Slim Memed

Yasha Kemal (1923-2015)

Yasha Kemal (1923-2015)

My Turkish friend David urged me to read Yasha Kemal’s Memed, My Hawk (1955). As part of my Januarius program of reading authors I’d never read before, I decided to look into it. It was nothing short of amazing. The following is from my review of the book for Goodreads.Com:

Yashar Kemal is probably the best known author from that most admirable of Middle-Eastern peoples: The Kurds. His Memed, My Hawk is a folk tale of injustice by a cruel landlord turning a young farmer’s son to brigandage. At the same time he is a brigand, he is scrupulously justice, especially when dealing with the poor and the innocent.

“Slim Memed,” as he is called, is a hero created by an author who doesn’t believe in heroes. In his introduction to the New York Review Books edition, Kemal writes:

I have never believed in heroes. Even in those novels in which I focus on revolt I have tried to highlight the fact that those we call heroes are in effect instruments wielded by the people. The people create and protect these instruments and stand or fall together with them.


Still and all, Kemal was to write three more books featuring Slim Memed. For the first one, he was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973. That award was won by the Australian Patrick White. I think it should have gone to Kemal.

Kemal’s villain is the landlord Abdi Agha, one of the most craven and beastly characters in all of literature. It is not until the end that Memed shoots three bullets into his chest, killing him; but he had been spiritually dead for years after Memed killed his nephew and wounded him.