15 December 2006
Son of Turkey brings Nobel Prize home
December 10, 2006
ISTANBUL – Turkish Daily News
The King of Sweden presents Orhan Pamuk the Nobel Prize for Literature today in Stockholm even as controversy and praise back home cut right to the heart of Pamuk's writing.
The life and work of Pamuk, 54, is shaped by a conflict of identities between secular and Islamic values, between the Ottoman era and the amnesiac Turkish Republic that survived it, and between his vast popularity abroad and the political firestorms that burden him at home. His books portray intersections of identity where history and ethnicity violently clash.
The Nobel Laureate believes his ability to write freely could be compromised if he is continuously called upon to play Turkey's cultural ambassador. He said a shortage of internationally famous Turks had put him in a "representative situation,” adding that, “…these problems of politics and national representation trouble me more and more. But I will get out of it,” Pamuk told Reuters on Friday in Stockholm.
After telling a Swiss reporter last year, “one million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds died in these lands, but nobody dares to talk about it except me” Pamuk became a symbol of free expression as he was tried in Turkey by a group of ultra-nationalist lawyers accusing him of "insulting Turkishness." The charges against him were dropped in January after his case had turned up the heat on Turkey's EU membership talks.
Pamuk said Friday in Stockholm that while Turkey still faces plenty of problems, freedom of expression and cultural repression among them, "Accession to the European Union will make Turkish identity flourish, will make Turkey a freer place where everyone enjoys his/her religion, culture, history...signs and symbols."
Pamuk is not an expert on the Armenian issue but many people who do not follow his work assume that he frequently talks or writes about it, journalist Hrant Dink, editor of the Armenian-Turkish language weekly Agos magazine, told the TDN. “This is an unfair approach to him and also to the Armenian issue,” said Dink, who contended that it was wrong for Pamuk to say he alone spoke about the deaths of Armenians and Kurds. “This is unfair to many intellectuals in Turkey who are talking about this issue,” said Dink, who was found guilty last year of “insulting Turkishness” and given a suspended six-month sentence.
Pamuk is a writer primarily involved in his own writing,” İletişim political editor Ömer Laciner says, “but since early 90's he has also been a political figure.” Since making the statements regarding Armenians and Kurds, “They made him a scapegoat for those who want to suppress freedom of thought,” Laciner told the Turkish Daily News by telephone Friday. In recent years Pamuk's active participation in controversial conferences and petitions has cooled significantly.
Pamuk's characters struggle with repression, depression, betrayal and an aching for something they don't expect to find. Readers and reviewers alike say that his writing envelops the reader in a melancholy that runs deep in Turkish cultural expression and remains elusive to the West. Bilgi University comparative literature professor Jale Parla said Pamuk's success is hidden in the key aspects of the Turkish novel tradition. “While keeping these motifs alive, he is also able to grasp a universal style,” she said.
Pamuk's style has evolved from the classic approach of his first novel's focus on the moral and psychological growth of the main character in Cevdet Bey, to the modernism of Sessiz Ev (The Quiet House) and post-modern themes in The White Castle, The Black Book, The New Life, and My Name Is Red. Pamuk's breakthrough came in 1994 when his novel, The New Life, became a national best seller. His most critically acclaimed book to date, My Name Is Red, was published in 1998. Pamuk tells a story of the Ottoman and Persian miniaturist painters whose non-western ways of seeing and depicting the world form a tale of mystery and love. Language and Literature Professor at Bilkent University Talat Halman said in an interview with Hece Publishing House, “Orhan Pamuk meticulously chooses popular elements of world literature and creates works that best suit those choices.”
To research the story and characters in Snow, which he described as “my first and last political novel,” he stayed in the northeastern Turkish city of Kars for two years. Set in this small city, violence and tension mount between political Islamists, soldiers, secularists and Kurdish and Turkish nationalists.
While many of its winners have been embroiled in direct conflict with their governments at the time of their selection, the Nobel Committee claims to make no connection between politics and literature when considering the winners each year. When a controversial author is awarded the prize, “people tend to think that it is a political choice but it's not,” said Swedish Consul General to Turkey Ingmar Karlsson.
Another view of the Nobel establishment has emerged among nationalists and some prominent writers in Turkey. One Turkish author who fits both descriptions, Alev Alatlı, said she does not give credit to the Nobel Prize because she believes its foundation focuses on political correctness and shows no sense of progress or empathy. “The Nobel Prize institution is such a damn political thing anyway,” Alatlı said. She asserted that women authors have to complain to get respect from Western mainstream entities. “You can't find a Muslim woman in this region who earns international recognition unless she disowns her father or husband,” she said.
The only other Turkish writer considered for the Nobel, Yaşar Kemal, was short-listed for the Prize in 1999. He wrote "Mehmed, My Hawk" and weaves stories of desolate, hard living on the Anatolian plateau.
Pamuk's most recent book, Istanbul, combines the author's early memoirs through the age of 22, and essays and photographs about Istanbul. Currently he is finishing his latest book, "Museum of Innocence,” a story that explores human habits and obsessions, while offering a look at Istanbul's cultural panorama and history.
Leftists criticize his marketing maneuvers; Turkish intellectuals raised on secularist doctrine say his text suffers for its religious underpinnings; and Islamists shun his work as blasphemous. Pamuk's human rights record continues to drive nationalist protests. Amid the criticism, however, Pamuk enjoys a large readership here and abroad. Apart from three years in New York and his time in Kars, he has spent his entire life in a wealthy westernized district of Istanbul overlooking the Bosphorus. When he considers moving, he told this writer that he thinks first about how he would move his colossal library that consumes his workspace.
As he takes centerstage in Stockholm today to receive the Nobel Medal and a check for $1.4 million, the conflicting identities that inhabit Mr. Pamuk – real and fictional – are no doubt withering under the thunder of world recognition for a man and his country.
TWO SOULS -- IN EUROPE AND TURKEY
Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist, is this year's recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. This interview with Nobel Laureates Plus editor Nathan Gardels originally appeared in the Winter 2005 issue of NPQ but is particularly relevant this week during Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey.
By Orhan Pamuk
Nathan Gardels: The Muslim presence in Europe is not only about immigrants but about Turkey's accession to the European Union. Must Turkey itself become “mock European” — something the radical Islamists and nationalists in Turkey ridicule — in order to gain accession?
Orhan Pamuk: In my novel, “Snow,” the Islamists in the town of Kars make fun of Ka, the poet from Istanbul who lives in Frankfurt, for looking down on his own people and wanting to be European.
That is not my view. They are not right. For over a 100 years Turkey has made an ultra-effort to Westernize itself. Those conservatives, Islamists or anti-Westerners who resent that change call us liberal secularists “mock Europeans” and imitators. I don't buy this. Turkey has Westernized and modernized in its own way — outside of Europe. We are already way beyond being “mock Europeans.”
The other point in my novel, though, is that if people resent going down this path of Westernization, you should not bomb them or kill them. You should not feel contempt for them and call them stupid. You have to understand the resentment and the anger and engage it. You have to have compassion for their fear and insecurity.
If you want to globalize the world, you have to do this. It is a tough job. You just can't put them down as idiots like (the late Italian journalist) Oriana Fallaci or others who have a very simplistic understanding of my part of the world. There has to be a distinction between trying to move a civilization forward and just having an insulting attitude toward people, even if they are angry and full of politically incorrect rhetoric.
Nathan Gardels: As immigrants from Muslim countries become large minorities throughout Europe, and if Turkey joins the European Union, won't Europe have “two souls,” like the ambivalent characters in “Snow”?
Orhan Pamuk: Yes, two souls. That is our common future, in Turkey and in Europe. If Turkey's going to be a part of Europe, say in 15 years, it should definitely change radically. But so should Europe. Europe should reinvent, rethink itself as a more democratic, multi-religious, self-confident society, based not on religion and a fairy-tale history but a tolerant anti-nationalist vision.
Gardels: Yet in your novel, the protagonist, Ka, who has “two souls,” ends up tragically being shot by Islamists in Frankfurt. His two souls trip over each other because, at some level, they are incompatible. Is that a risk for Turkey and Europe, too?
Pamuk: There have been so many authoritarian politicians over the years trying to impose one soul on Turkey, one way of life or mode of being. Some wanted to impose Western secularism by military means; some wanted Turkey to be eternally traditional and Islamic. This approach destroyed democracy in Turkey. It was responsible for the coups in the 1980s. To have two souls is a good thing. That is the way people really are. We have to understand, that, just like a person, a country can have two souls. These souls are continuously in dialogue with each other, sparring with each other and changing each other. To have democracy is precisely to have this dialogue between these two souls.
Gardels: Still, at some level, isn't a postmodern society that disbelieves in any absolute truths incompatible with a civilization based on faith in one Absolute truth?
Pamuk: This idea of incompatibility of Islam with modernity or with secularism is an argument that adopts the fundamentalist logic. Liberals, democrats or Western thinkers should stop making general, vulgar essentialist observations on Islam every time they come up with some new problem, most of which is partly their making, too. The whole history of Islam under the Ottoman Empire has been a synthesis of the Book and what is happening in history, in the world.
Islam is not a pure thing in and of itself, but related to the world and to history. Islam has long been influenced by the presence of Europe and the presence of the world situation. There is no pure Islam out there in a vacuum. Only the fundamentalists believe that.
Look at what has happened now in Turkey. We once had an Islamic fundamentalist party, which has now converted into a more or less Western-style party whose historic mission is to take Turkey into Europe, and it is backed by the people! This approach is sober and compelling to most Turks today.
Gardels: Three years ago, in Davos, at the World Economic Forum, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the moderate Muslim leader of Turkey, hosted a reception with his wife, whose head was covered. The reception featured the Turkish beauty queen (uncovered) who had just won the Miss World contest in London after it had been forced to leave Nigeria because of protests by radical Islamists. Is this the image of the new Turkey?
Pamuk: Yes. Indeed, one of the joys of being a writer in Turkey these days is that all kinds of unintentionally ironical images abound. They are fun to watch and fun to write about. Both sides are a bit embarrassed: an Islamic politician with a beauty queen; the strange creature of a beauty queen backed by a Muslim prime minister — not a typical sight.
