Orhan Pamuk's novel The Black Book (published as Kara Kitap in Turkey in 1990) is a bit of a mystery, a detective story, a history of Turkey, and a philosophical discussion of identity. This novel is not a summer read—one written to entertain and pass the time. The words that best describe Pamuck's work might be intriguing and intellectually stimulating.

The basic premise of the novel circles around the protagonist, Galip, who is a lawyer living in Istanbul. One day, Galip comes home from work to find that his wife, Ruya, has left him. Or at least Galip thinks Ruya has gone. She has left behind most of her personal possessions and a brief note, telling Galip that she will be in touch with him. 

During the course of the next seven days, Galip will lie to his family (and, in part, to himself) about Ruya's lack of presence in his life. Ruya is sick in bed, Galip tells the family. He says this so convincingly that he almost believes it himself, except when he returns to his empty apartment. In order not to face this emptiness, Galip moves out. He takes over the apartment of Ruya's half-brother, Jelal.

From childhood, Galip has admired Jelal and has fantasized about being like him. Jelal is a famous newspaper columnist in Istanbul. Believing he can find clues in Jelal's apartment about his wife's disappearance, Galip not only moves into Jelal's place, he wears his clothes and then writes columns for the newspaper, using Jelal's name.

Galip never finds out where Ruya has gone, though he suspects that Ruya and Jelal are together. But in the course of Galip's attempts to find them, Jelal and Ruya are murdered.  Readers are not told who killed them. Or maybe they are told through the clues that Pamuk has hidden. The author leaves it up to his readers to solve the mysteries of this fascinating novel.

The Black Book Extended Summary

Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book begins with the protagonist, Galip, a thirty-three-year-old Turkish lawyer living in Istanbul, waking up and studying his sleeping wife, Ruya. It is very clear that Galip loves her. Ruya, on the other hand, even after she awakens, seems to be rather passive towards her husband. She has nothing to say and does not attempt to get up with him. It is mentioned that Ruya does nothing all day except sit around and read detective novels. She has no job and no children to take care of.

When Galip returns from work, he finds a brief note from Ruya. She has gone and will get in touch, the note informs Galip. After rummaging through their apartment looking for clues as to why Ruya has left or where she has gone, Galip finds no answers. All he notices is that Ruya has left most of her clothes and toiletries behind, as if she had decided to take only a short trip. When Galip attends a family dinner that night, he lies, telling the family that Ruya is sick. Galip learns that Jelal (also spelled Celal in some editions), Ruya's fifty-three-year-old half-brother, has not been seen for a while.

To avoid the emptiness of his apartment, Galip investigates Jelal's apartment. He decides to stay there. He hopes he might find some clues as to where Jelal has gone. Galip figures that if he finds Jelal, Jelal might help him find Ruya.

Galip thinks about the detective stories that Ruya reads. Although Galip dislikes that type of writing, he is familiar with the format and the process that the detective will follow in order to solve the mystery. Galip, thinking that Ruya might be playing a detective game with him, begins his investigation, as if he were a fictional detective.

Galip digs into Ruya's past. He visits Ruya's ex-husband, Celal, who used to be a militant leftist, trying to change the political forces to a more socialistic system. However, when Galip finds him, Celal has changed. He is now more Westernized and has no idea where Ruya is.

Galip concludes that Jelal and Ruya are hiding together. They both disappeared on the same day and they have shared a close relationship all their lives. Galip knows that Jelal is suffering from memory loss. In one of Jelal's newspaper columns (which are presented in the novel in alternative chapters), Jelal tells a story about a prince who spends his last days dictating stories. Galip guesses that it is possible that Jelal is dictating his stories to Ruya in order to preserve his memory. He believes that might be why Ruya has gone away.

In the rest of the first part of this novel, Galip goes through a series of experiences with other people, most of whom...

(The entire section is 1096 words.)