Kemal captures the poetry of the Anatolian countryside; bees buzzing bucolically beneath the pulsating sun, thistles swaying under the gentle current of the wind, the white iridescence of a mountain peak following a sun-rise, Kemal is in love with the Anatolian landscape, with the flowers, mountains, streams and plains from which it is formed;
“The dark-brown stallion, after a long round, together with a shooting star, entered the narcissus-bed of Ajhjasaz. The narcissus flowers were tall enough to touch its belly; they gave off a heady scent in the warm spring air. The big, gliding, gleaming stars in the sky were reflected in the shimmer of the horse’s bare rump. He plunged into the limpod waters of Ajhjasaz, where the big, broad leaves of the water lilies floated on the surface.”
Shimmering with a myriad of colours, a tessellation of blues, pinks, reds and whites, the beauty of the Anatolian hosts the conflict between the peasantry and the landlords. Cruel, vindictive and selfish, the landlords, with the support of the corrupt police, constantly tyrannise and exploit the peasants. The peasants are powerless to stop the exploitation-or at least they feel powerless-Kemal is, perhaps critical of their passivity, of their weakness and inability to fight their oppressors-instead they look to others, such as Memed, the book’s protagonist, a outlaw and brigand who, by the time of ‘They Burn Thistles’ feels over-burdened by the expectations of the peasants to fight their battles for them. Moreover, Memed is going through an existential crisis of sorts; his previous attempt at ending tyranny only ended up creating worse monsters-Memed ponders whether evil will always exist in perpetuity and whether there was any point in killing oppressors if there were a thousand men to take their place.
By the end of the novel Memed gains an answer of sorts-the peasants finally begin to take action and fight back and this prompts Memed to join them and kill the men who had been tyrannising them, yet, beneath all of this, the reader feels like, in consolidating his place as a hero, Memed’s humanity was slowly eroding, as he becomes a myth and a legend, a composite of cliches and illusions, a giant with a booming laugh, invincible and impervious to bullets-Kemal deftly explores the dehumanising aspects of being a hero and being mythologised, of the sacrifice Memed needed to make to ensure the peasants could witness the blue thistles slowly coalesce with the rising sun on a Anatolian morning.