This says a lot about where things are in reality. More of this will come about. And that makes me happy. Once we can smile at these ironies, the tensions will mellow.
(c) 2006 Nobel Laureates Plus
Ferit Orhan Pamuk (born on June 7, 1952 in Istanbul) is a Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist.
Pamuk is often regarded as a post-modern writer. His long-standing popularity in his home country was affected by events in 2005 (see "Criminal case" below), but his readership around the globe continues to grow. As one of Turkey's most prominent novelists, his work has been translated into more than forty languages. He is the recipient of numerous national and international literary awards. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on October 12, 2006, becoming the first Turkish person to receive a Nobel Prize.Contents
Pamuk was born in Istanbul in 1952 and grew up in a wealthy industrialist family, an experience which he describes in passing in his novels The Black Book and Cevdet Bey and His Sons, as well as more thoroughly in his personal memoir Istanbul. He was educated at Robert College in Istanbul. He also studied architecture at the Istanbul Technical University due to family pressures to become an engineer or architect. However, he left the architecture school after three years to become a full-time writer, and graduated from the Institute of Journalism at the University of Istanbul in 1976. He was a visiting scholar at Columbia University from 1985 to 1988, a period which also included a visiting fellowship at the University of Iowa. He returned to Istanbul, where he lived until 2006, when he returned to the US to take up a position as a visiting professor at Columbia. Pamuk is currently a Fellow with Columbia University's Committee on Global Thought and holds an appointment in Columbia's Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures and at the School of the Arts.
Pamuk married Aylin Turegen in 1982, but the couple divorced in 2001. They have a daughter named Rüya, whose name means "dream" in Turkish. His older brother, Şevket Pamuk (who sometimes appears as a fictional character in Orhan Pamuk's work), is a historian who is internationally recognized for his work in history of economics. He teaches at Boğaziçi University in İstanbul.
Dede Korkut - Köroğlu
Poetry | Prose
Poetry | Prose
Pamuk started writing regularly in 1974. His first novel, Karanlık ve Işık (Darkness and Light) was a co-winner of the 1979 Milliyet Press Novel Contest (Mehmet Eroğlu (* tr) was the other winner). This novel was published with the title Cevdet Bey ve Oğulları (Mr. Cevdet and His Sons) in 1982, and won the Orhan Kemal Novel Prize in 1983. It tells the story of three generations of a wealthy Istanbul family living in Nişantaşı, the district of Istanbul where Pamuk grew up.
Pamuk won a number of critical prizes for his early work, including the 1984 Madarali Novel Prize for his second novel Sessiz Ev (The Silent House) and the 1991 Prix de la Découverte Européenne for the French translation of this novel. His historical novel Beyaz Kale (The White Castle), published in Turkish in 1985, won the 1990 Independent Award for Foreign Fiction and extended his reputation abroad. The New York Times Book Review stated, "A new star has risen in the east--Orhan Pamuk." He started experimenting with postmodern techniques in his novels, a change from the strict naturalism of his early works.
Popular success took a bit longer to come to Pamuk, but his 1990 novel Kara Kitap (The Black Book) became one of the most controversial and popular readings in Turkish literature, due to its complexity and richness. In 1992, he wrote the screenplay for the movie Gizli Yüz (Secret Face), based on Kara Kitap and directed by a prominent Turkish director, Ömer Kavur. Pamuk's fourth novel Yeni Hayat (New Life), caused a sensation in Turkey upon its 1995 publication and became the fastest-selling book in Turkish history. By this time, Pamuk had also become a high-profile figure in Turkey, due to his support for Kurdish political rights. In 1995, Pamuk was among a group of authors tried for writing essays that criticized Turkey's treatment of the Kurds. In 1999, Pamuk published his story book Öteki Renkler (The Other Colors).
Pamuk's international reputation continued to increase when he published Benim Adım Kırmızı (My Name is Red) in 2000. The novel blends mystery, romance, and philosophical puzzles in a setting of 16th century Istanbul. It opens a window into the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murat III in nine snowy winter days of 1591, inviting the reader to experience the tension between East and West from a breathlessly urgent perspective. My Name Is Red has been translated into 24 languages and won international literature's most lucrative prize (excluding the Nobel, which he later recieved), the IMPAC Dublin Award in 2003.
Asked the question “What impact did winning the IMPAC award (currently $127,000) have on your life and your work?“, Pamuk replied “Nothing changed in my life since I work all the time. I've spent 30 years writing fiction. For the first 10 years, I worried about money and no one asked how much money I made. The second decade I spent money and no one was asking about that. And I've spent the last 10 years with everyone expecting to hear how I spend the money, which I will not do.”
Pamuk's most recent novel is Kar in 2002 (English translation, Snow, 2004), which explores the conflict between Islamism and Westernism in modern Turkey. The New York Times listed Snow as one of its Ten Best Books of 2004. He also published a memoir/travelogue İstanbul — Hatıralar ve Şehir in 2003 (English version, Istanbul — Memories of a City, 2005). Orhan Pamuk won in 2005 the €25,000 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade for his literary work, in which "Europe and Islamic Turkey find a place for one another." The most prestigious German book prize was awarded in the Paul's Church in Frankfurt.
Orhan Pamuk's next book 'Other Colours' - a collection of non-fiction - is scheduled for publication in the UK by Faber and Faber in Spring 2008. His next novel will be 'The Museum of Innocence'.
Pamuk's books are characterized by a confusion or loss of identity brought on in part by the conflict between European and Islamic values. They are often disturbing or unsettling, but include complex, intriguing plots and characters of great depth. His works are also redolent with discussion and fascination with the creative arts, such as literature and painting. Pamuk's work often touches on the deep-rooted tension between East and West and tradition and secularism.
On October 12, 2006, the Swedish Academy announced that Orhan Pamuk had been awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in literature, confounding pundits and oddsmakers who had made Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said, known as Adunis, a favorite. In its citation, the Academy said: "In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city, [Pamuk] has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."
In Turkey, a new discussion has begun about the effects of his interview in a Swiss newspaper in which he stated that "30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands" to winning the 2006 Nobel Prize.
In 2005, lawyers of two Turkish professional associations brought criminal charges against Pamuk after the author made a statement regarding the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917 and the killings of 30,000 Kurds in Anatolia. The charges were dropped on 22 January 2006. He has subsequently stated his intent was to draw attention to freedom of expression issues.
The criminal charges against Pamuk resulted from remarks he made concerning the Armenian Genocide (1915-17) during an interview in February 2005 with the Swiss publication Das Magazin, a weekly supplement to a number of Swiss daily newspapers: the Tages-Anzeiger, the Basler Zeitung, the Berner Zeitung and the Solothurner Tagblatt. In the interview, Pamuk stated, "Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody dares to talk about it."
Pamuk has said that after the Swiss interview was published, he was subjected to a hate campaign that forced him to flee the country. He returned later in 2005, however, to face the charges against him. In an interview with BBC News, he said that he wanted to defend freedom of speech, which was Turkey's only hope for coming to terms with its history: "What happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 was a major thing that was hidden from the Turkish nation; it was a taboo. But we have to be able to talk about the past."
In June 2005, Turkey introduced a new penal code including Article 301, which states: "A person who, being a Turk, explicitly insults the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly, shall be imposed to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to three years." Pamuk was retroactively charged with violating this law in the interview he had given four months earlier. In October, after the prosecution had begun, Pamuk reiterated his views in a speech given during an award ceremony in Germany: "I repeat, I said loud and clear that one million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in Turkey."
Because Pamuk was charged under an ex post facto law, Turkish law required that his prosecution be approved by the Ministry of Justice. A few minutes after Pamuk's trial started on 16 December, the judge found that this approval had not yet been received and suspended the proceedings. In an interview published in the Akşam newspaper the same day, Justice Minister Cemil Çiçek said he had not yet received Pamuk's file but would study it thoroughly once it came.
On December 29, 2005, Turkish state prosecutors dropped the charge that Pamuk insulted Turkey's armed forces, although the charge of "insulting Turkishness" remained.
The charges against Pamuk caused an international outcry and led to questions in some circles about Turkey's proposed entry into the European Union. On 30 November, the European Parliament announced that it would send a delegation of five MEPs, led by Camiel Eurlings, to observe the trial. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn subsequently stated that the Pamuk case would be a "litmus test" of Turkey's commitment to the EU's membership criteria.
On 1 December, Amnesty International released a statement calling for Article 301 to be repealed and for Pamuk and six other people awaiting trial under the act to be freed. PEN American Center also denounced the charges against Pamuk, stating: "PEN finds it extraordinary that a state that has ratified both the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which see freedom of expression as central, should have a Penal Code that includes a clause that is so clearly contrary to these very same principles."
On 13 December, eight world-renowned authors — José Saramago, Gabriel García Márquez, Günter Grass, Umberto Eco, Carlos Fuentes, Juan Goytisolo, John Updike and Mario Vargas Llosa — issued a joint statement supporting Pamuk and decrying the charges against him as a violation of human rights.
Some conflicting opinions from Western reviewers
In a review of Snow in The Atlantic, Christopher Hitchens complained that "from reading Snow one might easily conclude that all the Armenians of Anatolia had decided for some reason to pick up and depart en masse, leaving their ancestral properties for tourists to gawk at." 
However, John Updike, reviewing the same book in The New Yorker, wrote: "To produce a major work so frankly troubled and provocatively bemused and, against the grain of the author’s usual antiquarian bent, entirely contemporary in its setting and subjects, took the courage that art sometimes visits upon even its most detached practitioners."
On January 22, 2006, the Justice Ministry refused to issue an approval of the prosecution, saying that they had no authority to open a case against Pamuk under the new penal code. With the trial in the local court, it was ruled the next day that the case could not continue without Justice Ministry approval. Pamuk's lawyer, Haluk İnanıcı, subsequently confirmed that charges had been dropped.
The announcement occurred in a week when the EU was scheduled to begin a review of the Turkish justice system.
EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn welcomed the dropping of charges, saying 'This is obviously good news for Mr. Pamuk, but it's also good news for freedom of expression in Turkey.' However, some EU representatives expressed disappointment that the justice ministry had rejected the prosecution on a technicality rather than on principle. Reuters quoted an unnamed diplomat as saying, "It is good the case has apparently been dropped, but the justice ministry never took a clear position or gave any sign of trying to defend Pamuk."
Meanwhile, the lawyer who had led the effort to try Pamuk, Kemal Kerinçsiz, said he would appeal the decision, saying, "Orhan Pamuk must be punished for insulting Turkey and Turkishness, it is a grave crime and it should not be left unpunished."
On April 25, 2006, (in print in the May 8, 2006 issue) the magazine Time listed Orhan Pamuk in the cover article "TIME 100: The People Who Shape Our World", in the category "Heroes & Pioneers", for speaking up.
In April 2006, on the BBC's Hardtalk program, Pamuk stated that his remarks regarding the Armenian massacres were meant to draw attention to freedom of expression issues in Turkey rather than to the massacres themselves.
In Turkey, the award of the Nobel Prize has given a new slant to discussion of his allegedly "anti-Turkish" comments.
As reported by Melike Yılmaz from Bogazici University , Orhan Pamuk had been accused of plagiarism by some Turkish critics, for including a couple of excerpts in The White Castle from another novel by Critobal and Villanon, which had been translated into Turkish by Fuat Carim under the title Pedro'nun Zorunlu Seyahati. Acknowledgements were finally inserted in the 15th printing of The White Castle (see references: Yıldız 2002, Küçük 2002, Kavlak 2003). Pamuk did not bother to answer the accusations and some critics have supported him in his silence, saying that usage of excerpts from other books should be considered as intertextuality, not plagiarism. 
Bibliography in English
The White Castle, translated by Victoria Holbrook, Manchester (UK): Carcanet Press Limited, 1990; Faber and Faber Ltd, 1991; New York: George Braziller, 1991 [original title: Beyaz Kale]
The Black Book, translated by Güneli Gün, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1994 [original title: Kara Kitap]. A new translation by Maureen Freely was published in 2006 (by Faber in the UK)
The New Life, translated by Güneli Gün, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997 [original title: Yeni Hayat]
My Name is Red, translated by Erdağ M. Göknar, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001 [original title: Benim Adım Kırmızı]
Snow, translated by Maureen Freely, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004 [original title: Kar]
Istanbul: Memories and the City, translated by Maureen Freely, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005 [original title: İstanbul: Hatıralar ve Şehir]
Bibliography in Turkish
Cevdet Bey ve Oğulları (Cevdet Bey and His Sons), novel, Istanbul: Karacan Yayınları, 1982
Sessiz Ev (The Silent House) , novel, Istanbul: Can Yayınları, 1983
Beyaz Kale (The White Castle), novel, Istanbul: Can Yayınları, 1985
Kara Kitap (The Black Book), novel, Istanbul: Can Yayınları, 1990
Gizli Yuz (Secret Face), screenplay, Istanbul: Can Yayınları, 1992 
Yeni Hayat (The New Life), novel, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1995
Benim Adım Kırmızı (My Name is Red), novel, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1998
Öteki Renkler (The Other Colors), essays, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1999
Kar (Snow), novel, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2002
İstanbul: Hatıralar ve Şehir (Istanbul: Memories and the City), memoirs, Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2003
1979 Milliyet Press Novel Contest Award (Turkey) for his novel Karanlık ve Işık (co-winner)
1983 Orhan Kemal Novel Prize (Turkey) for his novel Cevdet Bey ve Oğulları
1984 Madarali Novel Prize (Turkey) for his novel Sessiz Ev
1990 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (United Kingdom) for his novel Beyaz Kale
1991 Prix de la Découverte Européenne (France) for the French edition of Sessiz Ev: La Maison de Silence
2002 Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger (France) for his novel My Name Is Red
2002 Premio Grinzane Cavour (Italy) for his novel My Name Is Red
2003 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (Ireland) for his novel My Name Is Red
2005 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Germany)
2005 Prix Medicis Etranger (France) for his novel Snow
2006 Nobel Prize in Literature (Sweden)
2006 Washington University's Distinguished Humanist Award (United States)
Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul in 1952 and grew up in a large family similar to those which he describes in his novels Cevdet Bey and His Sons and The Black Book, in the wealthy westernised district of Nisantasi. As Orhan Pamuk writes in his autobiographical book Istanbul, from his childhood until the age of 22 he devoted himself largely to painting and dreamed of becoming an artist. After graduating from the secular American Robert College in Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk studied architecture at Istanbul Technical University for three years, but abandoned the course when he gave up his ambition to become an architect and artist. He went on to graduate in journalism from Istanbul University, but never worked as a journalist. At the age of 23 Pamuk decided to become a novelist, and giving up everything else retreated into his flat and began to write.
Orhan Pamuk's first novel Cevdet Bey and His Sons was published seven years later in 1982. The novel is the story of three generations of a wealthy Istanbul family living in Nisantasi, Pamuk's own home district. The novel was awarded.
Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul in 1952 and grew up in a large family similar to those which he describes in his novels Cevdet Bey and His Sons and The Black Book, in the wealthy westernised district of Nisantasi. As he writes in his autobiographical book Istanbul, from his childhood until the age of 22 he devoted himself largely to painting and dreamed of becoming an artist. After graduating from the secular American Robert College in Istanbul, he studied architecture at Istanbul Technical University for three years, but abandoned the course when he gave up his ambition to become an architect and artist. He went on to graduate in journalism from Istanbul University, but never worked as a journalist. At the age of 23 Pamuk decided to become a novelist, and giving up everything else retreated into his flat and began to write.
His first novel Cevdet Bey and His Sons was published seven years later in 1982. The novel is the story of three generations of a wealthy Istanbul family living in Nisantasi, Pamuk's own home district. The novel was awarded both the Orhan Kemal and Milliyet literary prizes. The following year Pamuk published his novel The Silent House, which in French translation won the 1991 Prix de la d?couverte europ?ene. The White Castle (1985) about the frictions and friendship between a Venetian slave and an Ottoman scholar was published in English and many other languages from 1990 onwards, bringing Pamuk his first international fame. The same year Pamuk went to America, where he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York from 1985 to 1988. It was there that he wrote most of his novel The Black Book, in which the streets, past, chemistry and texture of Istanbul are described through the story of a lawyer seeking his missing wife. This novel was published in Turkey in 1990, and in French translation won the Prix France Culture. The Black Book enlarged Pamuk's fame both in Turkey and internationally as an author at once popular and experimental, and able to write about past and present with the same intensity. In 1991 Pamuk's daughter R?ya was born. That year saw the production of a film Hidden Face, whose script by Pamuk was based on a one-page story in The Black Book.
His novel The New Life, about young university students influenced by a mysterious book, was published in Turkey in 1994 and became one of the most widely read books in Turkish literature. My Name Is Red, about Ottoman and Persian artists and their ways of seeing and portraying the non-western world, told through a love story and family story, was published in 1998. This novel won the French Prix Du Meilleur Livre Etranger, the Italian Grinzane Cavour (2002) and the International IMPAC Dublin literary award (2003). From the mid-1990s Pamuk took a critical stance towards the Turkish state in articles about human rights and freedom of thought, although he took little interest in politics. Snow, which he describes as 'my first and last political novel,' was published in 2002. In this book set in the small city of Kars in northeastern Turkey he experimented with a new type of 'political novel,' telling the story of violence and tension between political Islamists, soldiers, secularists, and Kurdish and Turkish nationalists. In 1999 a selection of his articles on literature and culture written for newspapers and magazines in Turkey and abroad, together with a selection of writings from his private notebooks, was published under the title Other Colours.
Pamuk's most recent book, Istanbul, is a poetical work that is hard to classify, combining the author's early memoirs up to the age of 22, and an essay about the city of Istanbul, illustrated with photographs from his own album, and pictures by western painters and Turkish photographers.
Apart from three years in New York, Orhan Pamuk has spent all his life in the same streets and district of Istanbul, and he now lives in the building where he was raised. Pamuk has been writing novels for 30 years and never done any other job except writing. His books have been translated into more than 40 languages.
Teller of the Awful Truth
By HOWARD CHUA-EOAN
Apr. 30, 2006
Under the auspices of fiction, dead men speak, and trees tell tales—feats displayed in the Ottoman otherworldliness of Orhan Pamuk'sMy Name Is Red. Magic realism, as all writers know, is a way of subverting the harder-edged world we all share in order to reach essential truths. But what happens when rock-solid political realities bump up against the paper-borne creations of a writer? Which vision wins out?
Pamuk, already the most famous author in contemporary Turkey (Snow; The Black Book), became a global cause celebre early last year after he pointedly criticized his country's all-too-willful historical blind spots: the genocide of Armenians in 1915 by the Turkish military and a similar suppression of the country's Kurdish minority. Criticism from nationalist groups forced Pamuk, 53, to flee Turkey for a while, and then, after he returned, the government prepared to put him on trial for "insulting" Turkey and Turkishness. Human-rights organizations and writers' unions around the world lined up in Pamuk's support even as Turkish patriots lobbied for punishing him to the full extent of Turkish law—up to three years in prison. The charges against Pamuk were dropped,officially because of a technicality but perhaps because of Ankara's impending talks on Turkey's admission to the European Union, an impossibly sensitive discussion that touches on money, ethnicity, history, modernity, Islam and secularism. In the end, Pamuk's name has become even more recognized and his words even more influential. In the confrontation of rock-hard reality and paper-thin artistry, sometimes, as in the children's game, paper overcomes stone.
“A new star has arisen in the East” wrote the New York Times about the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. He talks to Arminta Wallace about his edgy, clever fictions and his problems with cencorship
Looking into the soul of Istanbul
It was exactly the sort of thing which might happen to somebody in one of Orhan Pamuk's novels. "The mosque," the genial Turkish novelist had said, by way of giving directions, "is right opposite my building." On the phone from Dublin this sounded reasonable enough. In the sort of Istanbul side street which sports a wall of cars parked along either side, just enough space for a single vehicle to dash at a merciless speed up the middle (where are all the learner drivers in Istanbul, the cautious, the uncertain, the 30-mile-an hour pensioners in Morris Minors? Dead, probably) and periodic lunatic honkings when the path is blocked by a rickety delivery van, it was a different proposition altogether. There was a tumble of tall buildings and the usual collection of tiny shops, goods overflowing on to the pavement, but no mosque.
