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Exciting tale of love amongst thieves
on 17 March 2002
"Memed, My Hawk" was written in 1955 by Yashar Kemal,who is described in the Foreword as Turkey's most influential living writer. He was born in Chukurova,Turkey where this book is set. He became a journalist after a period as a public letter-writer and was an active member of the banned Workers' Party. These aspects of his life are reflected in the novel.
The hero is Memed, who we meet as a small boy on the run from his village, which is owned by the cruel Abdi Agha. Memed helps to support his mother by ploughing and planting their field, the crops from which are taken by the Agha, who leaves them with barely enough to live on. The story then jumps to Memed's late adolescence and his love affair with Hatche. Events and the Agha conspire against them and, ultimately, Memed becomes a bandit. He seeks revenge on the Agha and to rescue Hatche in that order.
It is difficult to review this story without giving too much away. Memed is a Turkish Robin Hood and has many exciting adventures. The story is unsophisticated, dealing with complex issues such as loyalty, courage, honour, birth and death in a particularly straightforward way. Major life decisions are made without any agonising over consequences. The villagers support anyone who serves their best interests-their loyalty is ever-wavering. Memed understands this and never condemns them.
Memed makes many mistakes. He is often naive, never a super-hero, and this makes him a charming character. He is a great warrior who takes part in activities that are unworthy of him. For example he joins forces with a bandit who is well known, not only for robbing people of their valuables, but also of their underwear! Memed stands by while this goes on. He doesn't like what he sees but accepts that there is little that he can do to change things.
The female characters are less impressive. Hatche is generally peevish and weak. The strongest female character is Iraz, who behaves like a man, a warrior. The development of these women demonstrates a strength in the writing-the women are as they are without being irritating. I accepted that this was their true state-within this society at this time they were powerless-and there was no pretence at making them any more than chattels of the men. However the male villagers too are owned by their local Agha, who in turn is managed by a more powerful bandit. There is a strong sense of hierarchy in the story. I felt the criticism of the system by the author without being preached at.
The story moves along very quickly. The language is poetic and colourful. The characters are easy to visualise and the descriptions come alive-I could almost smell the smoke of the campfires. The chapters are quite short, making for great bedtime reading. I can highly recommend the book-this is a very seductive tale.