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.

PICMemedMyHawk

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.

 

The Return of Januarius

Janus: God of New Beginnings

Janus: God of New Beginnings

Just as there are drinking games, there can also be reading games. Such is my annual Januarius tradition, which I’ve been doing for more than fifteen years now. I merely wedded the name of Janus, the two-faced god of new beginnings, withthe month of January: During that month, I only read books by authors whom I have never before read.

So far this month, I have completed:

  • Helgi Olafsson’s Bobby Fischer Comes Home: The Final Years in Iceland, a Saga of Friendship and Lost Illusions
  • Zachary Karabell’s Peace Be Upon You: A Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence
  • Leonid Tsypkin’s Summer in Baden-Baden
  • Stan Jones’s Shaman Pass
  • Pierre Boulle’s The Face of a Hero

… and the month is not yet half over. I am looking forward to reading works by Sjón (the Icelandic novelist), Yashar Kemal, and Thomas Flanagan—among others.

So far, Leonid Tsypkin is my favorite of the five, with the author’s insight into the life of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and his wife Anna Grigori’evna, though all were pretty good.

 

Where to Pan for Gold

New York Review of Books Titles I Have Read This Month

New York Review Books Titles I Have Read This Month

At different times in my life, I have fallen in love with different publishers: Penguin, Oxford, Dover, Modern Library, New Directions. Now I am mightily enamored with the publications of New York Review Books. The four titles illustrated above are books by authors I had never read before, but which I read this month as part of my Januarius project. Of the three best books I have read this month, two—Andrey Platonov’s Soul and Antal Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight—were New York Review Books. The third, Juan José Saer’s The Witness, was recommended to me by an article in The New York Review of Books, which publishes New York Review Books.

I am always amazed by the editorial acumen of the publishers of New York Review Books: They seek out the best in Twentieth Century literature, whether it be from Russia, Hungary, Finland, Germany, Asia, Africa, or wherever. So many of the best discoveries I have made in the last few years have come from there that I follow their emails and website closely to populate my TBR (To Be Read) list.

Just this month, they came out with Silvina Ocampo’s Thus Were Their Faces: Selected Stories. Silvina and her sister Victoria Ocampo were closely associated with Jorge Luis Borges, who is one of only two or three authors whom I idolize,  collect, and ingest in bulk.

Cranking Up the Januarius

Janus: Looking Forward and Backward

Janus: Looking Forward and Backward

It all started with the new millennium. I saw that I was reading a lot of books but didn’t want to get stuck in a rut; so I started what I called my Januarius system. To explain it, let me refresh your memory from my post of January 26, 2014:

For many years now, I have had a habit during the month of January of reading only those books written by authors I have never read before. Here are some of the discoveries I have made in past years:

2001 – Kazuo Ishiguro, An Artist of the Floating World
2002 – Lieut Col F M Bailey, Mission to Tashkent
2003 – Orhan Pamuk, My Name Is Red
2004 – William Hazlitt, Essays
2005 – Michael Cunningham, The Hours
2006 – Victor Segalen, René Leys
2007 – Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
2008 – Simon Sebag Montefiore, In the Court of the Red Tsar
2009 – Mischa Glenny. The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers 1804-1999
2010 – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (I didn’t want to be the only person in America who hadn’t read this book)
2011 – Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
2012 – W G Sebald, Vertigo
2013 – Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate

In January 2014, the highlights were Tony Judt’s Postwar and Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. This month, I am reading Andrey Platonov’s Soul and Andrew Hodges’s Alan Turing: The Enigma. (I could tell already that Platonov is going to become one of my favorites.)

I have found that this practice introduces me to more world literature and more women writers. In the latter group, it led me to discover Lydia Davis, Shirley Hazzard, A. S. Byatt, Annie Ernaux, Anita Brookner, and Herta Müller to name just a few. Without being spurred to do it, I find I tend to neglect too many excellent women novelists, poets, and short story writers. I guess it’s those damned chromosomes.

 

 

Januarius

Janus, the Roman God of Beginnings and Transitions

Janus, the Roman God of Beginnings and Transitions

For many years now, I have had a habit during the month of January of reading only those books written by authors I have never read before. Here are some of the discoveries I have made in past years:

2001 – Kazuo Ishiguro, An Artist of the Floating World
2002 – Lieut Col F M Bailey, Mission to Tashkent
2003 – Orhan Pamuk, My Name Is Red
2004 – William Hazlitt, Essays
2005 – Michael Cunningham, The Hours
2006 – Victor Segalen, René Leys
2007 – Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
2008 – Simon Sebag Montefiore, In the Court of the Red Tsar
2009 – Mischa Glenny. The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers 1804-1999
2010 – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (I didn’t want to be the only person in America who hadn’t read this book)
2011 – Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
2012 – W G Sebald, Vertigo
2013 – Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate

Now these books may not mean much to you, but for an adventurer in reading such as myself, they were real milestones. Beginning in 2008, you might see an Eastern European element creeping in. That’s because, as I age, I see myself more and more as an Eastern European.

My Januarius is almost over for 2013, though I still have 2-3 more books to read this month. We’ll see how far I get.