A Year in Reading: Yaşar Kemal

December 13, 2011 | 2 2 min read

coverI was recently asked to name the novel that I thought best reflected the essence of the twentieth century, probably the most painful century of mankind, a century that saw inhuman indignities, bloody world wars, genocides. I had hoped that we had left behind us its legacy of fears, grief, and numbness toward death. But our new century is marching on to war cries with no regard for the blood that flows.

All Quiet On The Western Front, a book that I had read years ago could have been written just today.

Such books require more than great talent, they are written at the risk of one’s life. Remember that Hitler had the book burned in a public square. They searched for Remarque to eliminate him too. He succeeded to escape. They killed his sister who had remained behind.

On the western front, weapons never seen before, merciless weapons rain upon villages and towns. Men die, those not dead get wounded, lose their humanity, become mad. This novel says that there is no hope for those involved in war, they become sick one way or another. One survives a war diminished as a human being.

War, the death sentence to all people and to nature, corrupts our humanity, our conscience.

The novel is the most important branch of the verbal arts, because each reader, while reading, recreates the novel from beginning to end. The power of the novel is vested in this recreation. When you recreate and experience all this suffering, oppression, war, and destruction of nature, you begin to wish for a more human life, and to reaffirm its values.

Art, true art, stands against oppression, violence, consumer greed, and every kind of inhumanity. Art, any form of art, is a rebellion. Art warns people against lies, oppression, meaningless never-ending wars, and all forms of evil.

All Quiet On The Western Front, written by Erich Maria Remarque in 1929, remains as fresh today, sending out its warning anew at each rereading, at each recreation, and continues to give its readers the strength to resist.

More from A Year in Reading 2011

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.

(also known as Yashar), is a Turkish writer of Kurdish descent. He was born in 1923 in a village in the cotton-growing plains of south-central Turkey. The first from his village to go beyond primary school, Kemal went on to become an agricultural labourer and factory-worker whose championship of landless peasants landed him in prison three times. In 1955, while working in Istanbul as a journalist, he published his first novel, Memed My Hawk, which won the Varlik Prize for best novel of the year. Kemal was a member of the Central Committee of the banned Worker’s party. In the late 90’s he was tried twice by the State Security Council for writing essays in support of Kurdish dissidents and criticizing Turkish democracy. Kemal has won a great many prizes, including the French Légion d’Honneur and the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger. They Burn the Thistles and Memed My Hawk were reissued in the US by the New York Review of Books. His The Other Side of the Mountain trilogy (Wind from the Plain; Iron, Earth, Copper, Sky; Undying Grass) is currently being re-translated and reissued by Yale University Press


  1. Thank you to Mr. Kemal for contributing and to The Millions and Lydia Kiesling for featuring a renowned Turkish author.

Add Your Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.