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Modern literature

The history of modern literature can be divided into two periods separated by a wide gap corresponding to the Kemalist era, which produced only a few important works. The first period covers the last decades of the 19th century, which can be called, according to famous writer Ahmed Hamdi Tanpınar (1901-1962) and sociologist Hilmi Ziya Ülken (1901-1974) ‘the rift’. Many authors of this period, such as İbrahim Şinasi (1826-1871), Ziya Paşa (1825-1880) , and Namık Kemal (1840-1888), known as ‘the heroes of freedom’, introduced the ideas of freedom and fatherland and practiced social criticism. However, the Westernization process led to what Ülken described as a ‘dual personality’, represented by authors such as Ahmed Midhat (1842-1912), Sami Paşazade Sezai (1859-1936), and Recaizade Mahmud Ekrem (1847-1914), who expressed their discomfort with their ‘oriental’ being and their ‘Western’ ‘non-being’, and a deep melancholy regarding the abyss that awaits them. The end of this period witnessed the birth of the modern poetry that spanned from Tevfik Fikret (1867-1915) – atheist and freethinker who rebelliously praised the attempt on the life of Sultan Abdülhamid II (which the ‘Red Sultan’ survived) – to Mehmed Akif Ersoy (1873-1936), a proponent of the neo-Salafi movement at the turn of the 20th century.

The period of the Committee of Union and Progress (1908-1918) was marked by the birth of anationalist literature, popularized in a language mastered by authors such as Ömer Seyfettin (1844-1920), Mehmed Emin Yurdakul (1869-1944), Ziya Gökalp (1876-1924), and Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu (1889-1974). With few exceptions – such as Nazım Hikmet (1902-1963) and Sabahattin Ali (1907-1948), the first forced into exile, the other murdered – the Kemalist decades (1923-1945) were marked by a literature of nationalist propaganda, dedicated mainly to the deification of the Eternal Leader.

At the end of single-party rule, a new period of Turkish literature began, with the emergence of a popular ‘peasant’ style sensitive both to traditions and legends and to past tragedies, as seen in the work of Fakir Baykurt (1929-1999), Dursun Akçam (1930-2003), and Yaşar Kemal (born 1923). These prose works find their counterpart in poetry such as the ‘Blue Cruises’ (Azra Erhat, 1915-1982), Sabahattin Eyüboğlu, (1908-1973) inspired by Anatolia. In the 1960s, a new melancholic style reflecting the disappointment of a generation of Westernized intellectuals emerged in the works of Sevgi Soysal (1936-1976), Adalet Ağaoğlu (born 1929), and Oğuz Atay (1934-1977); the latter defines Turkish intellectuals as ‘the disconnected’, a species that cannot hold onto anything and is therefore condemned to fall. It was on the foundation of this rich heritage that the 1990-2000 generation emerged, including Elif Şafak (born 1971), author of The Bastard of Istanbul, (written in English), that created a scandal around the denial of the Armenian Genocide (and Orhan Pamuk (born 1952), the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006 and explored both Ottoman history (My Name is Red) and the recent history characterized by violence (Cevdet Bey and His Sons, The Black Book, and Snow). Finally, after a long period of interdiction, Kurdish literature was reborn in exile in Europe and then in Turkey itself. One of its most important figures is Mehmed Uzun (1953-2007). The same period witnessed the birth of a new type of Turkish literature, written by Armenian authors (such as Mıgırdiç Margosyan, born 1938) and Jewish authors (such as Roni Margulies, born 1955).

Ahmed Hamdi Tanpınar (1901-1962)
Ahmed Hamdi Tanpınar (1901-1962)
Orhan Pamuk (born 1952)
Orhan Pamuk (born 1952)
Hilmi Ziya Ülken (1901-1974)
Hilmi Ziya Ülken (1901-1974)
Elif Şafak (born 1971)