Yaşar Kemal, Anatolian Tales (trans. Thilda Kemal) (London: Writers and Readers, 1983).
As the problems of Third World countries have intensified, modern Third World writers, committed to a realistic literary style, have been playing an important role in providing a more comprehensive view of their societies to readers worldwide. Yaşar Kemal, whose novels and short stories deal primarily with the social relations in Turkish villages, is among these writers. Born in a village in southern Anatolia, Kemal struggled to learn to read and write, and he knows firsthand the conditions under which the characters of his stories live.
Anatolian Tales, Kemal’s collection of seven short stories, employs a simply narrative style to convey the condition of Anatolian villagers’ lives. His major themes are the exploitation of workers, child labor, malnutrition and bitter facts about the position of women in the villages. The women in his tales — such as “A Dirty Story” — are often treated as commodities of transaction, used as a source of pleasure by most of the men in the village until they are finally exiled from the village because of the bad reputations they bear. In other stories, men divorce their wives without the woman’s knowledge and these women must remarry because social and economic survival for a divorced woman is next to impossible.
Health problems and malnutrition among the villagers appear in almost all of Kemal’s stories. Suckling infants die when nursing mothers lose their milk because of the hard work they must perform. In “The Baby,” the mother dies in childbirth because of the intense work she does while carrying the child. The theme of class contradiction is significant in all the stories, although some deal with it in more detail. In “Drumming Out,” Kemal depicts the conditions under which the rice planters live and the way in which the landowners (aghas) exploit them. He uses the arrival of a young, newly appointed rice commissioner from the city to construct his narrative about the village community. Landowners’ domination of the lives of the villagers is also shown in “The Shopkeeper.” In this story, the one who controls the lives of the empty-handed is a petty bourgeois character, a shopkeeper.
The women and those who are dispossessed in the village are at the center of Kemal’s attention, but he shows that all the villagers, regardless of sex or economic position, are victims. Kemal’s writing style is powerful and smooth. His insistence on conveying the hard conditions of the villager’s existence makes his fiction essential to understanding the reality of Turkish rural and provincial life.