Memed, My Hawk

by Yaşar Kemal Gökçeli

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Memed, My Hawk, the first novel in a quartet, is significant both for the author’s literary contribution and for the place it has acquired as a classic of post–World War II Turkish literature. Notably, the book is set in an earlier era, when Turkey was struggling for its independence. The young hero, Memed, is a poor, orphaned sharecropper whose adoptive family, like others in the rural area, is subject to the tyranny of Abdi Agha, a greedy landowner and regional political boss. Memed’s journey takes him from being a solitary victim to membership in a local bandit group and, finally, to assuming mythical hero status.

Along with elements of social realism, Yaşar Kemal Gökçeli draws on traditional folk tales and incorporates modernist techniques in forging a uniquely twentieth-century work. Yaşar Kemal evokes a harsh time and place, in the rugged Taurus Mountains during the Depression. The novel has an epic quality, as Memed’s individual story acquires meaning within the panorama of other characters’ experiences. The author was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize.

The novel incorporates class issues into a love story that joins the impoverished Memed to Hatche; although she has been promised to Abdi’s nephew, she runs away with Memed. The young peasant’s motivations initially seem personal, as he is desperate to escape oppressive working conditions. His experiences as an outlaw, however, soon blossom into a political consciousness and a commitment to working on behalf of others. He is shown as reluctant to engage in aggressive violence or steal for personal benefit, as many of his fellow bandits do. While sometimes compelled to kill his opponents, he takes such drastic steps as necessary to protect his beloved and avenge the wrongs that Abdi committed against his adoptive mother. Gökçeli effectively shows the struggles of ordinary people for dignity and just treatment, along with their dreams of owning the land they work.

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