Orhan Pamuk 1952-
Turkish novelist and screenwriter.
The following entry presents an overview of Pamuk's career through 2003.
Regarded as Turkey's leading postmodern writer, Pamuk is one of the few internationally recognized authors in the field of Turkish letters. The unique position of Turkey, located on the geographical and cultural border between Europe and Asia, provides the context for Pamuk's fictions, which draw from both Eastern and Western cultural and religious traditions. His novels are often viewed as lyrical allegories, portraying a modern Turkey caught between the push to become a secular, westernized state and the pull of fundamentalist Islamic movements striving to maintain traditional Turkish culture. Pamuk is also known for utilizing self-conscious, experimental narrative forms which have drawn comparisons to the works of such postmodern authors as Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, and Salman Rushdie. Pamuk's writing has sparked controversy in the Muslim world, where both fundamentalists and leftists have taken offense to its depiction of the Islamic religion. However, his novels continue to be best-sellers in Turkey and have garnered a growing international readership.
Pamuk was born in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 7, 1952. His father was a university teacher and civil engineer, and Pamuk grew up in an affluent, secular household. He attended Robert College in Istanbul and later enrolled at the University of Istanbul, where he graduated with a B.A. in journalism. Until the age of thirty, Pamuk lived with his parents, who allowed him to concentrate on his writing by supporting him financially. His first novel, Cevdet Bey ve ogullari: roman (1982) was completed when Pamuk was twenty-six, but the work was not published until four years later. Pamuk has refused to release an English translation of Cevdet Bey ve ogullari—an unauthorized English translation has circulated through literary circles—and his second novel, Sessiz ev (1983), has only been translated into French. Beyaz kale (1985; The White Castle) was Pamuk's first work to receive an official English translation—all of his subsequent novels have been translated as well. In Turkey, Pamuk has developed a reputation for his secular religious and political beliefs and his marked opposition to fundamentalist religious movements. Pamuk was an outspoken defender of novelist Salman Rushdie during the 1980s, after Iran's Ayatollah Kohmeini called for a death sentence on Rushdie in response to the author's novel Satanic Verses. During the 1990s, Pamuk attracted criticism from Turkish politicians for his public denouncement of Turkey's role in the Kurdish war and the country's overall treatment of the Kurdish people. In 1991 Pamuk composed the screenplay for Gizli yüz: senaryo, a film directed by the critically acclaimed Turkish director Ömer Kavur, which follows a photographer searching for a lost love. Pamuk's works have received numerous awards and accolades, including a nomination for the Prix Medici for best foreign novel in 1988 for Sessiz ev, the Independent Award for foreign fiction in 1990, and the 2003 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for Benim adým kýrmýzý (1998; My Name Is Red).
The development of Pamuk's literary style has echoed the course of developments in Western literature during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, moving from Realism to Modernism to Postmodernism. Cevdet Bey ve ogullari is written in the tradition of nineteenth-century Realist fiction and traces developments in modern Turkish history and culture through the story of three generations of a wealthy family. The narrative concerns a successful businessman in Istanbul whose descendents fail to live up to his expectations. Only his grandson, who becomes a well-known painter, achieves a level of success equal to his own. Cevdet Bey ve ogullari takes place in the early twentieth century, during a period in which the Ottoman Empire ended and the modern Turkish republic was established. Pamuk's second novel, Sessiz ev, is written in the style of literary Modernism and has been compared to the modernist novels of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. The events in Sessiz ev unfold during a period of violent social and political upheaval in Turkey between 1980 and 1981. Narrated alternately from the point-of-view of five different characters, Pamuk builds his story around a small Turkish village where three siblings spend a week visiting their ailing grandmother. With The White Castle, Pamuk made the transition from Modernism to experimental postmodern fiction, setting his tale in seventeenth-century Istanbul. The novel opens with a young, unnamed Italian scholar being captured by pirates and forced to become the slave of Hoja, a Turkish astrologist. The two main characters function as doppelgangers, mirroring traits in each other and serving as fictional representatives of traditional literary representations of their respective nationalities, Ottoman and Venetian. The Italian scholar—the Venetian—comes to symbolize the embodiment of Western culture and knowledge, while Hoja, the Ottoman, represents the dominant Eastern social and cultural traditions. As the story progresses, the divergent characteristics of the two protagonists merge together and, by the novel's conclusion, the two men have seemingly switched identities. Kara kitap (1990; The Black Book) is also written in an experimental, postmodern prose style with scholars describing the work as a metaphysical detective story. Set in Istanbul between 1979 and 1980, a young lawyer named Galip wanders the streets, searching for his missing wife Ruya—whose name means “dream.” Ruya's half-brother, Jalal, has also disappeared, though his daily newspaper column continues to be published. Pamuk alternates chapters narrated from Galip's perspective with chapters consisting of Jalal's newspaper articles. The protagonist's endless searches through the labyrinthine streets of Istanbul come to represent a philosophical and metaphysical quest for the self and the divine. As Galip's quest continues, the lines between his self-identity and Jalal's identity begin to blur, and the novel concludes with Galip finding himself writing Jalal's newspaper columns. In addition to the central narrative, The Black Book also includes an encyclopedic array of esoteric references to both Eastern and Western religious and literary doctrine.
