“Yusuf of Kuyucak” by Sabahattin Ali

This article is also available in: Italiano

“Yusuf of Kuyucak” by Sabahattin Ali is one of the first great novels of Turkey today, able to tell you a story that seems simple but hides many very interesting themes.

Yusuf of Kuyucak

Yusuf was only nine years old when his family was murdered by some bandits who entered the village. The sub-prefect in charge of carrying out the investigations at the scene of the crime, gripped by the sorrow for the situation in which the child finds himself, decides to take him into his home and adopt him. Yusuf thus begins his new life in Edremit, a town on the Aegean coast, in an environment completely alien to him, whose social rules he does not understand and is surrounded by people with whom he struggles to relate due to his shy nature. . The only people who can understand him and who will mark his fate are his adoptive father and half-sister Muazzez, a naive and kind-hearted young man. Years pass and Yusuf feels more and more alien to the city, he dreams of a future where he can live his life freely. Everything changes when during a village festival Yusuf defends Muazzez from the harassment of Şakir, a dissolute young man and scion of the richest and most powerful family in the area. The fight that began that day will see the conflict between the two young people escalate over the years until the final showdown.

The last pre-Atatürk rural Anatolia

In my opinion, in Kuyucak’s Yusuf there are several themes that determine it as a novel and the most visible one is the frame, characterized by a very particular place and historical period, which make it a very interesting novel just to understand the story. of today’s Turkey. The work is in fact set almost entirely in Edremit, in the countryside of the Aegean coast, immediately before the outbreak of World War I, a moment that will mark the definitive fall of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent birth of Turkey. The book, following the life of Yusuf, will take us from a period when de facto the laws were regulated internally by the villages themselves, to one in which the new state bureaucracy is increasingly present, integrating so well as to forge ever closer alliances with the landowners who until then governed the Anatolian hinterland. It is to this last aspect that the greatest social criticisms expounded by Sebahattin Ali are addressed, which, it seems (no certain proofs have ever been found), will cost him in the long run and his life; I will not dwell on the author’s biography here, but if you are interested in learning more about it I suggest you buy this book, there you will find a very precise one.

Returning to the frame, among the books treated on the site, it can be considered as a hybrid between the one seen in Altan’s “Ottoman Quartet”, set in Istanbul roughly in the same historical period, and rural and peasant Turkey treated by Yaşar Kemal in his “The Wind from the Plain“. The similarities with the first are due solely to the historical moment, but with the second the affinities are more evident, even if the path taken and the goal of the authors is very different from each other. Both are set in rural Turkey, both speak of injustices suffered at the hands of landowners and in both protagonists they suffer, but the difference is at different focuses in their minds. Yusuf, unlike Ali, is not in the least tied to those places, he does not feel them about him and much less wants to stay there, to the point of trying to escape on several occasions, only succeeding in the end and paying a very high price.

Muazzez, the center of the work

It seems paradoxical given that the title both in its translation and in the Turkish version is called “Yusuf of Kuyucak”, but the real protagonist of the work is not so much Yusuf himself, but his relationship with Muazzez, a stepsister who will reveal herself more than ever. decisive within the plot. In fact, the story begins not from the birth of Yusuf, but from when the latter is taken, adopted and brought home by the sub-prefect, thus meeting Muazzez and in the same way the novel ends when this relationship ends definitively, marking a point of no return for both. and allowing Yusuf to continue his path, of which, however, we are not told anything since the novel ends there. From this point of view it can be said that the book is linked more to a novel of personal growth rather than to one of denunciation and this aspect, in my humble opinion, is also certified by some beautiful and profound quotations to the Sufi world.

Yusuf of Kuyucak
The cover of the film

In a certain sense, in fact, the work ends as much for “practical” events as for events “interior” to Yusuf’s psyche that he will definitively understand the lesson of the sub-prefect and, to pursue the desire to find his way, he will find himself at having to (involuntarily) destroy what had tied him so much to those places; like a butterfly that burns itself in the candle to enjoy the fullest light. The message of the sub-prefect is in my view one of the most beautiful passages of the novel and that will make us reflect on one of the founding messages of Islam: to accept life and fate. Only when Yusuf makes this decisive passage will he allow his destiny to be fulfilled, freeing the current of the river and reaching the most painful test; only once he has faced the latter will he really be able to start his own life.

“Yusuf of Kuyucak” is a typically Turkish story that will allow you both to enjoy a light reading in rural Anatolia, and to read one of the most important works of one of the very first authors of modern Turkey, heir to a literary tradition that, through stories similar, enlightened the minds of those who knew how to look beyond. In addition, it is one of the very first works published by the Altano publishing house, which kindly gave me the novel and with which I will have the honor of chatting on January 6 on the Medio Oriente e Dintorni Youtube channel.

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