Kemal, My Hawk
writers have so identified themselves with their own country
as Yasar Kemal. After reading his prodigious output one
is first aware of the land and then of legend. Where one
ends the other begins, and at some point fuse into one
so that the land becomes legendary, and Yasar Kemal its
Kemal was born in 1922 in a village on the Chukurova plains.
After a basic education, he became an agricultural labourer
and factory worker who took it upon himself to champion
workers’ rights. After a brief stint as a journalist,
he published his first novel, the award-winning Memed, My Hawk in 1955.
over three decades Kemal has identified himself to such
an extent with the unforgiving yet sublime Taurus Mountains,
the Chukurova plains and its toiling people that the one
word that best describes his work is perhaps lapidary.
As the word suggests, Kemal is elegant and concise in
both word and wisdom. He is the emblem of a lost but not
yet forgotten Anatolia in the most profound sense.
and folklore intermarry in Yasar Kemal. His best work
is about old agrarian Turkey giving way to a new modern
industrial nation. The clash of past with present, the
disintegration of village life and the expansion of the
city are all part of his oeuvre. As progress marches on,
it devours the traditional village, isolated in time and
place, routing out the little people whose only recourse
to justice has long been through self-administered vengeance.
of that struggle rise the heroes and heroines that come
to dominate the landscape. The outlaw, the bandit, the
street urchin, the headstrong woman, the matriarch, is
Kemal’s principle protagonist. The aga, master, lord, landowner,
is the symbol of the immoveable mountain of absolute power
and injustice that must be overcome.
at one time or another they must all journey from impossible
heights to the lowest depths. Rarely do they return, and
even then it is only in song and remembrance. For a time
their names are carved on rock, until wind and rain wash
away all traces.
Kemal is a hyper-realist. He knows that in order for truth
to reveal itself it must be exaggerated. His prose turns
characters into symbols of themselves; their actions are
at once godly and achingly, recognisably mortal. His unique
talent is in not losing sight of a shared humanity even
for a minute.
this virgin territory that Kemal has carved out for himself,
Greek tragedy clashes with pragmatic social realism to
create a stark poetry. But in the moral universe that
he creates, there is more of Euripides than of Homer.
By creating such an exquisite sense of place, the vastness
and grandeur of Anatolia, Kemal roots his characters’
wildly vacillating behaviour to the land. They belong
to it and it, in turn, breathes through them. They are
children of Dionysus, the men and women who walk across
his pages. They can be tender as trees or as savage and
lonesome as crags in the snowy mountains.
that is why many city dwelling, middle-class Turks are
embarrassed by Yasar Kemal’s international reputation,
and prefer to be represented by more progressive writers
like Orhan Pamuk. They believe that the man that enthralled
them with The Wind from the Plain is a reminder of a primitive past that
stubbornly lingers in parts of remote Anatolia, at odds
with attempts to modernise at all costs.
Kemal’s message is justice and reverence. Justice
for all is an eternal paradigm. And reverence for the
past is a way to the future. By listening to the old master,
Turkey and indeed the world is reminded of how vast is
our imaginative range and how enriching our historic past.
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links on the LM
Themes in the Novels of Yasar KEMAL
by Osman SAHIN
KAKMI is an essayist and critic. He works for Penguin
Books Australia as an editor.
Dmetri Kakmi, 2003