Yashar Kemal’s Memed, My Hawk
(1955) is a coming of age novel about a young boy, Memed, who battles against a vicious tyrant in the small village of Deyirmenoluk in Anatolia. Translated into English in 1961, the book follows Memed as he tries to make a life for himself while his village is under the thumb of the local dictator, Agha Abdi. Memed rebels repeatedly, with support from his mother, and when he is older, from his lover, Hatche, both of whom suffer from his rebellion. The book is the first in a series of four epic
novels in the Ince Memed
series. The second book in the series is They Burn the Thistles
; the last two books in the series have not been translated into English from the original Turkish.
The novel opens as eleven-year-old Memed flees the small village where the tyrant Agha Abdi frequently beats and punishes him and his mother. Hoping to escape the cruelty, Memed leaves, taking refuge in the small village of Kesme to escape Abdi's torture. Once he is there, however, he begins to think about his widowed mother, worrying how she will bring in the fall crop on her own. Eventually, he returns out of guilt, and he and his mother are brutally punished by Abdi. He tries to starve them to death by raising tithes on their land; they only survive by the good graces of their sympathetic neighbors.
Later, at eighteen, Memed again thinks about leaving. He visits a small city with a friend and discovers the city is not under the cruel Abdi's reign. Memed decides that he and his girlfriend, Hatche, will flee together to live in peace far from Abdi. This is particularly difficult, because Hatche has been betrothed to one of Abdi's nephews. Memed and Hatche leave town but Abdi and his nephew, Hatche's fiancé, Veli chase them. Memed shoots Veli and Abdi. Veli dies from the wound, but Abdi is not killed. As Memed flees, Abdi captures Hatche and returns with her to their village.
Abdi locks Hatche away. He is angry that she was disloyal to his nephew, and that her fleeing caused his nephew’s death. Abdi lies to the villagers about the attack on Memed, and tells them that Hatche shot and killed Veli, and that Memed assisted her. Hatche is locked away for her supposed crimes. Meanwhile, Memed takes refuge with Suleyman, the same man who had kept him safe when he was a boy. Suleyman introduces Memed to a group of brigands who live in the mountains; Memed joins them in the hope that he can avenge the imprisonment of Hatchend seek revenge against Abdi.
The gang of brigands is lead by Mad Durdu, who is known for robbing his victims and stripping them naked before letting them go on their way. Durdu and his gang are nearly cornered and taken in by the police in one of Memed's earliest missions, but Memed's leadership stops them from being caught. Later, Memed and a friend ask a nomad for kindness, and the man gives them food to live on. Seeing the man's resources, Durdu stages a secret attack against the nomad, but Memed puts a stop to it, convincing the brigands that it is a betrayal to rob someone who has helped them live. After this incident, Memed becomes a leader of the brigands, and stages an attack on Abdi.
Memed and his brigand friends go on a chase for Abdi, who has been warned of their advances. A series of attacks and retreats take place on both sides, and in one, Memed rescues Hatche and her friend Iraz from their prison. Memed and his friend Jabbar hole up in the mountains. Hatche becomes pregnant; after giving birth to her baby, the fugitives continue to move on, chased by the police who are looking for Hatche. Eventually, they are cornered, and Hatche is shot and killed by the police. Memed claims to seek amnesty, while planning a new way to kill Abdi once and for all.
A Turkish writer of Kurdish descent, Yashar Kemal was a human rights activist. One of Turkey's most prominent writers, he received thirty-eight awards during his lifetime, including consideration for a Nobel Prize in literature. He also received a number of honorary doctorates from various universities in Turkey and from Strasbourg University in France. He wrote dozens of novels, experimental fiction, reporting, and more.