Pamuk opens Yeni hayat (1994; The New Life) with the line: “I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.” Narrated in the first person, the plot centers around Osman, a university student who reads a book titled The New Life, which draws him into a quest for personal transformation. Osman begins searching for a beautiful woman named Janan—whose name means “soul mate” whom he discovers has also read the book. During the course of an extended bus trip, which has been compared to the convoluted, metaphysical tales of Jorge Louis Borges, Osman locates Janan only to quickly lose her again. Meanwhile, Osman learns that readers who have become devoted to The New Life are being killed off by a secret organization opposed to its teachings. Resembling the conclusion of The Black Book, Osman's identity eventually seems to merge with the author of The New Life, raising doubts about who originally wrote the book. Pamuk's sixth novel, My Name Is Red, follows a small group of court artists assigned to illustrate a text for the Sultan of Istanbul during the 1590s. Combining stylistic elements of a murder mystery, a romance novel, and a novel of ideas, Pamuk relates My Name Is Red from the first-person point-of-view of over a dozen different characters, including such improbable narrators as a dead man, a dog, a tree, and a coin. The main narrative is broken into two overlapping storylines—a mystery involving the murders of two artists and a love story detailing a man's pursuit of the childhood sweetheart whom he was forbidden to marry in his youth. However, the thematic center of My Name Is Red consists of the philosophical discussions among the artists regarding the significance of art to society and culture. Pamuk utilizes these discussions and confrontations to provide commentary on the conflict between artists trained in the Islamic tradition and the realism of Western representational art. In 2002 Pamuk released Kar (Snow), a novel focusing on current Middle Eastern politics and the continuing conflicts between the Kurds, Islamists, and Jacobin nationalists.
In Turkey, Pamuk's novels have become best-sellers, appealing to mass audiences despite their denouncement by Islamic fundamentalists. Internationally, Pamuk has attracted an increasingly broad readership with critics hailing him as the first modern Turkish writer to break away from the form of the popular “village novel”—pastoral, sentimental novels set in rural Turkey. Such commentators have lauded Pamuk's embrace of atypical and postmodern literary techniques, arguing that his novels embody a unique narrative voice. Pamuk's acknowledgement of Turkey's mixed cultural heritage of Eastern and Western influences has also drawn praise, particularly due to the country's sensitive political atmosphere between secular and fundamentalist groups. However, some reviewers have criticized Pamuk's novels for their heavy-handed symbolism, repetitive plots, and contrived characterizations. British scholars have also faulted the English translations of Pamuk's works—primarily by translator Güneli Gün—for their overuse of colloquial American idioms. Several American critics have countered these claims, asserting that the British reviewers are only objecting to the use of American, rather than British, terminology. In her own assessment of Pamuk's contribution to Turkish literature, Gün has commented that, “Pamuk is the champion of educated New Turks who yearn for a legitimate place in the world of ideas. His work meets the West on its own terms, resonating with philosophic and aesthetic concerns that go beyond national boundaries.”
*Cevdet Bey ve ogullari: roman (novel) 1982
†Sessiz ev: roman (novel) 1983
Beyaz kale: roman [The White Castle: A Novel] (novel) 1985
Kara kitap [The Black Book] (novel) 1990
Gizli yüz: senaryo (screenplay) 1991
Yeni hayat [The New Life] (novel) 1994
Benim adým kýrmýzý [My Name Is Red] (novel) 1998
Kar [Snow] (novel) 2002
*Though never translated in English, Cevdet Bey ve ogullari: roman is frequently referred to as Cevdet Bey and His Sons.
†Sessiz ev: roman was translated into French under the title La maison du silence.
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SOURCE: Marien, Mary Warner. “Catch a Turkish Story Star.” Christian Science Monitor 83, no. 96 (12 April 1991): 13.
[In the following review, Marien examines Pamuk's recurring theme of “the limits of the imaginary” in The White Castle.]
Although he is not yet 40, Orhan Pamuk has emerged as Turkey's leading novelist. Moreover, despite the intimately Turkish nature of his settings and subject, he has come to enjoy an international reputation.
Pamuk's books have been translated and issued by many of Europe's prestigious publishing houses. Last year, Carcanet, the trend-sensitive British publisher, sponsored a translation that has just been released in the United States by Braziller. American readers now have the opportunity to become acquainted with the compass of Pamuk's considerable talents through Victoria Holbrook's sensitive translation of this, his third novel.
The White Castle is more experimental than Pamuk's previous volumes. The first and most formidable of them, Cevdet Bey and Sons, which chronicles the lives of a well-to-do Istanbul family through three generations, has been favorably compared to Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks. The scope, rich detail, and social awareness of both novels is all the more extraordinary since both authors were but 26 years old when the books were completed.
The more or less smooth...
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SOURCE: Berman, Paul. “Young Turk.” New Republic 205, no. 11 (9 September 1991): 36-9.
[In the following review, Berman evaluates the portrayal of East/West conflicts in The White Castle and asserts that Pamuk is an “extravagantly talented” author.]
Orhan Pamuk's The White Castle begins with a preface signed by one Faruk, explaining that the story to come was dug up from a seventeenth-century archive in a village outside Istanbul, has been rendered into modern idiom, and should not be weighed down with too many speculations about contemporary politics and East-West relations—which is, of course, a backhanded invitation to try out precisely those speculations, and indeed speculations of every sort. It is an amusing preface. It is a sort of theater curtain, dangling to arouse anticipation. And if it mystifies the American reader on small points—who is this Faruk, and who is the grandfather he invokes, or the dead sister to whom he dedicates the book?—it also gets out of the way quickly, and we are soon enough in a Venetian galley in the seventeenth century, where we are about to be captured by the Ottoman navy and flung into slavery, and all is well, at least for the reader eager for narrative.
