The opening line in Orhan Pamuk’s preface to Other Colors: Essays and a Story states, “This is a book made of ideas, images, and fragments of life that have still not found their way into one of my novels.” He says that the various pieces in the book are put together in a continuous narrative, but the book is not chronologically organized. It is divided into nine sections. The first one, called “Living and Worrying,” contains sketches that Pamuk wrote between 1996 and 1999 for a magazine, Öküz (ox), devoted to politics and humor. The section begins with an essay that is essentially literary criticism or theory, “The Implied Author,” that is also autobiographical. Pamuk says that for him literature is like medicine, and he needs a dose every day. It must be good literaturethat is, dense and deep. About his own work he feels differently: He is happy if he gets a good half page after spending ten hours alone at his desk. He goes on to explain what he feels like when that does not happen and its effect on his family. What he most longs for is a kind of spiritual inspiration that he describes in his novel Kar (2002; Snow, 2004).
In his 2006 Nobel Prize speech, which concludes Other Colors, Pamuk repeats some of the aspects of novel writing and develops them further, but throughout his book he returns repeatedly to his experience as a writer or reader. In some respects, then, Other Colors resembles Philip Roth’s Reading Myself and Others (1975), although it contains much besides Roth’s kind of literary criticism. For example, the second essay in the book, “My Father,” concerns Pamuk’s experience the day his father died. Pamuk explains the importance of his father, an unpublished writer among other things, not only in this essay, but again in the Nobel Prize speech. The rest of the essays in the first section are much briefer sketches, some of them illustrated by the author, such as “When the Furniture Is Talking, How Can You Sleep” and “Giving Up Smoking.” The first part also includes several sketches of his young daughter, Rüya, some of them humorous. Among the most compelling essays in this section are those that describe the earthquake that hit Istanbul on August 17, 1999, in which thirty thousand people died. The next essay describes the angst that the people of Istanbul experienced long afterward.
The second section, “Books and Reading,” includes topics such as “How I Got Rid of Some of My Books,” “The Pleasures of Reading,” and “Nine Notes on Book Covers.” What follow are essays of literary criticism that focus on various classics, beginning with the tales from One Thousand and One Nights. Pamuk’s foreword to Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759-1767) is an excellent piece of criticism, insisting on the patience necessary to read and grasp Sterne’s novel. He concludes that the subject of that novel is the impossibility of ever getting to the point, hence the required patience on the part of the reader. Pamuk argues that novels are valuable insofar as they raise questions about the shape and nature of life. They offer a new way of understanding life, which, he contends, is exactly what Tristram Shandy does. Other essays in this section are on Victor Hugo, Vladimir Nabokov, Albert Camus, Salman Rushdie, and others, and three on Fyodor Dostoevski, whom Pamuk especially admires.
The next section in Other Colors is “Politics, Europe, and Other Problems of Being Oneself.” Here one needs to recall that Pamuk was indicted in his native Turkey for speaking out, not in a novel but in an interview, about the Armenian genocide, which Turkish law forbids its citizens to criticize. In his essay “On Trial,” Pamuk describes part of what he went through following the interview in February, 2005. Charges against him were eventually dropped, but he remains outspoken against certain aspects of his country’s policies, especially regarding human rights abuses. Throughout many of the essays in this section and others, Pamuk also focuses on the contrast, if not the conflict, between Eastern and Western cultures, seeing himself as a Turk with a definite Western outlook. The problems of East and West are put into high relief in the essay “Family Meals and Politics on Religious Holidays.” Opposition to the West among Muslims,...
(The entire section is 1800 words.)