Still, the street was right, the address was right and the intercom, when pressed, yielded a cheery invitation to take the lift and come on up. And suddenly there it was; dome floating, lazily , against the steely, Bosphorus, minarets soaring up into the rain, and that magical, ramshackle skyline flung out, as if by a careless genie, as far as the eye could see on
either side. Given that this is the view from the office where he writes every day from 10 in the morning until seven at night, it's hardly surprising that in his novels, Orhan Pamuk appears to see into Istanbul's very soul.
A boyish fortysomething with impeccable English — the product of three years of "not doing anything, actually" as a visiting scholar in Iowa — an apparently inexhaustible supply of herbal tea and an impressive library housed in marvellous glass-fronted bookcases, Pamuk has received considerable acclaim from reviewers in both Europe and America for his edgy, clever fictions, which have been compared to those of Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie and, most persistently, Jorge Luis Borges.
Three of his novels have been translated into English: The White Castle, a fable about the exchange of identities between a 17th-ceritury Ottoman savant and his Italian slave; The Black Book, an exuberant box of literary tricks in which the story of an Istanbul man's search for his missing wife is interwoven, in alternative chapters, with the provocative, eclectic newspaper columns written by his journalist uncle; and The New Life, which sees a university student take off on a series of bus journeys across Anatolia after he reads a mysterious, life-changing book.
"A new star has arisen in the east," declared the New York Times of The White Castle, while the New Statesman concluded that "The Black Book is what writing is for."
Are the comparisons with Borges flattering, or annoying? He grins ruefully. "Of course, at some point it's annoying for any writer to be compared to another writer — but there is some truth to the comparisons in that I have been sort of inspired by some of the things that he did." An even broader grin. "But mainly Borges despised novelists. I sometimes wonder if it's to do with the translation ..." Translation is a sticky subject for Pamuk, who admits to having recently "divorced" the English translator of The Black Book and The New Life, a Turkish-American novelist named Güneli Gun. His books have been translated into 20 languages including Bulgarian, Russian, and — the strangest, he says — Persian.
"Some five years ago a guy called me, a Persian married to a Turk, and told me he had translated my book." There had been so much censorship in Iran up to that point that publication of new books had dwindled to almost nothing, and in an attempt to rectify the situation the Minister for Culture announced his intention to produce a list of "politically correct" books for translation. "And among the male, sexless, dead, mostly English authors on his list, he recounts with relish, "there was a certain Orhan Pamuk. So they translated my book. By the time the translation was finished that Ministry of Culture had been kicked out of office for being liberal, and another four years passed. But that Minister for
Culture is now the President of Iran, so ... I'm published in Iran."
Censorship in Iran is one thing, but has he experienced censorship in his native country? “Not in my novels, no. When I write articles for newspapers, I know there are limits to what I can write. I could give you a whole list of subjects that I try to avoid. And before my first book was published I wrote a novel which I gave two years to, full-time; and there was a military coup in 1980 and it couldn’t be published, so it’s still in a drawer. That’s censorship of a kind.
Pamuk sells huge numbers of books in Turkey — The New Life was the fastest selling novel in Turkish history, and his new book, Benim Adym Kyrmyzy (My Name Is Red), seems set to follow suit. But it’s easy to see how his razor-sharp observations of contemporary life, delivered with devastating ironic detachment, might enrage his fellow Turks. “Yes there are so many things that enrage them, and I’m so good at it,” he agrees. “One row which has been going for several months now is that, in The New Life, I supposedly made jokes about Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. I said pigeons were shitting on Ataturk's statue, and also that a poster of Ataturk was smiling ironically at people who were drinking themselves to death in a bar, and they fished that out as a pretext to attack me, very aggressively. In Turkey right now, the Islamic fundamentalists are attacking Ataturk so a controversy arose in the popular newspapers as to whether I might be in the pay of the fundamenfalists.
"Of course I'm not, and of course I don't hate Ataturk, but I'm not one of those people —- and we have them in Turkey, believe me — who say 'I like trees because Ataturk used to like trees too’. Now this isn't censorship either, but the next time you write about Ataturk you get self-conscious and say, OK, maybe pigeons should not shit — or next time, maybe I'll write 'Dear leader, pigeons in this lovely country never shit on Ataturk's statue'.
Regular readers, at least, would get the joke. But with his record of speaking out in newspaper articles and television interviews, on the Kurdish issue in particular, has Pamuk ever felt himself to be in physical danger? "Yes, of course. When I did a publicity interview for my latest book I said that I take my daughter to school every day. But I made sure that nobody would understand which school, or which neighbourhood, or which apartment building.
"The Kurdish subject brings the highest trouble. Because I have made open political statements, not even defending the Kurds but saying, look, we can solve this problem in a democratic fashion, there's a huge resentment for all of this. But I'm a bit worried about this label 'dissident author who fights for freedom'. I don't want to be seen as a 'political' writer. "My subject, generally speaking, is the metaphysics of change, and human reactions to what we used to have as our identity, when the whole thing is changed. It 'doesn't' matter whether it's east or west, or traditional or modern; you have a tradition and, for this or that reason, it's changed. I care about that. I care about what is lost."
®The White Castle, The Black Book and The New' Life are published by Faber & Faber.
In the Thick of Change Where Continents Meet
By BRIAN LAVERY
DUBLIN — As a Turkish writer who is also published in the West, the novelist Orhan Pamuk is often laden with an ambassador's burden, and in the two years since the Sept. 11 attacks it has grown only heavier.
Mr. Pamuk, 51, who grew up in a wealthy Istanbul family, has lived in Switzerland and Manhattan and keeps up with trends in American modern art. Through research for his books, he also knows better than most of his countrymen Turkish Islamic traditions and history, which were all but erased by secular 20th-century reforms.
As Turkey weighs its political relationship with the United States and aspires to European Union membership, life in Istanbul is a constant balancing act between conflicting influences, which makes change inevitable, Mr. Pamuk said. But he rejects the ambassadorial role, he said in a recent interview here before accepting the International Impac Dublin Literary Award. Rather than accommodate and explain differences between two cultures, he chooses to probe the feelings of people caught up in that change.
"I don't believe in, say, a clash of civilizations," he said. "I am living in a culture where the clash of East and West, or the harmony of East and West, is the lifestyle. That is Turkey."
Regardless of what it is called, that mix can be violent. Mr. Pamuk's most recent book, "My Name Is Red" (published by Knopf in 2001 in an English translation), is about the impact of European Renaissance painting on the insular world of 16th-century Islamic illustrators, and the characters in that atmosphere of flux principally feel confusion and pain; by the end of the novel they are left either blinded, crippled, decapitated or, at least, scorned and humbled.
The plot of "Red" is propelled by a murder mystery and a love story, as a handful of miniaturist painters work in secret on what is rumored to be a heretical book for the Ottoman sultan Murat III. The novel recounts the details of an essential yet forgotten Turkish art. When the painters are chosen to narrate the book, the illustrators describe mixing pigments or preparing finely carved reed pens. There is also the lewd banter among adolescent apprentices in an artists' workshop. Fitting Mr. Pamuk's tendency to write long prose poems, "Red" has 19 narrators, including a dog, a corpse, a counterfeit gold coin, and of course, the eponymous pigment.
More important than the texture of that forgotten world is how it adapted, Mr. Pamuk said. In 1591 ambitious young miniaturists grappled with the seductive allure of Venetian painting, and felt intense shame when they rejected the tradition of their fathers and workshop masters. The masters resisted change so stubbornly that they preferred to blind themselves rather than be corrupted by the infidel and selfish styles of the West, even as they realized their techniques were disappearing.
One painter envisages the downfall of Muslim illustrations. "For the rest of your lives you'll do nothing but imitate the Franks for the sake of an individual style," he tells his colleagues. "But precisely because you emulate the Franks you'll never attain individual style."
In the tradition of Islamic illustration, such paintings almost always accompanied the text of a historical story or ancient legend. Mr. Pamuk includes numerous anecdotes and parables, which come up so often that even Western readers eventually come to know the stories — like how Shirin fell in love with Hüsrev when she saw his portrait hanging from a tree — as well as familiar fairy tales.
Very few Turks today show an interest in such aspects of their country's cultural history, partly because they know nothing about it, Mr. Pamuk said. He began research for this novel — he called it a "walk around in those forgotten woods" — in 1992. It was published in Turkish in 1998. This June "Red" received the Impac prize, which is worth about $100,000, making it the world's largest award for a single work of fiction.
Mr. Pamuk has rejected official titles, as he did when the Turkish government tried to honor him with a state artist position five years ago. But he has willingly, even eagerly, accepted the celebrity status that his eight novels have brought him in Istanbul. (The eighth, "Snow," will be published in English translation in February.) After he won the Impac prize, he said, strangers there, indignant on his behalf, stopped him on the street to ask why a quarter of the purse went to the American translator, Erdag M. Goknar.
The seeds for "Red" were sown in childhood, Mr. Pamuk said, when his parents encouraged his fumbling attempts at painting with undeserving praise. Even into his 20's he wanted to be a painter, despite an admitted lack of talent and the absence of paintings around him for inspiration.
In Turkey in the 1950's and 60's, scholars had no enthusiasm for Islamic painting, and two or three curators managed museum collections that served as mere storage vaults. Reproductions of masterpieces in art books were primitive. "Even Picassos you would see in black and white," he said.
Now Mr. Pamuk regularly travels to New York to indulge his passion for contemporary Western culture just as he engages with his own national heritage in Istanbul. He said: "You go to the past and try to invent a pure image of yourself, then you understand the vanity and romanticism of it. Then you go to the West and are shamelessly inspired by the newest postmodern form. Then you also realize the vanity of it. And your pendulum goes back between East and West."
"What is important is that you don't have to be too problematical and ethical about this. That is how life is at that corner of the world, and I accept it. My happiness is that I can make a melancholy music out of all these comings and goings."