Still, there is more to say about these opening pages. Orhan Pamuk was born in 1952 and has already published four novels in Turkey, making him a celebrated figure, his...
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SOURCE: Hitchins, Keith. Review of The White Castle, by Orhan Pamuk. World Literature Today 65, no. 4 (autumn 1991): 764.
[In the following review, Hitchins explores how issues of identity and the nature of reality affect the narrative in The White Castle.]
The white castle, a Christian fortress in Poland which is besieged by Muslim Turkish armies, appears briefly toward the end of Orhan Pamuk's novel [The White Castle]. It represents the unattainable at all levels of human endeavor, whether an individual's inner quest for self-understanding or the confrontation between opposing civilizations. In his first work to be translated into English, Pamuk, a leading contemporary Turkish novelist, explores these themes as he allows the relationship between a Muslim intellectual, Hoja, and his Italian Christian slave to run its strange course over several decades. The setting is Istanbul in the latter half of the seventeenth century. An occasional street scene and glimpses of the sultan and his court suggest the nature of Ottoman society, but time and place matter little as the author is absorbed in the encounter between Hoja and the Christian. The translator Victoria Holbrook has done an admirable job of conveying the subtleties of their verbal sparring.
At one level, then, the novel is a search for personal identity. Pamuk probes the psyches of his two main characters as they...
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SOURCE: Gün, Güneli. “The Turks are Coming: Deciphering Orhan Pamuk's Black Book.” World Literature Today 66, no. 1 (winter 1992): 59-63.
[In the following essay, Gün—the English-language translator of The Black Book—addresses the question of why Pamuk appeals to Western readers more than other contemporary Turkish authors.]
Orhan Pamuk takes his own portrait of the artist very seriously indeed—as he well should. After all, he's being touted as Turkey's new literary prodigy, putting in a timely appearance on the world literature scene. Turkish literature buffs ask one another: how come? After all, there are other Turkish writers who are as good or better but to whom the world pays scant attention. So, why Orhan Pamuk?
Well, for starters, not only does Pamuk's work sell quite briskly at home; it also translates into English like a dream. Educated at the prestigious Robert College (an extension of the American Ivy League in Istanbul), Pamuk can hear his work fall into place abroad. Besides, he has his finger on the pulse of world literature. While his compatriots are still tinkering with the secrets of the well-made modern novel, Pamuk has already graduated into postmodernism. He is part of what might be termed the New International Voice—like Isabel Allende, for example, who too must not be the only good writer in Chile, although she's the one we buy and...
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SOURCE: Pamuk, Orhan, and Judy Stone. “Orhan Pamuk: ‘Enigma Is Sovereign.’” Publishers Weekly 241, no. 51 (19 December 1994): 36-7.
[In the following interview, Pamuk discusses his writing career, the critical reception of his novels in Turkey, and his views on Turkish politics.]
Orhan Pamuk is nothing if not ambitious. All he wanted to do in his new novel, The Black Book, he says, was to write a huge, richly textured narrative that would capture the schizophrenic angst of Istanbul, a city in a country straddling two continents. He thus joined the search for an answer to the perennial Turkish question he defines as: “Are we European? Or are we Asian?”
Earlier in his career, with his third novel, The White Castle (Braziller, 1991) Pamuk had merged two themes: a culture in the mysterious process of change; and men in the mysterious process of changing identity. These themes emerge again in The Black Book, out next month from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
What better way to explore such mysteries than with a mystery? In The Black Book, a lawyer, Galip (“victorious”) searches for his missing wife, Rüya (“dream”), and her half-brother, Jelal (a reference to the famous Sufi poet, Jelaleddin Rumi), a famous newspaper columnist and Galip's idol. The chapters alternate between Galip's...
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SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “The Quest.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (25 December 1994): 3.
[In the following review, Eder compliments Pamuk's examination of personal and national identity in The Black Book.]
[In The Black Book,] Orhan Pamuk's braided mysteries coil around the story of a plodding husband who searches for his restless wife through Istanbul's serpentine streets and historical memory. Once it was the Ottoman Empire's Constantinople and before that, the Byzantine Empire's, and long before that, the ancient Greek Byzantium.
For Pamuk, author of the warmly praised The White Castle, the city is a suffocating midden of 2,000 years of temporary victories and permanent defeat. Pamuk writes of the defeat. His philosophical detective story is, in fact, an evocation of the crippled consciousness and destructive reflexes of his fellow Turks: heirs of a traditional Eastern society, and engaged for three quarters of a century in a Westernizing project that still has not taken root.
“In the land of the defeated and oppressed, to be is to be someone else,” asserts one of the many figures—at once enigmatic and hysterically overwrought—whom the husband, Galip, encounters on his week-long quest. It is the underlying theme of a book of disguises and transformations. Personal identity is unattainable when a nation's identity has been lost, and in...
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SOURCE: Adams, Phoebe-Lou. Review of The Black Book, by Orhan Pamuk. Atlantic Monthly 275, no. 2 (February 1995): 113-14.
