World-famous Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006, focuses on love as well as details in daily life in his latest novel ‘Masumiyet Muzesi’, (the Museum of Innocence).”
Originally published on October 20, 2006
A brief -recent- history of Erkan thru Orhan Pamuk’s novels…
Here is my most personal take with Orhan Pamuk. I had always a particular taste for his literary talents- I know this will annoy some of my loyal readers though:(- and here is an experiment of writing inspired by Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch
I don’t exactly know when the first time I read a Pamuk novel. It was probably in my first or second year in college and I should have worked hard to go beyond the intellectualist consensus not to read him. That is, there was already a Pamuk buzz and? intellectuals? do not read the popular. His current publisher in Turkey, Iletisim, had transferred him from another, Can, and though I hadn’t read him yet, I already heard the transfer price, that was a first in the history of Turkish literature I guess, and this had a negative effect on some of his would-be readers. But things change and I have a taste for the popular anyway. When I started to read Pamuk I had realized that he didn’t deserve to be popular (!), and hence Erkan’s infatuation with Pamuk novels begins.
I started with the New Life. That was his latest novel at that time and had sold more than 200,000 copies. As I had been a more bookish boy back then, the opening sentence had already grasped me:?I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.? I had already changed my life according to some books I don’t want to mention anymore (and feel regret now) but back then it was just a too familiar way to go. Dreamy and melancholic prose shaken me and although I would live to pride my materialistic view of life and prefer literature in the vein of socialist realism, the novel opened up a huge loophole in my all life. I was already destined to have beloveds that could never be reached and I had immediately accepted the New Life as a tribute to all platonic and melancholic love stories around me including my own of course. My biggest love story, which devastated most of my college years, was already ruining me and after reading the novel, I did something first in my life and started a journey with my closest friend. I know, I know, the novel motivated many others to start similar inter-city journeys and I was just one of them. My humble journey with Veli lasted four cities and unlike the novel protagonist I did not have any hope to find my beloved- I knew where she was already- and my hopes to ease my confusion were not resolved. I came back to Istanbul with nothing resolved and having lost my closest friend. V. was not the best companion in a journey and C. would take his place soon (!).
I would read The White Castle soon after the New Life. I remember buying it from Z., a friend of mine who now lives in France, who was a second-hand bookseller then. I bought bulks of books from him with super deals. He was a senior college student and while A. would sell quality socks, he would sell books. I remember looking through boxes of books and selecting bulks of books at their apartment. I had little money and he would let me pay in installments. He bankrupted soon. The White Castle is Mr. Pamuk’s most didactic novel. I find it the least powerful novel in terms of Mr. Pamuk’s literary talents. It is like a cultural pamphlet that questions our conceptions of the west and the east and looks for new cultural associations. Despite my dislike of literary aspects, it was a step forward in my own intellectual history of self-alienation from my own cultural roots and radical political thinking.
I remember reading the Black Book some time in between my senior year and the first year in my sociology MA study. It is his best novel for me and I frequently think to re-read it. It is his postmodern take and its chaotic structure is in parallel to my own intellectual crisis at that time. It is a turn towards a mild nihilism, a depressive period, a total skepticism towards everything I had believed in so far. Post-structuralism creeps into my thinking, I tend towards anthropology, I am not sure who I really am and I begin to think to leave a life behind and move to the US.
I remember reading My Name is Red. That is, in my third year of MA and when I started to be a TA at Bilgi. In the middle of that year, I was admitted to Rice Anthro, my experience of teaching had already added a new feature in my life and at the end of MA’s second year, I had had the experience of working at a newspaper. Just before the Houston period, these are my best times in Istanbul, and the best times of my life until then. My Name is Red is a playful novel, somewhat reminding Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose but it has its distinctiveness. Despite the murder story inside, I never found this novel a bleak one. There is a lively mood there and a peaceful engagement with a past as Mr. Pamuk conceives and I am fine with it. A hopeful love story- in fact, a particular scene- urged me in a state of bliss to contact my long-lasting beloved one more time. It was an effort in vain but I was not in despair anymore.
I read The Snow in the middle of my Houston years. I was never entirely happy with the literary power of it compared to previous novels but it was stunning contentwise. How could an author voice the insider’s mind in such a neat, realistic, and persuasive way? That was a really studied novel. It was one of the best treaties on the state of Turkish politics (in fact in most of the cases literary talents in Turkey are better to portray the political scene than others in the field). I could detect the insiders’ voices all over the novel that gave an embodiment to Turkey’s complicated political life after the 28 February pseudo-coup. In my personal take, it was a tribute to my old-time politics and activism. As Pamuk, I had left all behind. Even if I would go back to Turkey, it would never be the same and I would only look at those political happenings from a distance. In the course of reading during Houston’s briefly cold days in the winter, I felt the relief of emancipation from the older types of politics and I felt sorrow for my youth days that were kind of wasted. A strong sense of loneliness with no apparent feeling of belonging is what I remember at the time of my return…
Mr. Pamuk replaces the themes of displacedness, being in exile, homelessness (etc.) of cosmopolitan souls with a sense of belonging to a homely place. That is Istanbul, in his accounts, and for a long time, I believed that this state of settledness seemed to be the major difference between me and him (as if anybody really cares). Istanbul is embedded in all over his novels and I have always been jealous of him for having such strong allegiance to a place. However, at the time of reading his memoirs, Istanbul, sometimes close to my return to Istanbul, I had resolved some of the tensions of rootlessness and the book produced a sweet nostalgia to a past I never really enjoyed and a re-take of the past events. Yet another round of life would begin in Istanbul, in the streets Mr. Pamuk wondered, at my age closing to 30, and though I had and still have no plans to settle in Istanbul, I was now ready for a temporal feeling of belonging as strong as possible. I don’t believe Mr. Pamuk will stop writing but this book seems to be a personal tribute to his life as an author and I took the liberty to review my own.
I don’t remember when I read Cevdet Bey ve Ogullari and Sessiz Ev. These are not translated to English yet. The former, as thousands of times mentioned, is his first novel that is written in a more linear structure so that most Turkish critiques trained in the tradition of modernist styles actually understand and praise him. In fact, it seems that for most of the critiques that were the first and only time Mr. Pamuk was really likable. However, Mr. Pamuk from his very first novel outlines his political stance. Although Snow is supposed to be his first ‘political novel’, I find Cevdet Bey ve Ogullari, Sessiz Ev, and Snow as a trilogy in which three separate moments of Turkey in terms of politics are focused. I probably read these novels during summers when I was away from Istanbul. As in all summers, I was probably hit by a love story while I was reading Sessiz Ev that takes place in days of turmoil during the 1970s and early 1980s. As once a political activist, I internalized the characters of the novel- I prefer to change characters to personify with frequently at that novel- and felt the same love strickenness coupled with political activism urgency- how can I forget that the first time I went out with her, I had to leave the cafe half an hour later prompted by a phone call inviting me to a protest.
Unlike most of the critiques; Cevdet Bey, I hang on my right to state that, is his least interesting novel. However, for those of us who keep a distance from all major political attitudes in Turkish political history, this is a guideline as a retrospective work in a literary form…