Case of the mistaken identities
Joan Smith meets the latest literary talent, Turkey's Orhan Pamuk
Last summer, when a British - publisher brought out a novel by a little-known Turkish writer, it was greeted with immediate excitement. Critics drew comparisons with the giants of contemporary fiction, from Halo Calvino and Umberto Eco to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Like Lord Byron, who woke up one morning to ' find himself famous, Orhan Pamuk was suddenly being talked about as a star.
"Pamuk is one of the world's finest writers," was the verdict of the New Statesman. The TLS praised his "intelligence, metaphysical preoccupations and astringent literary style". Just, about every reviewer acknowledged the parallels between the novel and Turkey's uncertain cultural identity they also saw links between its themes and the liminal status of Pamuk's home city, Istanbul, where the book is set.
In Britain for the paperback publication of The Black 'Book (Faber. £6,99, translated by Guneli Gun), Pamuk talks about the novel's cultural antecedents in a way which reflects his absorption in two very different cultures. "I had Ulysses in mind when I wrote the book," he explains. "But my version would be more esoteric, more mysterious, darker," It was this sense of delving into darkness, he says, which gave the novel its title. Its structure of stories within stories is, an obvious echo of the 'Arabian Nights, one of the books Pamuk remembers with affection from his childhood. Yet The Black Book is also a detective novel, one which teases this most western of forms by dislodging murder from its ironic position as the final mystery. The novel opens with the protagonist, a lawyer called Galip, trying to discover the whereabouts of his wife Ruya, who has disappeared from Istanbul along with Galip's cousin Jelal, a celebrated newspaper columnist.
Are the missing couple having an affair? Concealing the double disappearance from his extended family, Galip tries to solve the problem by immerseing himself in Jelal's identity, combing old newspaper columns for clues. Obsessively reading and re-reading his cousin's words, Galip's own personality begins to fragment: before long he has convinced himself that it requires only an effort of will to think like - even to become - another human being.
Soon he is impersonating Jelal, a dangerous masquerade in view of the columnist's own instability and his involvement with some of the conspiracy theorists who thrive in a city like Istanbul.
This notion of identity as an artifact to be assumed or discarded at will, rather than an untidy, organic growth, is one which Pamuk resists at both a personal and a political level. Growing up in a secular, upper-middle-class family and educated at an American school In Istanbul, he rejects all attempts to impose a single identity on Turkey, whether that of a modern western state or a Moslem country.
"What I care about is complexity, hybridity, the richness of everything," he insists. "Istanbul is geographically confused. So Is the Turkish nation. Sixty per cent are conservative, 40 per Cent are looking for westernisation. These two groups have been arguing among themselves for 200 years. This situation of being in limbo, in between east and west, it's a lifestyle in Turkey."
Like his character Jelal, 44-year-old Pamuk trained as a journalist but never worked for a newspaper. (His journalist's diploma, he says, was a way of deferring the military service which is still compulsory for adult males in Turkey. He was a "simple soldier", he observes ironically, for four months.) Originally destined to become an architect, he rejected both professions in favour of writing, living at home with his parents until the age of 30 and producing novels which did not get published.
"I was at the end of my tether when my first book was published." he says. "For eight years I didn't make a penny, I worked so hard, didn't drink, didn't enjoy life." What kept him going was his confidence in himself as a writer, even if the books were bad. "You trust yourself to produce something," he says, describing this period as "an antlike small, endless walk".
When the novels finally began to appear in print, they were an immediate success in Turkey and foreign publishers soon showed interest. His third novel, The White Castle, was published in hardback in England by the independent imprint Carcanet. Faber & Faber bought the paperback rights. His latest book is being translated into English after selling 180,000 copies in Turkey, nearly a publishing record for that country.
The title. The New Life, derives from Dante; the story is about a 21-year-old student who reads a book which impresses him so much that it alters his entire existence. What the render never discovers is the content of the miraculous book, a wry and courageous deconstruction of the very notion of sacred texts.
"Of course it alludes to the Third World way of reading a book," Pamuk says. "The idea that you can read something and it will give you the secret of the universe."
His fiction is not revelatory in that sense but his themes, rooted in his childhood experience of living ill a city with a perpetual identity crisis of its own. are proving to have near-universal appeal. "I am not in England as a Turkish novelist but as a novelist," he insists, smiling with the confidence of someone who is already being hailed in literary circles as a future contender for the Nobel prize for literature.
It is unnerving to discover a writer who knows your childhood home better than you do. It's extra unnerving if you work out from the biographical details that you went to the same schools at the same time but draw a blank with the author's photo.
I have been curious about Orhan Pamuk ever since 1 found The White Castle, his third novel and first English translation, in a newspaper bookroom six years ago. Set in seventeenth century Istanbul, it is the story of an Ottoman astrologer who buys a Venetian scientist from pirates in the hope of plundering his brain. Because it reverses the fond conventions of Orientalism, it sits comfortably in the western literary tradition, but it is also sublimely and unapologetically Turkish. So is The Black Book, which has just been published in paperback (Faber £6.99) and has been translated into 13 other languages. Set in 1980, it is about a man who takes on the identity of his uncle, a famous columnist, in order to track down his wife. Again the obsession is to dream yourself into a superior life, and again Orhan Pamuk's genius is in describing the strange and tragic things that happen when real people aspire to that greatest of all modern fictions, the West.
Reading it was like going home, so when I did go back to Istanbul last summer, I asked my old classmates if they'd heard of this Orhan Pamuk. Heard of him? they exclaimed. His new book had sold more than anything in Turkish printing history, and fame had made him a recluse.
But last week he did take time out to appear at the Hay-on-Wye Festival, and on his way home he stopped off in London and I got to meet him. Having prepared myself for an audience with Mount Rushmore, I was relieved to find instead an... old classmate.
He has strong views -for example, about the importance of keeping fiction from becoming too political. That means one thing here, though something else in Turkey, as I remembered after I asked him about the 96 Turkish writers on trial for sponsoring the publication of a collection of essays about the treatment of Kurds. “Oh, that. Yes, as it happens, I'm one of them.” It had been going on for a year, he said. They don't know what to do with us.' Had he had to go to court? 'Oh, yes.' He had avoided his summons for months, but when the visits from policemen began to upset his young daughter, he decided to get it over with. It was as if we were discussing a trip to the dentist.
He was more forthcoming when I asked himhow he became a writer at all. I knew it was not the done thing in his sort of circle. Boys from good Istanbul families were supposed to 'serve their country' by going into engineering, architecture or business. His was no exception, he confessed. His grandfather had made his fortune building railroads. His father and uncles were all 'positivist' civil engineers who thought anyone preferring any other profession 'should be a pervert. But you can have one black sheep.' His first ambition was to be a painter, but his family talked him into architecture. Then at 21 'a screw began to get loose in my head. I dropped out of school and began to write at home, and that was the beginning...'
'I was reading a lot. I was a Marxist first of all so I was reading a lot of theory and lots of novels - Faulkner, Conrad, Dostoyevsky, Sartre. These were my heroes.' What he admired most was how they were 'engineers both politically and artistically'. An odd choice of words, perhaps, but appropriate nonetheless. His books are radically different from the social realism of his Turkish predecessors. Until he arrived on the scene (after eight years of writing without publishing anything, and living on his father's pocket money) the Steinbeck tragedy and the village novel reigned supreme. No one was writing imaginatively about middle class life in urban Turkey. He had this territory all to himself. He says this is why his first novel, a family saga, made such an impression on Turkish readers.
I would say it's also because he gives substance to the headaches of rapid modernization. These are best expressed in The Black Book by a craftsman who can't sell his mannequins because, with their moustaches, dark complexions and bow legs, they look too much like real people. What the customer wants, a storeowner tells him, is to 'slip into a jacket worn by a new and beautiful person from a distant and unfamiliar land, so that putting on the jacket he can believe he, too, has changed and turned into someone else.' As with clothes, so it is with even the tackiest of western novelties - lip gloss, reflecting shades, musical cigarette boxes, Japanese fountain pens, dolls with moveable eyelids. All promise deliverance, and yet no western idea is quite the same again after a Pamuk character has made it his own.
'I am angry at the silliness of the imitator. It's not because I think everything should be ours, or Islamic, or traditional, but because 1 think the raison d'etre of everything should be logical. 'The best way to modernise a country, he says, is to draw consciously upon the traditions that are already there. This did not happen in Kemal Ataturk's Republic. 'For example, there were a lot of religious sects in Turkey - some radical, some fundamentalist and some very liberal. They were fighting and competing. Reforms were evolving in these heretical places. But Kemal Ataturk closed them, saying they were corrupt, and the hybridity of Ottoman or Turkish Islam was destroyed.' instead there was a 'void' that turned into this 'unified, single colour fundamentalism'.
Even the Bolsheviks made an effort to replace the old traditions with a new humanist one. 'And Kemal Ataturk couldn't even do that. He encouraged people to "build everything like engineers, even souls". And so religion got labelled backward. Art was an afterthought, and the intelligentsia politically suspect The lack of homegrown culture made the imported variety all the more attractive. Reform only happens, he told me, when you have 'a central something, when a text is being discussed.' Paradoxically, it is the political void he so deplores that gives him his artistic direction.
His new book, due out in Britain next year, is called A New Life. Its hero is a 20 year old whose life is changed by a book. We find out where he reads the book, and what the books spurs him on to do, but we never find out the title. In a country where owning the wrong book at the wrong time - can land you in prison, this is probably a wise political decision as well as a clever artistic one.
Satire is sacred
Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's best-selling author, talks to Maya Jaggi
"I read a book one day and my whole life was changed", begins The New Life, by Turkish literary sensation Orhan Pamuk. The novel's 20-year-old narrator becomes obsessed and transformed by a book whose contents are never revealed. When the novel came out in Turkey, readers rang Pamuk's publishers to ask the title of the miraculous work that could change their lives.
The author of the fastest-selling book in Turkish history is amused byits irony over a novel that is itself about reading. He also confesses to a sense of guilt. Published in Turkish three years ago, The New Life has sold 200,000 copies — a record in a country which "lacks a reading tradition". Inspired to some extent by Dante's La Vita Nuova, it attracts not only "the intellectual, who reads it in the way an international readership would", but "a strange, cult reader, who wants to see what is this book, and has expectations that a new life will be revealed in it".