[In the following review, Adams lauds Pamuk's accomplishment with The Black Book, calling the novel exciting, imaginative, and intelligent.]
On a winter day in Istanbul, Galip comes home from his languid law practice to find that Rüya, his wife and also his cousin, has run away. He assumes that she has taken refuge with her half-brother Jelâl, a widely read newspaper columnist, but Jelâl is also missing, from both the paper and his formal address. Galip goes sloshing through slush and grime in search of the errant pair. The novel [The Black Book] is constructed in alternating chapters—one describing Galip's wanderings and the strange and garrulous people he meets, who all tell him strange stories; the next reproducing one of Jelâl's old columns, which also contain stories and which Galip studies in the hope of finding a clue to the writer's whereabouts. The flow of seemingly unrelated tales suggests a Thousand and One Nights kaleidoscope, but there is a single concern underlying the shifting surface, and that is the question of identity—What is it, what is its value, what stability does it have? Jelâl's name derives from that of a medieval mystic and poet who advised, “Appear as you are, be as you appear. You are not this body, but a spiritual...
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SOURCE: Mannes-Abbott, Guy. “Ancient and Modern.” New Statesman and Society 8, no. 360 (7 July 1995): 41.
[In the following review, Mannes-Abbott applauds Pamuk's writing style and his success in representing “the texture and complexity of life in contemporary Istanbul” in The Black Book.]
The Borgesian style is the literary equivalent of the Duchampian in visual art: an identifiable set of formal assumptions, which still remain curiously dissident. When The White Castle, the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk's only other novel in English appeared in the US, it was properly compared to Borges and Calvino. The Black Book is like a 400-page extravaganza by the Argentinian master—which is almost inconceivable, and will guarantee Pamuk's international reputation.
Carcanet Press bravely translated The White Castle in 1990, before its American hurrah, and Faber published the paperback. It was preceded by two novels in the 1980s and Pamuk's fifth, The New Life, was recently published in Turkey. It should not be this hard to read him: Pamuk confirms here, with lovely intellectual bristle and narrative vigour, that he is one of the world's finest writers.
The White Castle was an exquisitely lucid fable about a telling of tales and exchange of identities between an Italian slave and his Turkish master. Together they seduce and are...
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SOURCE: Irwin, Robert. “Tales of the City.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4814 (7 July 1995): 2.
[In the following review, Irwin describes The Black Book as a “metaphysical parable” about cultural and individual identity.]
According to Turkish folklore, the Simurgh is a bird with a name but no body. In the thirteenth-century Conference of the Birds by the Persian poet Farid al-Din al-Attar, the Simurgh, which nests on the equally legendary Mount Kaf, becomes the object of a mystical quest—a quest which ends in self-discovery for its participants. The Black Book, the second of Orhan Pamuk's books to be translated into English (it was originally reviewed in the TLS of October 12, 1990), takes a similar form, as Galip, a rather colourless lawyer, searches for his missing wife Ruya. (Ruya is Turkish for “dream”, though it also happens to be the name of a cinema in the insalubrious Beyoglu quarter of Istanbul; Pamuk's book is saturated with references to dreams, of both the physiological and the celluloid kind.) The hunt for Ruya develops into a search for her half-brother Jelal, a flamboyant and mysterious newspaper columnist, for Galip is possessed by the notion that his wife has gone into hiding with him. As he follows the tracks of Jelal, Galip comes to identify with his quarry, to the point of secretly taking over the writing of his column for him. Unlike the...
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SOURCE: Glazebrook, Philip. “Turkish but No Delight.” Spectator 275, no. 8719 (19 August 1995): 32.
[In the following review, Glazebrook argues that The Black Book is ultimately an unsuccessful novel due to its weak narrative and underdeveloped characters.]
In so far as this sprawl of a novel [The Black Book] is a narrative at all it tells the story of a Turkish lawyer's search for his wife. She may have left him for her older half-brother, his cousin, a journalist whose famous daily column appears to overshadow Turkish life. The search takes him among the clues and dead ends and street furniture of a labyrinthine vision of Istanbul, the city which enshrines Turkish history and Turkey's ambiguous leaning towards both East and West. The atmospheric picture of Istanbul, snowbound and benighted in most scenes, is marvelously composed so as to characterise that fascinating and repulsive city.
But the story is not gripping. It is a novel in which people are subordinate to the ‘ideas’ imposed upon them by a novelist preoccupied with the possibilities of fiction. Neither lawyer nor wife is sufficiently realised as human beings for the reader to care what becomes of them. Not one of the book's characters is allowed to attain a secure and consistent enough identity to be memorable. In a less self-assured and accomplished writer than Orhan Pamuk this want of firm and clear...
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SOURCE: Parrinder, Patrick. “Mannequin-Maker.” London Review of Books 17, no. 19 (5 October 1995): 22.
[In the following review, Parrinder comments that The Black Book combines elements of the “postmodern detective novel” with aspects of the “dysfunctional family saga.”]
A winter evening in Istanbul in the late Seventies. Political murders, disappearances and torture are daily events, and a military coup seems to be in the offing. Galip, a young lawyer whose speciality is defending political prisoners, returns home to find that his wife Rüya has left him. His instinctive response is to pretend that nothing has happened—Rüya is simply too ill to leave the apartment or come to the telephone. He then begins to scour the city looking for her.
