When Archipelago Books released their edition of Dawn, I immediately placed an order and entertained myself with Memed, My Hawk and a few other books while waiting for its arrival. This is my second NYRB/Archipelago book-pairing and I’m finding these serendipitous duos to be highly rewarding.
Maureen Freely, whose translations of works by Sabahattin Ali and Orhan Pamuk I have enjoyed, pens an insightful preface to Dawn that enlightens readers about Sevgi Soysal’s life and the paradox in Turkish women’s rights that she was born into; and for the 2005 NYRB edition of Memed, My Hawk, launched on the fiftieth anniversary of its publication, Yashar Kemal himself wrote the introduction wherein he reflects on people whose destiny it is to revolt.
Little did I know that the two Turkish works would complement each other and provide a rare glimpse of the Çukurova plain when it was still a setting for poor villagers, cruel landlords, bandits, orchards, and fields of thistles in Memed, My Hawk, and the same district on the cusp of urbanization in Dawn — far removed from the glorious domes and minarets of Istanbul that are more familiar to the international reader but closer to the woes of the working class.
Kemal (1923-2015) and Soysal (1936-1976) were no strangers to arrests and serving prison time for political activism. Memed, My Hawk is Kemal’s first novel, and Dawn Soysal’s last. But the symmetries are endless. The lives that both authors lived as leftist intellectuals and the fights they fought against authoritarianism and injustice are fervently manifested in these works.
The word “leftist” might cause some to flinch as it comes with a lot of baggage and it is deplorable how the mere association to the word can lead to “red-tagging” in my country; but the flawed and deeply human characters in both works reveal various shades of this problematic term that, stripped to its purest state, is simply the pursuit of equality, equity, basic human rights, liberty, and justice.
“Since when did we start thinking that struggling is a crime, and doing nothing was innocence and brilliance?” — Sevgi Soysal, Dawn