Mar 20, 2010

11) Onuncu Köy

Original Title: Onuncu Köy
Turkish Title: Onuncu Köy
English Title: N.A. (It’d be “Village Onuncu" if I was the translator :)
Author: Fakir Baykurt
Pages: 338
Rating: 5/5
Applicable Challenges: 50 Books A Year, The 50 Books Challenge, Support Your Local Library

I had mentioned earlier about the limited options we have in our company’s library. I was planning to read a book of Fakir Baykurt for quite some time. I had read some of his books before and enjoyed all of them. When I searched for this great Turkish author in our library’s database, I was so sure I wouldn’t find anything but there it was: “Onuncu Köy by Fakir Baykurt – Status: Available”. I borrowed it immediately.

The setting is the rural areas of 1960’s Turkey. There was a big governmental campaign to increase the literacy rate. The story is about a regular teacher who was assigned to work in a western Turkish village. In those years the literacy rate for women was really low and the parents, being illiterate themselves, were choosing not to send their daughters to school. This anonymous teacher fights against ignorant families, illiterate people, and the way of living in the village he is assigned to. He makes friends as well as enemies. He not only works hard to educate 120 children of the village but also informs the villagers about their legal and social rights. The enemies he makes (those whose benefits are badly damaged by the teacher’s efforts) are unfortunately powerful enough to get him assigned to another village.

The teacher’s fight against illiteracy is endless. Having realized the legal barriers of being a teacher, he starts to work as an ironsmith in another village, giving the same fight. Of course, he again finds his supporters and his enemies. Then, he has to move again till he reaches the name giver village of the book, “Onuncu Köy” (Onuncu is actually the name of the last village the teacher settled in).

I was positively biased before I started the book. I was conditioned to like it because of the other books of the same author. I like the way he described the rural settings of Turkey, the way he used the local dialects in writing and the way he criticized political, social, religious and cultural issues.

The author himself worked as a teacher in rural areas for several years and with this book I can see how successfully he observed people. I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the unnamed teacher in the book to make a change, the fears of the villagers for that very change, the level of illiteracy and how beautifully all these were put together in a book. I gave it four stars only because the local dialects were a bit hard to understand in some parts (at least for me).

The books of Fakir Baykurt were actually banned in Turkey during 1970s and early 1980s because of the way he touched the above-mentioned fragile issues. Today he is considered as one of the milestone authors of modern Turkish literature. My father-in-law is a retired teacher and he remembers himself digging Fakir Baykurt books under the ground one night as the police/soldiers were searching houses for banned books in 1980. Turkey has gone a long way and we can read whatever we want today.

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