CEMO 

 

The English translation of Cemo was published under the title of GEMMO in 1976, as part of the UNESCO collection of Representative Works, Turkish Series.

 

Some  Reviews in the British Press  

 

Derek Stanford, The Scotsman, 22 January 1977:

Kemal Bilbasar's GEMMO (translated from the Turkish by Esin Bilbasar Rey and Mariana Fitzpatrick) attempts a dual presentation, that of the high spirited girl Cemo (or Gemmo) related first by her father and then by her husband.  It is set in Eastern Anatolia during the turbulent years of the twenties at a time when Kemal Pasha was struggling to destroy the feudal system and lead his country into the contemporary world.

 

The writing is amazingly rich, boosted with the language of folk-song and folk-lore; and the self-dramatizing speech of the characters sometimes reads like prose poetry packed with a boxer's punch.  Love, war (marksmanship and horsemanship) pulse through the prose of this vigorous novel.

 

Nick Totton, Spectator, 22 January 1977:

Kemal Bilbaşar was born in 1910 and published GEMMO in 1966.  He is one of Turkey's most distinguished authors, and in every way deserves his fame.

 

GEMMO is an award-winning Turkish novel about Anatolian peasants in the twenties, slowly emerging from feudal dependence on the aghas and shehs.  Kemal Bilbaşar has deliberately chosen to write it as a kind of folk-tale, within the culture and perceptions of his characters, in order to reach the largest possible audience with his anti-feudal message.

 

The obvious drawback here is that the situation is then seen through the predominantly feudal ideology of the peasants:  for a non-Turkish reader, the main impression is of authority-worshipping and casually murderous society.  In a book like this it is hard to get one's bearings, to distinguish between the social norm and the social criticism.

 

But as a modern folk-tale, GEMMO is lively and entertaining, with the colour and immediacy of a naive painting. 

 

Martyn Goff, Daily Telegraph, 20 January 1977:

In the middle of Marrakesh there's a square where story tellers spin their yarns.  For an hour or two at a time they tell marvellously drawn-out tales, half way between myth and fairy story.

 

Kemal Bilbaşar's Turkish novel, GEMMO, set in the early years of Kemal Ataturk's rule, reads exactly like one of them.  The warriors are all brawny men, the heroines unbelievably beautiful.  Authority, whether in the form of one of the shehs or the distant government, smiles sweetly to secure its ends, then knives people in the back if obedience is not absolute.

 

GEMMO, who appears in the book as Cemo, is the centre of the story, related first by her father, Cano, then by her husband, Memo.  It is linked with the villainous sheh's attempt to take over the village of Karga Düzü in the eastern Anatolian mountains.  It reads easily and quickly.  If you want to know something about the people and life of that part of the world and how a major Turkish author writes, this book (which appeared in Turkish in 1966) will tell you.