Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Memed, My Hawk

Memed, My Hawk is the story after the first story, it belongs to the pantheon of first stories, and it also puts an end to all other stories, read or heard. This novel by Yashar Kemal, written several years ago, has the same sparseness and fierce ruggedness of texture and detail that the Taurus mountains have, and the economy of style, the tensions of narration elevate this novel to those heights that are usually reserved for epics. You have heard this before, you have seen it before, this is not new and yet most strikingly original, most brazenly fierce.

I read this novel earlier this year when I had stopped blogging but it had always been my intention to write a few lines in its praise, to share with a few the almost Homeric intensity and pathos of this tale, of a young boy and later man called Memed, those of the mountains, of snow and poverty and cold cruelty, of the widowed mother and the harsh thistles, of naked feet, and the poor villages, of the despotic landlord, the fierce Abdi Agha, at whose word ends the world, ends the law. Memed, wronged and humiliated, seized and tortured slaves himself to extinction. Yet rise he must, one day, and then seize and cut the hand that wields the formidable sword of that order that has gone on being unquestioned since the first story began after the first day.

Memed must also love against all his reason, for love is not his right, at least for the wrong person, the woman who is forcibly betrothed to the Agha's nephew. We have everyone and every thing against Ince Memed, the thin Memed. All seems to be lost in the end,the Agha has his powerful patrons in Ankara but Memed will not be defeated. We want Memed to do something, to restore to stone and thistle what stones and thistles have demanded since the beginning, to scale the mountains in summer and winter snow, to have some consolation, for them at least. The last image sees Memed riding into the mountains, alone and tortured, having lost his lover but having forced his knife into the Agha's breast.

We have heard these fables before and the darkening gloom of times has never faltered in covering these individulas up; but this is also a tale of those whose tales have not been told before. It is epic because it is so serenely magnificent, so unquestioningly accepting of those timeless inequalities that have lumbered man and beast and mountain.This story rises from the soil for it is of the soil, it has the Russsification of detail and melancholy of touch, it is an Eastern epic like only an Eastern epic can be. It is of the marginal but the prose is never so; Kemal gives it the edge of marching troops and sturdy hooves, the palpitations of time, the luxury of the last kiss in a cave high up when all is lost. Yashar Kemal's Memed must be read before all tales are read and after all tales have come to an end.

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