Galip's wife is also his cousin, and he soon discovers that her half-brother, the much-admired Jelal, has also gone into hiding. In a city of readers addicted to crime novels, newspapers and interpretations of the Koran, Rüya is a detective-story fan and Jelal a famous journalist. The Black Book is crowded with the life of Istanbul streets, but it is also a looking-glass novel of stories within stories. Pamuk's city is both an Aladdin's Cave full of glittering signifiers, and an echo-chamber where, wandering in disguise like Haroun-al-Raschid, the searcher encounters phantoms of himself. Galip comes across other devotees...
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SOURCE: Rubin, Merle. “Turkish Best-seller Offers Parable about Reading.” Christian Science Monitor 89, no. 103 (23 April 1997): 12.
[In the following review, Rubin criticizes The New Life for lacking narrative cohesion and an engaging storyline.]
Orhan Pamuk's most recent novel, The New Life, was a record-breaking best-seller in his native Turkey, which would seem to indicate a surprisingly keen appetite for contemporary fiction among that country's reading public. The phenomenon seems a little like the unexpected popularity of Umberto Eco's novels (The Name of the Rose, Foucault's Pendulum) in the United States.
Pamuk is one of the most prominent and popular writers of his generation in Turkey, and he has been gaining an international reputation as well. His work has been translated into 15 languages and two of his earlier novels, The White Castle and The Black Book, were published to critical acclaim in America.
He writes with an appealing blend of simplicity and sophistication, deftly touching upon various timely, even fashionable, themes. But this story fails to engage at a deeper level.
The New Life is a kind of parable about a young man whose life is transformed by reading a book. The narrator, Osman, is a university student in Istanbul who lives at home with his widowed mother. One day, he...
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SOURCE: Tuten, Frederic. “Ruined by Reading.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (8 June 1997): 11-12.
[In the following review, Tuten faults The New Life for overindulging in plot contrivances and “belabored” allegorical elements.]
Under the sway of romances and tales of chivalry, Don Quixote took up lance and shield and wandered about to battle injustice and the general wrong. Her head filled with sappy love novels, Madame Bovary took to adultery and the romantic swoon. Young Dorian Gray was given the book of all mind-altering books, “a poisonous book,” he came to call it, and, after reading it, he abandoned his fiancée, his closest friend and a life of Victorian rectitude to emerge as a suave decadent and prophet of a new hedonism.
Books and their influence—if any—have been the concern of many, especially today when the allure and power of serious fiction seem challenged by the values of marketplace. Can we, bombarded by the sensations of daily life, still read with the oneness and innocence of our childhood and youth, with the fresh wonder of that time, when books spoke to us from the deepest sphere of imagination?
In Orhan Pamuk's The New Life, the power of art's magic still reigns over the imagination of the main character, as revealed in the novel's opening sentence: “I read a book one day and my whole life changed.” The change is...
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SOURCE: Wright, Ronald. “From a Breeze-Block Istanbul.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4932 (10 October 1997): 23.
[In the following review, Wright commends The New Life as an engaging novel of ideas that serves as an allegory for modern Turkey.]
In A History of Reading, Alberto Manguel observes that reading links the reader's contemporary experience with many “an early page in a distant foreign century”. He then quotes from Orhan Pamuk's novel The White Castle: “You cannot embark on life, that one-off coach ride, once again when it is over, but if you have a book in your hand … you can, if you wish, go back to the beginning, read it again, and thus understand that which is difficult and, with it, understand life.” Such rereading of the past through the lens of the present—and vice versa—is the task Pamuk sets himself in The New Life, a sparkling allegorical novel of culture and consequence that has been a runaway best-seller in the author's homeland, Turkey.
An earnest young man of twenty-two—an Istanbul student who lives with his widowed mother—sees a strange book in the hands of a pretty girl in the university canteen. On his way home that evening, he spots the same book at a roadside stall. Falling swiftly to the powers of beauty and portent, this “rational student of engineering” buys it, reads it in a sitting, and “my whole...
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SOURCE: Emck, Katy. “Turkish Delight.” New Statesman 126, no. 4358 (31 October 1997): 44-5.
[In the following review, Emck comments on the overriding theme of “spiritual yearning in ideology-led times” in The New Life, calling the novel “a satire on the mystique of transformation promulgated by books.”]
Given that Turks don't usually write novels, and that Turkey is in many senses a liminal place—caught between Christian and Muslim, European and Middle Eastern cultures; not quite third-world poor—this book is every bit as paradoxical as a Turkish novel ought to be. It is also the fastest-selling book in Turkish history; 200,000 copies have been bought in less than a year. Pamuk, who is Turkey's foremost novelist, is also a writer of international stature who has been compared to Garcia Marquez, Kafka, Paul Auster.
Culturally and novelistically, The New Life exists between worlds, too. Pamuk, slyly over-modest, apologises for “the clumsiness of my voice” because “I have still not quite figured out how to inhabit this foreign toy.”
For western readers the novel recalls the wry literariness and metaphysical footwork of Borges, Pynchon, Calvino and Eco. For Turkish readers it is a cautionary tale about religious absolutes and cultural xenophobia. Looked at from a western angle, The New Life draws its inspiration from a...
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SOURCE: Calotychos, Vangelis. “Thorns in the Side of Venice? Galanaki's Pasha and Pamuk's White Castle in the Global Market.” In Greek Modernism and Beyond, edited by Dimitris Tziovas, pp. 243-60. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1997.
