Yaşar Kemal through memories
I have a daily Hürriyet Saturday supplement from 2003. A photo of Yaşar Kemal is smiling at me. The title of the interview is this: “İnce Memed is 50 years old, his novel that upgraded Yaşar Kemal from the stove-heated house.”
It is a rare example of a book passing both the tests of the history of literature and that of the readers’. In that interview, I remember listening to the actual story of a book from him like a tale. Whenever he talked about memories and how he researched sources, I always found myself in the climate of a tale.
When I visited him at home, when you see how he wrote the drafts, then you recognize the effort and the significance attributed to it. He would write with a pencil; I remember giving a couple of pencils to him.
The interview highlighted another reality also. The writer masterfully put into writing what he experienced and what he observed. I did not come across any writer’s arrogance in him. He always showed, through his conduct toward the people, that he was one of them.
This world-class writer was also hosted by another world-class writer in ceremonies. At the Frankfurt Book Fair, while he was receiving the Peace Award from the German Association of Publishers, it was Günter Grass who made the speech, actually a criticizing one.
As a matter of fact, Yaşar Kemal did suffer a lot from his criticizing speeches; he was taken to court.
What did he say in that interview about İnce Memed, (the book’s English title is “Memed, my Hawk”) which became a phenomenon in world literature?
I will write an excerpt here from that interview, of which I wish it to be remembered and be known, because those who have read İnce Memed and new generations who will read it should know the creative adventure of a literary victory: “When I was writing İnce Memed, I was working at daily Cumhuriyet and I had almost no money. So much so that the place I lived at Serencebey, Beşiktaş was stove-heated but I was not able to buy wood. In 1953, the winter was exceptionally harsh; you remember; huge ice blocks came to the Bosphorus from the Black Sea. Because I did not have wood, I put on a few jackets over each other and wrote İnce Memed with gloves.”
“I went to Hayat magazine; I Iraz’s story to them. They read it and gave me 50 Turkish Liras. With this money, I bought a month’s wood. Later, it was at the 11th episode when Kemal Film bought the film rights of İnce Mehmed from me for 5,000 liras. That was a lot of money for the time. I rented a centrally-heated apartment at Kurtuluş. But Kemal Film’s scenario did not pass the censorship. Until 1964, its being censored continued. Later, 20th Century Fox wanted the film in 1964 and gave me 8,000 pounds, but the film was again blocked by censorship. They suggested five directors to me to film the story; Elia Kazan and Akira Kurosava were among them. I chose Joseph Losey because I had seen some of his films. There were obstructions coming up in Turkey all the time. They even spoke to Süleyman Demirel, but it was not solved. Later Stanley Mann bought İnce Memed from 20th Century Fox for $250,000. As luck would have it, it also got blocked by the censorship board. Later, Peter Ustinov bought the film; however, again the film was going to be shot in Turkey, and again was subject to censorship. They decided to shoot it in Yugoslavia; there were many Turks there. Whatever, Peter Ustinov was the director and leading actor. The film was not popular in England, but it was a success in America and they earned a lot of money. If it were to be shown in Turkey, its revenue would have been sent to my account; however the cabinet met and decided not to show the film. Then its video was shown in pirated sessions. In other words, İnce Memed was the cause of immense changes for me; I was known in the world. What more can I say, I rented a centrally heated apartment while I was not able to buy wood.”
He was loyal to his land; he would not leave it even in most oppressive times. He never forgot the fact that the roots of his language and sources were here; this mentality had a big share in his success. He could have lived abroad easily but he chose to live in his own country. By making the whole world love the beauty of his language, he was able to make a gain for the language as a universal identity.
There is always more to write on good, big, world writers because whatever you write, that explains, introduces only one layer of them. Yaşar Kemal will be the topic of many a piece.