Pamuk, aged 45, in London to launch the translation, says: "I've always had this naive — sometimes angry — reader in Turkey, and had a sense of guilt for being post modern, or obscure, and not satisfying them in the way they wanted to be satisfied. Yet my book is not a map that instructs about the world, but an experience in itself. "
Since Pamuk won acclaim abroad, he has drawn comparisons with Kafka, Calvino, Kundera, Eco, Borges, Garcia Marquez and Rushdie — though to him this is as unsatisfactory as "describing a new fruit as somewhere between a peach and an orange". The White Castle (1985) was an East-West doppelgänger novel set in 17th century Istanbul, while his metaphysical thriller The Black Book (1990), which sold 100, 000 copies in Turkey, trawled shifting personal and national identities, reflecting the country's liminal status.
Pamuk began The New Life in Australia, during a bout of jet-lag-induced insomnia (Oliver Sacks in the next room suggested a sleeping pill). He describes its student hero as "semi-autobiographical". Like the narrator Osman (who uses the pseudonym Orphan Panic), Pamuk studied architecture at Istanbul Technical University, and after dropping out to write ("A screw was in my head"), lived with his divorced mother while trying in vain for eight years to find a publisher.
"I was a real radical reader, expecting books to open up a new world. But, distancing myself from my hero, I was also a cautious, ironic reader; in that sense I don't have radical ideas or expectations of a millennium. If I were exposed to any book as much as my hero, I'd find an antidote, which makes me a rare thing, " he laughs, "a liberal in the Middle East".
Other obsessive readers suffer broken lives, or risk being killed. "All my friends burned their fingers, even destroyed their lives, expecting that much from books, " says Pamuk. Though most of his peers from a secular, middle-class background were radical leftists, he says his critique applies as much to fundamentalists, to fiction as much as political tracts — sacred texts both secular and religious.
In the story's hilarious satire, an Islamic doctor wages an "all-out battle against printed matter", seeing books as part of the Western conspiracy "erasing our collective memory".
Pamuk, who says he was the first defender of The Satanic Verses in any Muslim country, concedes that the Salman Rushdie affair may have influenced the novel "unconsciously". But he adds: "In my part of the world, there are so many Rushdie-like cases. The Turkish state is one of the greatest violators of freedom of expression, comparable to Nigeria or China. "
Pamuk, who has been outspoken on human rights in Turkey, particularly on behalf of the Kurds, nevertheless balks at a simple political reading of his novel. As for censorship's possible constraints: "It's not like Soviet Russia; you don't have to use allegories. You can't criticise the Turkish army or Ataturk, or be sexually explicit. But 99 per cent of writers in jail in Turkey are political writers or journalists, not novelists. "
The New Life is also a kind of metaphysical road novel, taking the hero and his beloved Janan across provincial Turkey, where yoghurt vendors vie with Coca-Cola stalls.
For Turkey, says Pamuk, this conflict between Westernisers and Islamicists is more a lifestyle than a debate. 'Turkey decided to be Westernised 200 years ago, and it's still in the process. Most of the country's struggles are located around that In my book I wanted to turn them into a game, looking at them with irony. "
The New Life is published by Faber
To Have And Have Not
Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk tells Robert Cottrell the west has pushed the world’s poor towards envy and nationalism
The view from the terrace offers a vision of earthly riches so sweeping and extravagant that if the Devil were trying again to tempt Christ after 40 days in the wilderness, I would recommend his doing it in Istanbul. The city seethes and glitters for miles on all sides, its hills laden with palaces and mosques and gilded domes. Its lights dance, reflected on the dark waters of the Bosporus below. Hong Kong or San Francisco may be as picturesque, but neither can rival Istanbul for sheer drama. Here two continents begin and end. On the near side of the Bosporus lies Europe. On the far side lies Asia. And Turkey straddles the space between them, geographically, historically and intellectually.
The terrace, not far from Taksim Square in the heart of the city, belongs to Orhan Pamuk, widely considered Turkey's greatest living novelist. The view is one great delight of this flat that he keeps for writing. The other is the mass of books lining the walls, thousands of them, roughly arranged by topics from Japanese fiction to French philosophy. I think for a moment that Pamuk has all my favourite books, then I realise he probably has everybody's favourite books. He is a tall man, a fit-looking 50, dressed casually in the American fashion, soft-spoken and courteous. His grandfather made a fortune early last century building railways for the Ataturk regime. His father, who died just a few months ago, spent the fortune living well, investing badly, and translating French poetry - a lifestyle choice that Pamuk clearly admires, even though it left him less rich than he might have been. John Updike, the American novelist, has compared him with Proust. The analogy is one that Pamuk himself also makes, a little wistfully, as we talk.
Western readers know Pamuk best for My Name is Red, an intricate and seductive murder mystery set among 16th-century Ottoman miniaturist painters, which was published in English in 2001. The plot is a fine weave of theological disputes, court etiquette and miniaturist techniques, shot through with sex and violence. The critic Maureen Freely called the book "almost perfect... All it needs now is the Nobel prize".
He is working on a book about Istanbul that will be part-memoir and part-meditation. He wants to test his own sense of the city, where he was born and grew up, against the Istanbul that others have remembered and imagined down the centuries. After that he has a novel planned, "about the idea of museums, collections, the attachment to objects and the loss of love".
But if all this sounds a little abstract, a little bookish, there is another side to Pamuk, a political engagement. He made headlines in 1999, and risked prosecution, when he signed an international petition urging the Turkish government to give members of the country's Kurdish minority "constitutional guarantees" of their rights, and so rescue Turkey from the "shame" of past repressive policies. In the last five years, says Pamuk, he has become "more and more political". Attacks on his liberal views in the Turkish press have only made him "more angry and more involved", he says. "It is a son-of-a-bitch kind of anger and it turns out to be part of your life."
An article of his which sticks in my mind is one he wrote in September 2001 soon after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York. He describes meeting a neighbour on the street, an elderly man, who says to him: "Sir, have you seen, they have bombed America? They did the right thing!" Pamuk muses on what could prompt an old man in Istanbul to condone terror in New York, or a Palestinian to admire the Taliban, and he arrives at a formulation that does not quite blame the west, but which assigns it a contributory negligence. The basic problem, he says, is "not Islam, nor what is idiotically described as the clash between east and west, nor poverty itself. It is the feeling of impotence deriving from degradation, the failure to be understood, and the inability of such people to make their voices heard." The west has not tried enough "to understand the damned of the world".
Pamuk, who professes no religion, has made his own bid since then to understand Islamic fundamentalism by writing a political novel about its place in provincial Turkey today. His aim, he says, was to "understand what a fundamentalist is, in his own terms. Not why he is so right, but why he is so angry." The subject is a highly sensitive one for Turkey, which has an overwhelmingly Muslim population, but has proclaimed itself a secular state since 1923. The government allows freedom of worship, but keeps a close eye on it through a Directorate of Religious Affairs, and clamps down smartly on what it regards as signs of fundamentalism - such as the wearing of headscarves by women, which is forbidden in official buildings.
This latest novel, called Snow, has sold 140,000 copies at home since publication last year, and is now being translated into English. It made him enemies on two fronts. First were "the ultra-secularists, who were not pleased to see me going into the inner [thoughts] of religious fundamentalists," he says. "They did not want to see Islamists as human beings, they wanted to see them as fanatics, midway to barbarians." Then there were the Islamists; angered that he gave his religious characters an active sexual life. "They said, 'How can an Islamist, a true believer, have sex outside marriage?'" The Islamists, like Marxists before them, "wanted writers to portray an idealised version of people".
Pamuk accepts cheerfully enough that he makes an easy target for critics. "I have my subscriptions to the TLS and The New Yorker," he says, "while other people are more limited here. My name is on the billboards. I am from the spoiled upper class. People are very resentful."
But when it comes to the war in Iraq, at its height when we talk, Pamuk is very much in tune with the popular mood. He thought it a dangerous mistake, as did everybody else I met in Turkey, from a bus driver in Ankara to a professor of economics in Istanbul. They saw the war as a foolish adventure promoted by a willful US president, a US government wanting Iraqi oil, and a US industrial sector hungry to profit from reconstructing the country once the war was over. Saddam may be a bad man, they say, but that did not give the US any right to depose him.
So far, so familiar. The same sort of criticisms could be heard almost everywhere in the world at the time. But in Turkey they were voiced with a special anxiety. The country's border with Iraq made it a front-line state in the war, exposed to stray bombs and refugees. Ninety per cent of the public was appalled, according to Pamuk, when the Turkish government seemed ready to join the US war effort in exchange for a big enough package of US aid - many billions of dollars - which Turkey desperately needed. That plan was scuppered unexpectedly by the parliament in Ankara, which voted against letting US combat troops invade northern Iraq from Turkish soil.
Pamuk compares the US intervention in Iraq to a strong person "slapping" or "insulting" a weak one: bad behaviour even when the strong person believes he has been provoked. The US can do such a thing, he says, partly because it believes Muslims are "lesser people, backward, stupid, lazy orientals who don't know about things, who torment women. You have the feeling that one American life is more important than thousands of these people. The justification of the war starts with these things."
Reading my notes of the conversation later, I have to remind myself that Pamuk is an outspoken admirer of western values, western culture, western democracy. He welcomes globalisation, and Amazon.com cartons litter his floor. He believes the US is a highly successful social and economic model. What he objects to is the manner of exporting it. The US is becoming "fanatical" too, he believes. If the Americans would only "take all the money they have spent on this war, and spend it like Soros has done on civil societies in these countries, then in 10 years they would have wonderful results."
He sees the divide widening between what he calls "this relentless civilisation of the west, superior in arts, science, education" on one side, and "85 per cent of the human race, with much lesser, disintegrating, unsuccessful civilisations" on the other. But he dismisses the idea that the divide is mainly a religious one, even between the US and Arab countries. "The Koran is a small part of it. It is not a text that makes this history, it is history itself: the people, the land, the climate, the geography. The fact that there is less democracy in the Middle East, that the Middle East is poor, these are things shaped not by the Koran but by layers of history and of interaction with the west."
