The Velvet Hedgehog of Turkish

The 50th death anniversary of his death is a great opportunity to read Refik Halid Karay. To stroll between his merry sentences and will always be an indispensable doorway into the Turkish language and literature.

Refik Halid Karay (1888 – 1965) is one of the best authors of the Turkish language. He was successful to attain his position amongst the best authors with only two of his novels. He has a merry style of writing. His readers will never feel a depressive emotion even within his most sorrowful stories. Surely, they will experience a slight ache in their hearts. However, his works are never a kafkaesque swamp. He chooses to explore events and adventures within his books and one can make inner analyses through these adventures. Psychology is always an aspect of the surface in his stories. Yet, his characters are never unidimensional.
He has almost real life characters in flesh and bone even within those works that have been deemed adventurous. Karay is also a master with his depictions of locations. His descriptions of locations in his novel ‘The Peach Gardens’ are enough in terms of declaring his mastership. In fact, because of this talent, he was called ¨a painter – author¨ during the era he lived in. Although his two relics during his two exiles, ‘Stories of the Motherland’ and ‘Stories of a Foreign Place’, may be limited in terms of quantity, they have, however, landed him amongst the prominent authors of his time due to the quality of his style. His novels which take place in an exotic country or explore social change / transformation, the produce of his writing adventures have always been outstanding. Apart from this, Karay is a true labourer of writing with his chronicles, satire and memoirs.

Karay, who had spent twenty two years of his life in exile, describes himself with the following words: ¨I am an adversary to what exists, what has been done and what will be done.¨ Upon his return from foreign soils in 1938, he had explored love themes in his novels, which had caused him to remain in the background within the literary circles. Yet, this never had a negative affect on his mastership of the Turkish language. Karay´s works are very easy to read. A single Refik Halit book is an ¨experience¨ found nowhere else, whether it illustrates distant lands or Istanbul.

Refik Halit was an Istanbulian. He was born in Beylerbeyi, and although he wasn´t able to graduate, he had studied at Galatasaray High School and eventually became a writer at the Sublime Porte. He ought to also be greeted as the first story teller of ¨The Motherland¨ in Turkish literature. He even criticises himself in his writings by turning the spines of the hedgehog towards himself. It is possible to read the changes taking place during the final periods of the Ottoman Empire and the ¨driftings¨ taking place during the initial years of the Republic through his writings. For instance, his novel ‘The Inner Face of Istanbul’ published in 1920 and ‘One Face of Istanbul’ published in 1939 explores the years before and after the Second Constitutionalist Period.

In Beşir Ayvazoğlu´s words, he is: ¨Forever an adversary, and that is why most of his life was spent in exile. Refik Halid Karay had written quite a bit in order to make a living, but even in those works that he wrote loosely, he has the ability to impress readers with his use of Turkish language. Also, in every single sentence, he has the ability to make his readers feel his sarcastic looks, naughty laughter and fierce intelligence. It is Hedgehog with Broken Spines¨ shows us that the works of Karay need to undergo a serious editorial critique. It is unfortunate that many of the ¨windy¨ times in which they had been published are evident in many ¨publications¨.

From another aspect though, Karay is always youthful. His style, expression, choice of topic, mastership in satire…

These are just a few of the characteristics that make him an ageless writer. It is no wonder that Yahya Kemal Beyatlı has stated that Refik Halit ¨has spiced up Turkish language in a new manner¨. It is always that youthfulness. Refik Halit´s style is truly one without age. No matter which aspect it is, being introduced to Refik Halit Karay is like being introduced to Turkish language and Turkish literature and will continue to be amongst the indispensable doors to this world.

About the author

Suavi Kemal Yazgıç

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