[In the following essay, Calotychos offers a critical assessment of the appeal to Western audiences of The White Castle and Rhea Galanaki's Pasha, placing his discussion within the context of postmodernism, postcolonialism, and the global market for book sales.]
Like any nostos, my return to my alma mater and Birmingham invites potential scenes of repetition to recall acts, emotions, and practices—loci for my self-(re)definition. This academic discussion over the contours of modernism is but one such instance. A more moving topos was my visit last night to a curry house in Sparkbrook where, fifteen years ago as a Londoner armed with the conventional wisdom that Brum and Bradford, with their thriving Asian communities, packed the meanest curry, I first embarked upon the quest for the authentic Indian curry. That I ate my curry by hand and from a bucket, the balti, added the requisite primitivism to authenticity.
Travels since the Ur-curry have led me to better and lesser curries the world over, though not in India. Meanwhile, the authentic Indian curry, displaced in a world of...
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SOURCE: Paddy, David Ian. Review of The New Life, by Orhan Pamuk. Review of Contemporary Fiction 18, no. 3 (fall 1998): 249-50.
[In the following review, Paddy praises The New Life for its postmodern examination of literature and its emphasis on contemporary Turkish culture.]
Have you ever read a book that was so overwhelming, so utterly life-changing that you had to find everyone else who has read it and force it upon those who haven't? This impulse provides the basis for Turkish writer Pamuk's latest novel: in The New Life a man, Osman, encounters a book so earth shattering that it changes his entire life. He seeks out others who have read the same book, and he sets out on a bizarre journey to find in this world the new life proposed within the book.
Pamuk's novel may strike readers as strongly reminiscent of many other works (but in a book about books this should come as no surprise). The stunning opening chapter, which details Osman's experience of reading the eponymous novel, echoes Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler. Osman's subsequent quest for the new life leads him to a number of conspiracies (one bent on destroying the book itself) that read like plots by Pynchon and Eco. Finally, Osman's fascination with bus accidents as the apocalyptic means into the new life feels much like Crash-era Ballard. Despite these similarities, Pamuk...
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SOURCE: Gün, Güneli. “Something Wrong with the Language.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5006 (12 March 1999): 14.
[In the following essay, Gün responds to criticisms of her use of idiomatic American English in her translation of The New Life. Gün argues that British reviewers are critical of translations that use colloquial American English rather than literary British English.]
The drubbing I received from British reviewers for my translation of Orhan Pamuk's novel, The New Life (reviewed in the TLS, October 10, 1997), gives me a chance to expose the assumptions, biases, chauvinisms that beset a former empire (in this case, the British), which must now compete with other nations not only for other ideologies but also for other “englishes”, which, in my case, is American. I am amazed that some British reviewers complain that my text is “too American”. “Slangy” is another all too easy potshot from some of the mavens of the British literary establishment, such as Ronald Wright in the TLS. If Wright thought it through, however, he would see that the correct term would be “idiomatic American”.
Pamuk writes in a casual yet culturally resonant idiom that is colloquial and often humorous, although he will, whenever it's called for, regale you with lofty language or overwhelm you with politesse. The subtle values of a culture reside in...
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SOURCE: Pamuk, Orhan, and Michael Skafidas. “Turkey's Divided Character.” New Perspectives Quarterly 17, no. 2 (spring 2000): 20-2.
[In the following interview, Pamuk discusses issues of Turkish identity, the critical reception of his novels in Turkey and abroad, and modern Turkish politics.]
Orhan Pamuk is perhaps Turkey's leading contemporary writer. His best-selling novels include The White Castle and The Black Book. His most recent book, The New Life, is just out. Michael Skafidas, editor of the Greek edition of NPQ, spoke to Pamuk recently in Istanbul where he lives and works in a beautiful apartment overlooking the Bosporus.
[Skafidas]: Your books have always reflected the reality of a divided culture. Today more than ever Turkey's two faces—Islam and secularism, East and West—are at war. Would you say that the very essence of your work has been about this huge, invisible wall that divides modern Turkey?
[Pamuk]: Yes, I think I get my energy from this traditional wall that still exists in Turkey between East and West, between modernity and tradition. All the artists and intellectuals of previous generations have had an idea of a Turkey, which would be either totally Eastern, or totally Western, totally traditional or modern. My little trick is to see these two spirits of Turkey as one and see this eternal fight...
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SOURCE: Hensher, Philip. “The Finest of the Foreign.” Spectator 287, no. 9 (4 August 2001): 29-30.
[In the following review, Hensher discusses the lack of interest among British readers in foreign literature in translation, noting that My Name Is Red is a “dreamy, passionate,” and “wonderful novel.”]
The English are terrific translators, when they get the opportunity. The national literature is full of brilliant, idiosyncratic renderings of great foreign classics. If you want to consider the English epic a snark which was never quite hunted down you have to look at Pope's Iliad (the Odyssey is the work of multiple hands, and inferior), Dryden's Virgil and Harrington's Orlando Furioso as well as at Milton and Spenser. No one has really read Victorian literature who has not fallen for those shameful purple pleasures, Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and Sir Richard Burton's dementedly fanciful Arabian Nights. And the tradition has continued with such brilliant writers as Constance Garnett, who brought the great classics of Russian literature into view. Even when the translation is somewhat wrong-headed, as in Scott-Moncrieff's Proust or, notoriously, H. T. Lowe-Porter's Thomas Mann (all those thous!) they are very often interesting cultural facts.