The real gulf, he says, is the material one, between wealth and poverty. The real question is why it should have become such an acute problem now. The answer he comes to is that global media have become so successful, so universal in projecting images of western wealth, that the picture is getting "impossible to accept, impossible to come to terms with" in poor countries. The poor have no comparable means of celebrating their own culture, their own way of life, which might otherwise give them solace.
They are left only with "material envy", says Pamuk, "it is inevitable, they want the things the Americans have." So long as they lack those things, he feels, "the only consolation for such a time is nationalism, past glories, the enjoyment of this or that terrorist attack. They may know that ethically, morally, this is not right, but secretly they enjoy it."
In an ideal world, I say, we might debate this, try to understand that envy of the east and moderate the stereotypes of the west. But in the case of Iraq, the rich part of the world believed the angry part of the world was posing a direct threat to it, and was acting to block that threat. Not so, says Pamuk. In Iraq it is "the rich part of the world making a direct, violent attack on the poor, disorganised part of the world". The west may or may not be right to worry about dangers from "ruthless dictators" in the Middle East, he says, but right now it is part of the west that is controlled by "a vulgar and brutal and not very sophisticated ruler, Bush."
The other big Turkish worry about the war concerned the Kurds, whose communities straddle the borderlands between eastern Turkey and northern Iraq. The Turks feared the war might lead to a Kurdish state in northern Iraq, and with it a new spur to Kurdish separatism in eastern Turkey. Only four years have passed since the last wave of guerrilla warfare subsided with the arrest of the Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan and the collapse of his movement, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or the PKK. The separatist campaign, and Turkey's brutal suppression of it, cost 30,000 lives, most of them Kurdish. It cast a long shadow over civil liberties and human rights. It soured relations with the European Union so badly as to set back Turkey's hopes of joining the EU by at least a decade. Nobody in Turkey, liberal or conservative, wants to go back to those days.
Alternatively, there is Pamuk's approach, which has the merit of simplicity. "Kurds in northern Iraq should have every right to decide for themselves what they want to do," he says, "and if they want to have a state that is their business." If Turkey fears a contagion of separatism among its own Kurds, it should treat them more kindly and so make them less restive. Besides, he adds, Turkey is a fragile country economically, and "the geopolitics of a fragile country should be: 'I am polite to my neighbours'."
I imagine Pamuk (pictured below) is polite to his neighbours too, even when they applaud the knocking down of the World Trade Center. He loves Istanbul and everything in it. While researching his new book he has studied engravings of the city, and finds them full of "nationalistic and nostalgic sentiments", above all "the feeling of melancholy that comes from loss of empire". He feels an echo there "of the decay of my family, as it disintegrates from a big family with uncles and grandmothers to just the four of us, parents and children, moving from big house to apartment building, then on our different ways." The big house he knew as a baby was home to an extended family of 12 or 14 people. Now, after a recent divorce, he lives alone.
We talk more about melancholy, and I begin to sense how he can admire the US so much, while criticising it so strongly. "Countries without much history, or without much sad history, are more naive," he says. "But in their naivety they are realists, they can see their problems easily. Here we have lots of melancholy which blurs the vision and which saps the energy to invent, to invest, to create.”
Orhan Pamuk: 'I Was Not A Political Person'
By ALEXANDER STAR
Orhan Pamuk spoke with Alexander Star by telephone from his home in Istanbul.
ALEXANDER STAR: In your novel, Turkey is a somewhat surreal country, where secular nationalists and theocrats compete to impose what seem to be equally dubious ideas of how to force people to be free. Is this the Turkey you know?
ORHAN PAMUK: Well, that gap between my character's consciousness and the country's poetic reality is perhaps the essential tension of my novel. I wanted to go and explore both worlds and write about them as they are -- the Westernized intellectual's worldview coming to terms with the poorest, most forgotten and perhaps most ignored part of the country. The most angry part, too.
STAR: A key concern in ''Snow'' is the desire of many Muslim women to wear headscarves to school -- an issue that raises delicate questions about where you draw the line between, say, the tolerance of religion and the imposition of religion. The current Turkish government has, controversially, attempted to assist the graduates of religious schools. Do you feel that is a legitimate cause for them?
PAMUK: Look, I'm a writer. I try to focus on these issues not from the point of view of a statesman but from the point of view of a person who tries to understand the pain and suffering of others. I don't think there is any set formula to solve these problems. Anyone who believes there is a simple solution to these problems is a fool -- and probably will soon end up being part of the problem. I think literature can approach these problems because you can go into more shady areas, areas where no one is right and no one has the right to say what is right. That's what makes writing novels interesting. It's what makes writing a political novel today interesting.
STAR: And yet your novel expresses a lot of anxiety over whether it's possible to fully understand the misery and humiliation of people living in unfamiliar circumstances.
PAMUK: Spiritually and morally, I am close to my central character. As he goes to the poorest sections of Turkish society, he falls into the traps of representation -- talking in the name of the others, for the most poor. He realizes these issues are problematic. In fact, they may sometimes end up being immoral: the problem of representing the poor, the unrepresented, even in literature, is morally dubious. So in this political novel, my little contribution -- if there is any, I have to be modest -- is to turn it around a bit and make the problem of representation a part of the fiction too.
STAR: How did you come to write a political novel?
PAMUK: I was not a political person when I began writing 20 years ago. The previous generation of Turkish authors were too political, morally too much involved. They were essentially writing what Nabokov would call social commentary. I used to believe, and still believe, that that kind of politics only damages your art. Twenty years ago, 25 years ago, I had a radical belief only in what Henry James would call the grand art of the novel. But later, as I began to get known both inside and outside of Turkey, people began to ask political questions and demand political commentaries. Which I did because I sincerely felt that the Turkish state was damaging democracy, human rights and the country. So I did things outside of my books.
STAR: Such as?
PAMUK: Write petitions, attend political meetings, but essentially make commentaries outside of my books. This made me a bit notorious, and I began to get involved in a sort of political war against the Turkish state and the establishment, which 10 years ago was more partial to nationalists. Anyway, I said to myself, Why don't I once write a political novel and get all of this off my chest?
STAR: Did you have trouble publishing ''Snow'' in Turkey? How was it received by Islamists and others?
PAMUK: Before the publication of the book I told my friends and my publisher that I was finishing an outspoken political novel. Shall we show this to lawyers? And they said, No, no, no, now that Turkey is hoping to get in touch with Europe and now that you're nationally -- internationally -- ''famous,'' you don't need to do that. O.K. And after some time I gave my publishers the book. Here is the book, I said. And a week later they called me and said they'd read the book, loved the book, but they wanted my permission to show it to a lawyer. They were worried that the public prosecutor might open a case, or confiscate the book before its publication. The first printing was 100,000 copies. They were essentially worried about the economic side of the thing. For example, they hid the book in a corner, so if it were confiscated, they could keep some copies for themselves. But none of these pessimistic things happened. In fact, the country seriously discussed the book. Half of the political Islamists and people who backed the army attacked me. On the other hand, I survived. Nothing happened to me. And in fact it worked the way I hoped it would. Some of those radical Islamists criticized the book with very simplistic ideas, such as ''You're trying to describe Islamists but you have to know that an Islamist would never have sex with a woman without getting married.'' On the other hand, more liberal Islamists were pleased that at least the harassment they had been exposed to by the Turkish Army is mentioned.
STAR: When George Bush was in Istanbul recently for the NATO summit, he referred to you as a ''great writer'' who has helped bridge the divide between East and West. Citing your own statements about how people around the world are very much alike, he defended American efforts to help people in the Middle East enjoy their ''birthright of freedom.'' Did you think he understood what you meant?
PAMUK: I think George Bush put a lot of distance between East and West with this war. He made the whole Islamic community unnecessarily angry with the United States, and in fact with the West. This will pave the way to lots of horrors and inflict cruel and unnecessary pain to lots of people. It will raise the tension between East and West. These are things I never hoped would happen. In my books I always looked for a sort of harmony between the so-called East and West. In short, what I wrote in my books for years was misquoted, and used as a sort of apology for what had been done. And what had been done was a cruel thing.
STAR: Is the novel as a form something you think is alive and well in the Middle East or the non-Western world more broadly? Or do you feel you're doing something rather unusual?
PAMUK: No, the art of the novel is well. It's surviving. It has lots of elasticity. I'm sure it will continue to live in the West, in the United States and Europe. But it will have a very strange and new future in countries like China and India, where now there is an unprecedented rise of the middle classes. Legitimizing the power of these new middle classes creates problems of identity both in China and in India. This involves their nationalism when they are faced with the distinct identity of Europe and the West, and their Occidentalism when they are faced with the resistance of their poor people. I think the new modern novel that will come from the East, from that part of the world, will again raise these tensions of East-West modernity and the slippery nature of these rising middle classes in China and India. And also in Turkey, of course.
STAR: In ''Snow,'' the radical Islamist Blue remarks at one point that the best thing America's given the world is Red Marlboros. Would you agree with that?
PAMUK: I used to smoke them a lot when I was young. We distribute our personal pleasures in our characters. That's one of the joys of writing fiction.
Born in Istanbul to a wealthy family, Orhan Pamuk abandoned architecture studies to write his first book, but struggled to find a publisher. Now Turkey's best-selling novelist, his newly translated Snow depicts a military coup. His opposition to the Rushdie fatwa and support for the Kurds means he is seen by some as a political renegade, but he remains outspoken. Nicholas Wroe reports
May 8, 2004
In 1994, billboards appeared all over Istanbul bearing the words: "I read a book one day and my whole life was changed." They formed part of an advertising campaign for Orhan Pamuk's novel of that year, The New Life, and the phrase was the book's opening line. The marketing of popular fiction in this way is nothing new -although it was innovative in Turkey at the time - but what made the approach so unusual was that Pamuk's writing would not be immediately recognisable as the stuff of mass-market campaigns.
