Review | Pêcheurs d’êponges, Yachar Kemal | Editions Bleu autour

Since I came to Istanbul in 1951, I have always said I was of Kurdish origin and that I had been sentenced to jail for being a communist. Later on, in interviews, I continued to say the same thing. I was one of the first writers to claim his Kurdish heritage. In 1997, I was questioned on this matter in Germany. I confirmed I am a writer writing in the Turkish language. I have never written a line in Kurdish, but I am Kurd. In many of my books, the heroes carry Kurdish names or nicknames. I never repudiated my Kurdish identity, part of my family comes from the Caucasus; they are Turkmen who fought against the (Russian) Tsar and later came as refugees to Turkey, first to Bursa, then to Van, where one of my grandfathers married the daughter of a Kurdish bey. As if that were not enough, there is also some Assyrian blood in my family, but all of Anatolia is like that. My advantage is that although many people in Anatolia don’t know the Kurdish language, I know it and speak it. But I cannot read and write it. When the writer Mehmet Uzun read me his book written in Kurdish, I understood everything, but I could not have read it for myself.” [Extract from an interview with Kemal Sadik Gökçeli published in The Middle East magazine, 2002]

Kemal Sadik Gökçeli worked as a journalist for Cumhuriyet from 1951-63 before turning to fiction. He wrote under a pseudonym: Yachar Kemal. As Turkey’s most prominent novelist, his books have been published in numerous languages, and he has been showered with international awards. In 1973 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature.

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