They Burn the Thistles
by Yashar Kemal, introduction by Bill McKibben, translated by Margaret E. Platon
Turkey’s greatest novelist, Yashar Kemal is an unsurpassed storyteller who brings to life a world of staggering violence and hallucinatory beauty. Kemal’s books delve deeply into the entrenched social and historical conflicts that scar the Middle East. At the same time scents and sounds, vistas of mountain and stream and field, rise up from the pages of his books with primitive force.
Memed—introduced in Kemal’s legendary first novel, Memed, My Hawk, and a recurrent character in many of his books—is one of the few truly mythic figures of modern fiction, a desperado and sometime defender of the oppressed who is condemned to wander in the blood-soaked gray zone between justice and the law. In They Burn the Thistles, one of the finest of Kemal’s novels, Memed is on the run. Hunted by his enemies, wounded, at wit’s end, he has lost faith in himself and has retreated to ponder the vanity of human wishes. Only a chance encounter with an extraordinarily beautiful and powerful stallion, itself a hunted creature, serves to restore his determination and rouse him to action.
[The book] has that insider's feeling for man, the oppressed, labouring animal, that you might find in Tolstoy, Hardy, or Silone.
— The Guardian
There are a lot of facts and folklore in the story along with delightful fantasy, all told with an intimacy of detail that makes for fine reading.
— Los Angeles Times
Yashar Kemal...specializes in proletarian fiction—novels and short stories that bristle with passion and political commitment...Kemal has become Turkey's first world-class novelist...They Burn the Thistles is thus a valuable addition to the body of literature for society's sake.
— The Washington Post