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||Orhan Pamuk (b. 1952)|
Turkish novelist, a leading voice in contemporary fiction, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. Orhan Pamuk has portrayed the complex interaction between the traditional values of Islam and the European world. In his first work Pamuk drew from the tradition of the realistic novel, but from the mid-1980s he started to employ postmodernist strategies of storytelling.
"I read a book one day and my whole life was changed. Even on the first page I was so affected by the book's intensity I felt by body sever itself and pull away from the chair where I sat reading the book that lay before me on the table." (from A New Life, 1995)
Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul into a well-to-do, Western oriented family. Pamuk's grandfather, a civil engineer and industrialist, became wealthy by building railroads. Most of his life Pamuk has lived in his native city, once confessing that, "Istanbul's fate is my fate: I am attached to this city because it has made me who I am." The double indentity of Istanbul has deeply affected Pamuk's writing, in which the city and its history are inseparable.
At the age of fifteen Pamuk started to paint and at one point
in his life he planned to become an artist. In addition, he began to read books
from his father's library and write poetry, but eventually grew out his
enthusiasm for poetry. After finishing Robert College, and following in
his father's and grandfather's footsteps, Pamuk entered in 1970 the
Istanbul University School of Technology, where he studied
architecture, without graduating. Partly to delay his military
service, Pamuk took the course in
journalism at the University of Istanbul, receiving a degree in journalism in 1977.
During the following years, Pamuk wrote Cevdet Bey ve Ogullari (1982), a family saga in the tradition of Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, which was awarded the Orhan Kemal Novel Prize in 1983. In between writing his first novels, Pamuk spent much of his time in secondhand shops, buying books one by one, and building up his own library. "While browsing through these books, I would feel myself part of a culture, a history; I would think about the books I myself would write one day, and feel happy." (Orhan Pamuk in The New York Review of Books, December 18, 2008.)
Seissiv ev (1983), Pamuk's second novel, won the Madarali Novel Prize. The story of a generation conflict was told from a five different points of view. In Beyaz kale (1985, The White Castle) Pamuk broke with the realist tradition. The historical novel, set in the 17th century Constantinople, gained a critical acclaim in the West. The narrator is a young Italian scholar, who is sold as a slave to his Ottoman doppelgänger known as Hoja. To the narrator's astonishment, Hoja wants to learn everything about the West. Hoja becomes his pupil and eventually adopts his identity. "The passion that steadily drives the tale is intellectual and philosophical," John Updike wrote in the New Yorker, "concerning the interplay of East and West – of fatalistic faith versus aggressive science – and at a deeper level, the question of identity."
In 1982 Pamuk married Aylin Turegen, a historian; they
divorced in 2001. Pamuk's relationship with the Turkish-Armenian artist
Karolin Fisekçi was widely reported in Turkish newpapers. While in New
York, Pamuk met the Indian-born American writer Kiran Desai (b. 1971),
whom he dedicated The Naive and the
Sentimental Novelist (2011) and who read the final text of The Museum of Innocence (2008). In
2009 they traveled in India in a hired car. Kiran Desai's mother is the
noted author Anita Desai.
When Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter visited Turkey
in 1985, Pamuk was one of their guides. The trip had been arranged by
PEN in conjunction with the Helsinki Watch Committee. In 1988 Pamuk was
a visiting fellow at the University of Iowa's International Writing
Program. While teaching at Columbia University, where his wife studied
for a Ph.D., Pamuk wrote the first half of Kara kitap (1990,
The Black Book), in which he returned to modern-day Istanbul.
Pamuk's vision of the city is as particular as James Joyce's Dublin or Günter Grass Danzig. The postmodern novel starts as a mystery story, plays with identities, complex narratives, paradoxes of Sufi mysticism, and Borgesian labyrinths and fictions within fictions. The book was made into a film, directed by Ömer Kavur.
Yeni Hayat (1995, A New Life) was published with a massive advertising campaing. This poetic story of the power of fiction was also about obsession and a false concept of reality, derived from written words. The narrator is a young man, whose whole life is changed by a book. "Help me, I felt like saying, help me find the new life, safe and unscathed by any mishap." He starts a long bus ride through the country roads, and in the ironic end faces the light – actually from an approaching truck – he has been searching for. Güneli Gün's translations of The Black Book and A New Life were criticized by British reviewers.
My Name Is Red (1998) was a huge success in Turkey,
selling 85,000 copies in three weeks. Like in the case of A New Life,
the book was launched with a lot of publicity. In the murder mystery,
set in 16th century Istanbul, the narrators vary from one chapter to
the next, among them a dog, a tree, a dead master miniaturist, and his
murderer. "I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of a
well," tells the murdered man, who had violated the teachings of Islam
by creating representational, figurative art. Kar (2002,
translated by Maureen Freely, 2004), Pamuk's most political novel up
then, tells of Ka, a poet and political refugee, who has spent 12 years
in Germany. He travels to a small Anatolian town of Kars to investige a
wave of recent suicides among young girls, forbidden to wear
traditional headscarves in school. Ka also meets Ipek, his sweetheart
from his youth.
