New Developments in Turkish Literature

From Provincial Reality to Problems of the Individual

Even before Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, Turkish literature had already taken a major step towards modernization. Turkish author Feridun Andaç reports with an overview of Turkish literature

An open book (photo: Bilderbox/DW)
For a society that had just discovered "hobbies," reading became a necessity, writes Feridun Andaç

​​The 1970s heralded a turning point in Turkish literature: Socialization and village stories as well as the discovery of the existence of the individual, which were dominant themes in novels and stories in the 1940s and 1950s, now gave way to popularization, urbanization, and individual identity. Political discourse also came to the fore.

The author as an institution also became more visible as a factor in prose. Repression and stagnation, induced by the provisional solution of two interim regimes, played as much a role here as the search for the self.

The search for a new language and form

Toward the end of the 1970s and at the beginning of the 1980s the Turkish novel came into its own. Authors Vedat Türkali and Pinar Kür introduced a new development, and the contemporary Turkish novel began to explore new themes. While forthright political discourse portrayed the reality of the country, the exploration of individual identity found an enduring expression in literature.

Yasar Kemal (photo: AP)
Yasar Kemal received the 1997 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

​​The atmosphere of social opposition so prevalent in the 1970s was also reflected in literature: much discussed and of considerable significance in the past, literature freed itself of its stereotypes and searched for a new form and a new language to depict the reality of people and society. This new trend could be observed in the works of representative authors.

While Yasar Kemal, born in 1923 in South Anatolia and who appeared on the literary scene in the 1950s, contributed to a major step in the development of Turkish literature with his trilogy "Kimsecik" (Little Nobody), many of the writers from the so-called "1950's generation" likewise enjoyed a prolific period of creativity that greatly enriched Turkish prose.

Pioneers of the "new novel"

A major characteristic of the prose literature from this period was the tremendous diversity of its themes – with a shift of themes from the country to the city, from provincial reality to the problems of the individual, from the scrutinization of female lives to the portrayal of historical facts, from domestic migration to emigration.

This wealth of themes made it possible for new paths to emerge, leading Turkish literature out of the literary stagnation into which it had been fallen in the 1980s during the "interim government."

During the 1960s literature and culture increasingly opened up to external influences. This, in turn, paved the way for the emergence of formative writers in the 1980s and up through the twenty-first century. Of particular note here are four outstanding novelists: Orhan Pamuk, Mehmet Eroglu, Ahmet Altan, and Latife Tekin.

Orhan Pamuk (photo: AP)
Pamuk is one of the youngest writers to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature

​​These authors, each of whom addressed different motifs in the novel – from the historical and social structure of Turkey to the problem of the individual's existence, from the hopeless situations people find themselves in during times of change to the intellectual awareness of being a chronicler – can be called the pioneers of the "new novel."

Another kind of representation arose in the 1980s with the emergence of female writers who explored the theme of the "women question" and scrutinized female lives. In their works, Inci Aral and Erendiz Atasü highlight problems that revolve around the axis of gender relations. Even more noteworthy than their awareness is their exploration of this complex of problems.

During this same period authors such as Murathan Mungan, Hasan Ali Toptas, Ahmet Ümit, and Elif Safak, all known in Germany, also created a sensation with their novels and short stories.

The understanding of regional literature vanishes

The novel grew in prominence in the literary climate of the 1980s. Interest in popular culture was gradually spreading to wider circles of the population. For a society that had just discovered "hobbies," reading became a necessity.

Two facts can be observed of novels written during this period: History became a theme for novels, and the detective story started arousing interest as an independent genre. The understanding of a regional literature, as it had existed since the 1930s, crumbled; the problems of socialization and the new world order took its place in literature.

Novels were also written that dealt with the meaning of society, with the past in light of historical awareness, as well as the present.

Nobel Prize for Orhan Pamuk

The idea of the novel as a powerful instrument for comprehending society and people in society became more accepted. To a certain degree, acceptance of the idea that the path to enlightenment led through the novel is one reason why it became one of the most popular literary forms of expression.

The novel is the genre in which prose can best showcase itself and its maturity, which is why the novel has received the most attention in the reception of Turkish literature in other countries. In this regard, the influence of a highly developed Turkish prose on developments that led to Orhan Pamuk's Nobel Prize should not be underestimated.

Along with the rise in the expression of female voices and themes focusing on female lives and women's search for identity in the 1980s, themes such as city, urbanization, migration, the search for identity, the East-West conflict, sexuality, gender relations, minority identities, social history, political reality, provincial reality, the hopelessness of the individual, and alienation were establishing themselves at the same time.

The modernization of literature

Over the past thirty years literature has taken on the adventure of further developing modernization, which began in the "early Republican phase" around 1900.

The period 1900-1930 was the getting-acquainted phase that explored definitions of society and formulations of its problems; 1940-1960 saw the emergence of a literary idea that asked the question of not only what should be told and why, but how should it be narrated.

The phase after the 1970s focused on social development as a dominant theme, but also extended its attention to the world outside Turkey. International events received even greater attention, and writers experimented in how to shape their view of their own society.

In addition to the idea of holding up a mirror to society, the belief arose that literature could comprehend and depict life.

This era produced the concept of the "new writer" in Turkish literature. New prominent writers no longer concerned themselves solely with their own texts, but viewed life from many different perspectives and could write about it with even greater self-awareness.

Feridun Andaç

© 2007

Translation from the German by Nancy Joyce

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