The caveat, however, has to be that the English are not often given the chance to...
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SOURCE: Kirsch, Adam. “Getting Real.” Washington Post Book World 31, no. 35 (2 September 2001): 13.
[In the following review, Kirsch criticizes My Name Is Red for failing to adequately convey the richness and complexity of artistic creation.]
Orhan Pamuk is the most popular living Turkish writer, both at home, where his novels are unprecedented bestsellers, and in the West, where he has earned comparisons to Borges and Calvino. As those names suggest, his books can seem postmodernist, dealing as they do in unreliable narrators and shifting identities. But in My Name Is Red, his latest novel, the flatness of the characters, the multiplicity of plots and narrators, the highly self-conscious reference to myth and archetype, are sponsored by Pamuk's antique Turkish and Arabic sources; he is not so much rebelling against European realism as detouring around it.
In summary, My Name Is Red sounds like a familiar kind of book—a murder mystery, with a love story thrown in. In 1591, a man named Black returns to Istanbul at the summons of his uncle, a government official commonly called Enishte (Uncle). It was Black's declaration of love for Enishte's young daughter, Shekure, that led to his banishment 12 years before. But now Enishte needs his help in completing a secret commission from the aultan. Enishte has been to Venice, where he discovered the secrets of Western...
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SOURCE: Davis, Dick. “Murder and Joy.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5136 (7 September 2001): 6.
[In the following review, Davis commends My Name Is Red for transcending the “conventional limitations” of the mystery genre and creating a rich narrative that draws from both Eastern and Western cultural traditions.]
To say that Orhan Pamuk's new novel, My Name Is Red, is a murder mystery is like saying that Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov is a murder mystery: it is true, but the work so richly transcends the conventional limitations of the genre as to make the definition seem almost irrelevant.
We are in Istanbul in the 1590s, and the main characters belong to an atelier of miniaturists commissioned to produce a masterwork for the Sultan. Populist religious preachers are stirring up sentiment against the whole concept of representational art (traditionally regarded with great suspicion in Islam), and the world of the artists themselves is split between those who would cleave to the age-old methods of miniature painting derived from Persian masters, and those who are beguiled by the new Western techniques of painting imported from Venice. Or, in the words of the miniaturists themselves, between those who strive to paint the world as God sees it, and those who strive to do so as man sees it. Two of the most eminent members of the circle embody the opposing...
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SOURCE: Bukiet, Melvin Jules. “Perceptions of East and West.” Chicago Tribune Books (23 September 2001): 1, 5.
[In the following review, Bukiet compliments My Name Is Red as a “meditation on authenticity and originality,” describing Pamuk as an accomplished “chronicler” of the Turkish consciousness.]
Few boundaries on this planet are more distinct than that of the narrow nautical channel called the Dardanelles, which separates Europe from Asia within the nation of Turkey.
To the east lie several thousand miles of harshly variegated landscape that has given birth to harsh rulers from Genghis and the rest of the Khans to Tamerlane and, over the last century, the Shah of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein, while westward stretch more-temperate climes inhabited by presumably more-civilized though often no-less-murderous Europeans. Straddling that border, partaking of East and West, sits the city of Istanbul, formerly Constantinople and yet further back in time Byzantium, and in that city sits Orhan Pamuk, chronicler of its consciousness.
The author of several previous novels, including The White Castle and The Black Book, Pamuk could probably live no place else on Earth. Certainly his new novel, My Name Is Red, could occur no place else. Its subject is the difference in perceptions between East and West, and its main...
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SOURCE: Schwartz, Lynne Sharon. “In the Beginning was the Book.” New Leader 84, no. 5 (September-October 2001): 23-5.
[In the following review, Schwartz offers a positive assessment of My Name Is Red, noting the impact of Pamuk's writing on Turkish letters.]
Orhan Pamuk is not only a superb writer, he is a cultural phenomenon. Equally at home in the traditions of ancient Islamic literature and Western postmodernism, he's the first Turkish novelist to win spectacular success in Europe and the United States. His four novels published here, of which the best by far is The White Castle (1991), are curious variations on a handful of themes: Turkey's Ottoman past as a stage for the clash and cross-fertilization of East and West; the infinite, tortuous complications of individual and national identity; and above all, the magical properties of books. In every Pamuk novel a book, real or imaginary, is the source or trigger, virtually the protagonist, of the action.
“I read a book one day and my whole life was changed” is the first sentence of A New Life (1997). The narrator sets off on a picaresque road trip through a Turkey shaped by American incursions like Coca-Cola and Hollywood movies, to find the promised new life. Though the book turns out to be a hoax of sorts, the exhilaration and perplexity it causes are authentic and vivid. The lure of a new life—that...
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SOURCE: Hibbard, Allen. Review of My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk. Review of Contemporary Fiction 21, no. 3 (fall 2001): 203-04.
[In the following review, Hibbard asserts that My Name Is Red explores themes that are “highly relevant” to contemporary Turkish society.]