The novel is build around a single, suggestive image. Snow covers Kars like a headscarve, and before Ka is assasinated, he has regained his poetic voice. "This seventh novel from the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk is not only an engrossing feat of tale-spinning, but essential reading for our times," said the Canadian author Margaret Atwood in The New York Times (August 15, 2004). For Snow Pamuk received in 2005 the prestigious Medicis Prize.
In his own country Pamuk has been an enormously popular writer. Critical voices have accused Pamuk of exploiting religious and historical themes to please Western audiences. In 1998 Pamuk refused to accept the prestigious title of state artist, stating that "I don't know why they tried to give me the prize." By the 2000s, Pamuk had became the second most translated Turkish novelist into English, after Yashar Kemal.
Pamuk was awarded in 2005 the German Book Trade's Peace Prize.
In the same year the author was charged with insulting the Turkish
Republic. An outspoken critic of Turkey’s treatment of its Kurdish
minority, Pamuk was quoted as saying in Das Magazin,
newspaper, "thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed
in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it." As a result,
Pamuk's books were burned at a nationalist demonstration. In his
acceptance speech of the prize Pamuk stated that "The fuelling of
anti-Turkish sentiment in Europe is resulting in an anti-European,
indiscriminate nationalism in Turkey." Charges against Pamuk were
dropped in January 2006. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said
that the decision was "good news for freedom of expression in Turkey."
A group of ultra-nationalists, reportedly planning to assassinate
Pamuk, was arrested in January 2008. Pamuk left the country for a time.
When in Istanbul he was protected by security guards. Details of the
assassination plot emerged through an on-going investigation of the
Ergenekon conspiracy, which aimed at the overthrow of the Islamically
oriented AK Party.
After completing The Snow Pamuk began to write a new
novel, predicting that it will take him five years to complete the
work. The last sentence, which has Epicurean undertones, was ready and
declared – I lived a happy life. Masumiyet müzesi (The Museum
of Innocence), published in 2008, is a love story of Kemal, an owner of a textile
company, and his poor cousin, Füsun. Several scenes take place in a
"museum of innocence," where Kemal has collected items connected to
Füsun, the object of his obsessive love.
"Maureen Freely's translation captures the novelist's playful
performance as well as his serious collusion with Kemal," said Maureen
Howard in her review of the work. (The New York Times (October 29, 2009)
A Strangeness in My Mind, (2014) was Pamuk's
ninth novel. The protagonist is a street vendor,
whose life records the changes in Istanbul from the 1970s to the
present. The Red-Haired Woman
(2016) matches myths of patricide and filicide against modern day
settings. It is not until the last chapter, when the narrative shifts
into Red-Haired Woman's voice. Pamuk's recurrent theme, the crisis in
the relationship between western secularism and Islam surfaces in Nights of Plague (2021), set on an
imaginary island in the declining Ottoman empire. As a practical expression of his love for his native city,
Pamuk estabished an actual museum in
Istanbul's antiques district. The museum, filled with objects connected
with the chapters of the novel, opened in April 2012.
Taksim Square in 2013 Pamuk said that there "was no idea of
overthrowing the government, it [Taksim] was just anti-authoritarian,
it was amazing, great, wonderful." In response to the refugee crisis,
Pamuk said in The Guardian,
"It is encouraging that all the signs so far point to Germany offering
refugees citizenship and giving them the responsibility of being
Germans in the future. This is important to the development of the idea
of Europe." (12 September 2015) Along with
over 1.000 writers worldwide, including Margaret Atwood, Olga
Tokarczuk, and Salman Rushdie, Pamuk signed in February 2022 an open
letter released by PEN International condemning Russia’s invasion of
For further reading: 'Being Oneself and Another' by Güneli Gün, in The World of I (June 1991); 'Pamuk, Orhan,' in World Authors 1985-1990, ed. by Vineta Colby (1995); 'Orhan Pamuk' by Murat Belge, in World Literature Today (January 1, 2005); Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk: The Writer in His Novels by Michael McGaha (2008); Orhan Pamuk, Secularism and Blasphemy: The Politics of the Turkish Novel by Erdag Göknar (2013); The International Novel by Annabel Patterson (2014); 'Reflection, Mystery, and Violence: Orhan Pamuk,' in Between Cultures: Europe and its Others in Five Exemplary Lives by Jerrold Seigel (2016); Orhan Pamuk and the Good of World Literature by Gloria Fisk (2018); Re-imagining and Re-placing New York and Istanbul: Exploring the Heterotopic and Third Spaces in Paul Auster's and Orhan Pamuk's City Novels by Hatice Bay (2020); Pamuk's Istanbul: The Self and the City by Pallavi Narayan (2022)