PEYAMI SAFA (1899-1961)
Peyami Safa was born on April 2nd, 1899 in Istanbul, and died on June 15th, 1961 in the same city. His father Ismail Safa Bey was one of the popular poets of the era. His uncle Ahmet Vefa was a poet, his other uncle Ali Kamil Akyüz was a writer, his elder brother Ilhami Safa was a reporter, and his cousin Behçet Kami was a writer and reporter. His father Ismail Safa Bey died in Sivas while the little Peyami was only two years old. Following this, Safa returned to Istanbul with his mother. Another major event in Safa’s life was the bone marrow disease that he suffered when he was eight. During this illness, there was question of amputating his arm, however Safa’s insistence prevented this. Following intensive treatment he was saved from the amputation. However, it would seem that the psychological effects of this disease have never ceased to haunt him. Safa has forever lived with the dread that his disease would one day repeat.
Due to the poverty of his family, at the age of thirteen, Safa started working at a printing shop, and he missed out on a formal education. However, when he was fourteen, he made his debut into the world of literature, as his story entitled “Bir Mekteplinin Hatirati – Karanliklar Krali” (“The Memoirs of a Schoolboy – The King of Darkness”) was published. Subsequently, he was employed by the Bogaziçi Rehber–i Ittihat Mektebi and he studied French, took courses in psychology and pedagogy, and taught at this school for some time. Later, he published stories that he translated from French in various newspapers and took a role in the publishing world. After this initial introduction, newspapers of the period published his various pieces under the title “Asrin Hikayeleri” (“Stories of the Century.”) Throughout his life, Safa continued to regularly write for newspapers. In the year that he died as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage, he was the main writer for the Son Havadis newspaper. One of the most notable aspects of Safa’s writing career was that he produced works in all fields of literature, except for poetry.
Peyami Safa’s works include the following: Novels: Gençligimiz (Our Youth, 1922), Sözde Kizlar (So Called Girls, 1928), Simsek (Thunder, 1923), Mahser (The Last Judgment, 1924), Bir Aksamdi (It was one Evening, 1924), Dokuzuncu Hariciye Kogusu (External Diseases Ward Nine, 1930), Atilla (1931), Fatih – Harbiye (1931), Bir Tereddüdün Romani (The Novel of a Hesitation, 1933), Matmazel Noraliya’nin Koltugu (The Seat of Mademoiselle Noralia, 1949), Yalniziz (We Stand Alone, 1951), and Biz Insanlar (Us People, 1959) Plays: Gün Doguyor (Day Breaks, 1937) Stories: Din, Inkilap, Irtica (Religion, Revolution, Reaction, 1971), and Yazarlar, Sanatçilar, Meshurlar (Writers, Artists, Famous People, 1976). Essays: Zavalli Celal Nuri Bey (The Miserable Celal Nuri Bey, 1914), Büyük Avrupa Anketi (The Great European Questionnaire, 1938), Türk Inkilabina Bakislar (Perspectives on the Turkish Revolution, 1938), Felsefi Buhran (Philosophical Crisis, 1939), Millet ve Insan (Nation and Individual, 1943), Mahutlar (The Above Mentioned, 1959), Sosyalizm (Socialism, 1961), Nasyonalizm (Nationalism, 1962), Mistisizm (Mysticism, 1962), Dogu – Bati Sentezi (East West Synthesis, 1968)¸ Nasyonalizm – Sosyalizm – Mistisizm (Nationalism – Socialism – Mysticism, 1968), and Osmanlica – Türkçe – Uydurmaca (Ottoman – Turkish – Fabricated, 1970). Works that have been made into film: Sözde Kizlar, (directed by Muhsin Ertugrul 1924, directed by Nejat Saydam 1967, directed by Orhan Elmas 1990), Beyaz Cehennem (The White Hell, directed by Metin Erksan 1954), Cumbadan Rumbaya (From the Bay Window to Rumba, directed by T. Demirag 1960), Dokuzuncu Hariciye Kogusu (directed by Nejat Saydam 1967, directed by Salih Diriklik 1985), Sabahsiz Geceler (Nights without Mornings, directed by E. Göreç 1968), and Cingöz Recai (Crafty Recai, directed by Server Bedi 1969).
In his first novel Sözde Kizlar, Safa relates the details of the social life of his day. Following the publishing of the novel, Safa wrote criticisms concerning the theoretical basis of his own novel.
In his novel Mahser, Safa conveyed the collapse of moral values of society in the period following World War I, and harshly criticized this degeneration.
In Fatih – Harbiye, Safa has compared the cultural and social lifestyles of the East and the West. Safa recounted how in the post–war period society broke away from Eastern culture and lifestyle, to embrace the West, while he exhibited a pro–oriental attitude.
Just like Mahser, the novel Bir Tereddüdün Romani deals with the moral deterioration that society experienced. This novel also doubles as a study on intellectuals in Turkey. Through this novel, Safa has accused Turkish intellectuals of lacking faith.
The novel Matmazel Noraliya’nin Koltugu, he relates the experience of a passive young man who blindly believes the extraordinary events that he lives, and somewhat unsuccessfully tries to explain these through materialist and positivist values.
Safa has earned a prominent place in Turkish literature and a popular following through his novel Dokuzuncu Hariciye Kogusu. This novel contains many clues about his personal life. The main character who remains unnamed in the novel, has been suffering from a knee wound since the age of seven. He is admitted to a hospital at fifteen, and he learns that he has tuberculosis of the bone. Dokuzuncu Hariciye Kogusu deals with the main character’s struggle to cope with his illness, his platonic love, and patient psychology in general. Dokuzuncu Hariciye Kogusu is important for Turkish literature since it is the first novel, which deals with the issue of health. Once again, this is the first instance that the psychological situation of a patient, patient / hospital relations and the sedated state of post–war youth are taken up in a novel. One of the form–related characteristics of the novel is that this is the first Turkish novel in which the main character has not been given a name.
In almost all of his novels, Safa has undertaken psychological and sociological comparisons among periods, continents, ideologies, and traditions. Considering his own novels, Safa divides his literary career into three periods: he thinks that his novels Sözde Kizlar and Mahser are juvenilia and he finds these two works severely “flawed.” He includes his novels Simsek and Bir Aksamdi in the second period because they carry concerns of the human spirit rather than the technique of the novel. In his third and ultimate period, the writer includes the works Dokuzuncu Hariciye Kogusu, Fatih – Harbiye, and Bir Tereddüdün Romani, and he had this to say, “I feel that I have gotten much closer to my writing goals, and I am progressively getting rid of the shame that my previous works have given me.”
Safa’s novels favored spiritualism over rationalism, intuition over science, and most importantly East over West. In almost all his works, Safa put the blame on the West as a factor that introduced moral weaknesses and lack of faith into Turkish social life; and in each case he has pointed out to the correctness of the judgment of the East.
* Biographical information about Peyami Safa has been compiled from the work entitled Tanzimat’tan Bugüne Edebiyatçilar Ansiklopedisi.
Reference: Yesim Gokce (Bilkent University)/Turkish Cultural Foundation, photograph courtesy of Ara Guler.