Colors figure prominently in this historical mystery [My Name Is Red], set in sixteenth-century Istanbul, which takes us into the lives of a handful of miniaturist painters, one of whom is murdered by a fellow artist in the first chapter, narrated by the corpse itself. “Try to discover who I am from my choice of words and colors,” we are told toward the opening of the novel in a chapter entitled “I Will Be Called a Murderer.” The ensuing narrative, in a manner similar to Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, gradually pushes toward a resolution of the mystery while at the same time giving us a flavor of life in the days of Sultan Murat III and introducing us to the rich traditions of miniaturist painting. At stake is that very way of life. The murders (yes, there is more than one) seem to be motivated by wishes to adhere strictly to Muslim prohibitions on representational art and stave off the corrupting Western influences of Venetian portrait painting that elevate the individual at the expense of more selfless, collective endeavors. The themes of Pamuk's novel are highly relevant for a Turkey that even...
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SOURCE: Levi, Jonathan. “The Plague.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (7 October 2001): 9.
[In the following review, Levi applauds My Name Is Red as a “modern classic,” commending Pamuk's representation of “the intense life of artists negotiating the devilishly sharp edge of Islam 1,000 years after its birth.”]
Istanbul, 1591: Black, a painter of miniatures, returns to his native Istanbul from his travels into Persia and the far reaches of the sultan's empire. For 12 years he has tried to escape the vision of his beautiful cousin, Shekure, whose hand was denied him by his master and uncle, Enishte Effendi. Riding into town, Black discovers that Shekure has been recently widowed and one of Enishte's illustrators has been murdered.
Love and crime in an exotic city have always proved a compelling combination to Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, whether in his 1990 contemporary novel The White Castle or his historical The Black Book. Yet it is neither passion nor homicide that makes Pamuk's latest, My Name Is Red, the rich and essential book that it is. While Pamuk's descriptions of the ravishing and ravenous Shekure quicken the heart, and his circuitous clues to the identity of the murderer quicken the mind, Pamuk is neither Jacqueline Susann nor Umberto Eco. It is Pamuk's rendering of the intense life of artists negotiating the devilishly sharp edge of...
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SOURCE: Simons, Char. “The Deadly Art of Portraits.” Christian Science Monitor 93, no. 222 (11 October 2001): 19-20.
[In the following review, Simons comments on Pamuk's skilled portrayal of Islamic society in My Name Is Red, noting its particularly relevance after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.]
“There are moments in all our lives when we realize, even as we experience them, that we are living through events we will never forget, even long afterward.”
These words from the bestselling Turkish novel My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk, ring as true in the aftermath of Sept. 11 as in the year 1591, in which the novel is set.
While My Name Is Red has a many-layered plot—including a murder mystery and a love story—its thematic value is threefold: to provide a glimpse into an Islamic society, to understand the global tensions that exist when one empire waxes while another wanes, and to point out the cyclical nature of history.
In this case, the waning empire is the great Ottoman, which lasted 700 years until the early 20th century and, at its peak, encompassed Asia Minor, North Africa, and parts of Hungary and southern Russia up to the gates of Vienna.
The story takes place in Istanbul during the early years of the empire's decline. A powerful sultan has commissioned his...
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SOURCE: Almond, Ian. “Islam, Melancholy, and Sad, Concrete Minarets: The Futility of Narratives in Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book.” New Literary History 34, no. 1 (winter 2003): 75-90.
[In the following essay, Almond discusses how Pamuk blends themes of sadness and “the anxiety of identity” in The Black Book.]
Instead of being amazed that library shelves in Islamic countries are crammed full of handwritten interpretations and commentaries, all one has to do is take a look at the multitudes of broken men in the street to know why.1
All the books of Orhan Pamuk, in their own way, breathe certain sadnesses. Their plots are wandering and discursive, their tones reflective yet distant, their styles making curious use of an oxymoronically comic melancholy. The settings of his books seem to underline this tristesse which clings to every line of Pamuk's prose: the gentle despair and nostalgia of the Venetian prisoner in The White Castle, the tea salons and bus stations of lonely Turkish provincial towns in The New Life, and of course the “sadness of Istanbul streets in the rain” in The Black Book.2 Perhaps most keenly of all, it is the endings of Pamuk's novels which express this modern, post-Romantic version of melancholy, a sadness which seems to combine the pain of unrequited love with the...
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Adil, Alev. “Translating Orhan Pamuk.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5008 (26 March 1999): 17.
Adil responds to Güneli Gün's defense of her use of colloquial American English in her translations of Pamuk's novels.
Freely, Maureen. Review of Snow, by Orhan Pamuk. Cornucopia 5, no. 26 (2002): 42.
Freely evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Snow.
Innes, Charlotte. “Istanbul Expressed.” Nation 260, no. 12 (27 March 1995): 425-28.
Innes offers a positive assessment of The Black Book and discusses the novel's examination of the universal quest for identity.
LeClair, Tom. “Nabokov in Anatolia.” Nation 264, no. 13 (7 April 1997): 38-9.
LeClair compares and contrasts Pamuk's The New Life with the novels of Vladimir Nabokov.
Mason, David. “Letter from Turkey.” Hudson Review 55, no. 2 (summer 2002): 182-93.
Mason discusses his recent travels to Turkey and his meeting with Pamuk while in Istanbul.
McGrath, Patrick. “Dark and Fantastic Invention.” Washington Post Book World 25, no. 7 (12 February 1995): 6.
McGrath explores the theme of modern Turkish identity in The Black Book, describing the novel as...
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