles of ordinary people: the problems of farm and factory workers, the alienation of migrant workers in big cities, the lives of prison inmates, blind devotion to duty, child poverty and the repression and exploitation of women. He was the author of thirty-eight works of fiction, several of which have been filmed or turned into plays. He died in Sophia in 1970 and is buried in Istanbul.


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