John Updike, praising The New Life, said Pamuk "in his dispassionate intelligence and arabesques of introspection suggests Proust". But Updike also noted that Pamuk was that most unusual of literary creatures, "both a best-selling author and an avant-garde writer". Pamuk's novels exuberantly embrace postmodernist narrative trickery and his work has been compared to Kafka, Borges, Calvino and García Márquez. "I was as surprised as anyone about my sales," he says. "My first novel [Cevdet Bey and His Sons, 1982] sold 2,000 copies in Turkey in the first year. The second [The Quiet House, 1983] sold 8,000 copies, which was very good. But then the third book [The White Castle, 1985] sold 16,000 and the fourth [The Black Book, 1990] 32,000. So I was joking with friends that The New Life would sell 64,000 but it sold 164,000 copies in its first year." It was by some distance the fastest-selling novel in Turkish publishing history and the print run for his next novel, My Name is Red, in 1998, was the largest-ever in Turkey.
The flat where Pamuk writes in Istanbul overlooks the Golden Horn and has views of the Topkapi Palace on one side and the suspension bridge that links Europe and Asia on the other. To the periodic accompaniment of a muezzin's call to prayer from the next-door mosque, he attempts to make sense of his unprecedented commercial success.
"When I was first published, the Marxists and the conservatives and the political Islamists were all fighting against each other and fighting among themselves," he recalls. "So, because I was a newcomer they all kind of welcomed me, although a bit suspiciously. But it meant that I got all the prizes. And then a media boom began in Turkey and suddenly the interest in books was huge."
While this helps to explain the demographics of his success, in artistic terms his work has tapped into the modern Turkish psyche at a most profound level. He acknowledges that a common theme in his books has been "cultural change; living in a westernised fashion in a country that is essentially not western". His work is full of reminiscences and he subtly engages with the past of his characters and their societies. An aggressive westernising agenda has been the dominant official force in Turkish life for more than a century, and Pamuk is a product of a ruling class that has benefited from this regime. But his work, like the world around him, is also marked by the legacy of a longer social, cultural and religious history.
The novelist and journalist Maureen Freely was brought up in Istanbul as a contemporary of Pamuk's and knew his family. She is also the translator of his latest novel, Snow, which is published in the UK this month. "The rapidity of social change in Turkey has been amazing," she says. "And it has also been a source of considerable pain and confusion. Everything Orhan writes speaks to that and to the debates people are having inside themselves but they can't quite put into words."
Freely adds that while his "modernist/postmodernist games involve using elements from opposing traditions that, when seen together, defy reason and make a 'grand narrative' impossible, they are perhaps less difficult for a modern Turkish reader to understand in that this is their daily experience - living in a part-eastern, part-western culture that changes rapidly - and there is never time to sit back and ask how it all adds up".
Professor Jale Parla of Bilgi University in Istanbul has written extensively about Pamuk. She ascribes his success to his "rare gift of that genius that beguiles at the same time as it challenges. The paradox that he is a 'difficult' best-seller is a myth that is created by the intellectual community in Turkey who are aware of the complexity of his novels but miss their beguiling simplicity." (Parla also acknowledges that there are readers who see only the simplicity and "miss the beguiling".)
In Turkey, the launch of a new Pamuk novel has more in common with the release of a Hollywood film than the publication of a book. There is media saturation and considerable cachet in being seen with his latest work. Although some snipe that he is probably more bought than read, a more serious criticism, usually from a left-nationalist perspective, is that he has sold out to a European audience, a view apparently given added credence when Pamuk was awarded the €100,000 Impac prize last year for My Name is Red.
"When my sales went up my welcome from the Turkish literary scene disappeared," he says. "And I haven't been given any prizes in Turkey since the age of 35. I started to get harsh and envious criticism and I now don't expect to get good reviews any more. For the last few books they haven't even criticised what I have written, instead they criticise the marketing campaign." It is difficult to overestimate his public profile. "If he puts one foot in front of the other it will get into the papers," says one friend. His outspoken stance on the broad human-rights agenda, which has included women's and Kurdish rights, democratic reforms as well as environmentalism, has made him a lightning conductor for criticism.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the radical French student leader-turned Green European MP, first met Pamuk in 2001 on an official visit to Istanbul. He invited Pamuk on to his Swiss television show about books. Cohn-Bendit says Pamuk "was one of the intellectuals who made me understand the importance of Turkey joining the European Union. It is so important for democrats in that country. Orhan is not only one of the most important modern writers in Europe, he is one of the examples of the possible modernity of Turkey."
But for all the contentious stances he has taken, Pamuk rarely deals with political issues head-on in his fiction, and he has even been criticised by his natural supporters, who claim the distancing effect of some of his postmodernist techniques has made his work too apolitical. However, Pamuk says the idea of writing a "Dostoyevskian political novel" was in his head while he was working on Snow. "In the late-70s I tried to write a political novel about people like me: upper-class or middle-class students who went with their families to summer houses but also played around with guns and Maoist texts and had fanciful ideas about throwing a bomb at the prime minister."
However in 1980, when the army responded to a parliamentary logjam, a deteriorating economy and widespread political violence by staging a coup and formally taking over the running of a country much of which was already under martial law, it was impossible to publish such a book.
Pamuk says that 18 years on the vogue for Marxism had passed, "and the interesting thing was political Islamists. I had lots of friends who secretly admired them. Many hard-core political Islamists learned a lot from Turkey's Marxist-Leninists because nationalism and anti-westernism are at the heart of both. It is a secret anthropological history how similar they are. So I decided to write another novel. I liked the idea of this town being cut off from the rest of Turkey by snow; and there is a military coup." Set in 1992, the novel is part love story, part political thriller and features a poet visiting a remote town in eastern Turkey under the pretext of a journalistic assignment. Pamuk used the same ruse to undertake his research and many of the details in the book reflect his own experiences in the town of Kars, including being picked up by the local police who were suspicious of his movements.
All Pamuk's novels have included autobiographical strands, but in his most recent book, Istanbul - published in Turkey late last year and due out in the UK in 2005 - he explicitly mixes memoir with his thoughts about the city. One of the chapters is about "The Rich", the social group into which he was born. "My grandfather was a rich person and my father's generation had much money, which they wasted. My childhood was full of my grandmother crying because my father or uncles were selling this or that. The family wealth came from building railroads in the 1930s. They were instigating the new Turkish republic and were literally building the nation. By the time I was growing up, the wealth was going down, but they still had the instincts of rich people. Even though my grandfather's money had evaporated, our lifestyle didn't change. But there were signs that the money was going and there were always feuds. People blamed other people all the time."
Pamuk was born in Istanbul in June 1952 and a description of the upper-class neighbourhood he grew up in can be found in the The Black Book. "I was meticulous and perhaps pompous; I wanted to be like James Joyce in getting every detail correct about which shops were there at the time. Before I was born my family had a large house, the ultimate Ottoman mansion, with the whole family in different parts of the building and lots of servants. But that disintegrated and they wanted to be western, so they built an apartment block for themselves where the main doors were locked but inside all the apartment doors were open, and I would walk between the apartments of my uncles and cousins and my grandmother. But as the money ran out they began to sell the apartments and my family eventually moved to a better one, but one they rented and didn't own." Pamuk has bought a flat in the original family block and lives there again.
His father, who died last year, was a businessman and a "failed poet" - "perhaps typical of second-generation wealth". Like the father figure in My Name is Red, he would periodically disappear from home. "He looked down on the Turkish literary scene but thought of Paris as a cool place to be so that's where he went," says Pamuk. "He married early and had children and I think he regretted that. He wanted to carry on with his youth."
Pamuk's mother and elder brother, a professor of economics, still live in the city. There is tension between the brothers, says Pamuk, because in Istanbul he wrote about the beatings he received from his brother when they were children. "People thought that because I am an apparently successful, upper-class, happy person I wouldn't write about things like that. But it is in our culture and it was my right to write about it. And then the media latched on to it and it made headlines."
Pamuk and his brother attended the American school in Istanbul where they were taught in English and Turkish. The school catered for a social elite and has produced several Turkish prime ministers, but most of its alumni run Turkish industry and academia. "That sort of education makes you too secular and too westernised to properly stay in touch with traditional voters," says Pamuk.
Vedit Inal, now a lecturer in economics, was a school and college friend and remembers Pamuk as witty, a good student and a basketball player. "He hasn't changed much as a character. He was always able to look at things from an unusual angle. And at first he wanted to be a painter, not a writer."
Pamuk says he went through childhood being told he had a talent for painting, but the family tradition in engineering meant "that only things like engineering and mathematics counted. Religion, for example, was something just for the poor. The only time I was taken to the mosque was by my maid, when she went there to chat to her friends. The ruling westernised elite thought religion was one of the reasons for our glorious Ottoman empire's decline. But from the 60s they also saw it had an immense political power. If you showed the voters you were religious you got more votes and since then the upper classes have been scared of the lower classes and urban Turkey has been more religious." The arts and humanities were similarly disregarded and his family was not enthusiastic about the idea of him becoming a professional painter. "But instead of sending me to be a civil engineer, they thought because I was an arty guy perhaps I should be an architect."
When Pamuk went to university in Istanbul in 1970 it was a militant Marxist campus and he was on the left. "But although I was reading the literature of all these little Marxist factions, I never joined any, and I would go home and read Virginia Woolf. Although I had my sympathies, I saved my spirits by reading Woolf and Faulkner and Mann and Proust. I felt guilty but I also felt they were more interesting." Pamuk had been a prodigious reader of classic French, Russian and English fiction since childhood and after three years studying architecture, "suddenly announced that I wasn't going to go to school any more and I wasn't going to paint. I was going to write novels."
Freely says several contemporaries were, like Pamuk, interestingly quirky thinkers. "But while they fell by the way side, he pushed on and found out who he really was through his writing. And it was difficult. For families from his class engineering was everything. Of course there were quite a few of us interested in artistic things, but there was a very strong feeling that anyone with skills should put them in service of the country. His family were not happy at all about what he was doing but that wouldn't mean they didn't support him. Your family is your social security over there."
Pamuk says he received "pocket money" from his father until he was 32. "But even my father, who had translated Valéry, said I should stay on and finish that stupid architecture school. Their attitude was that all the artists and intellectuals in the country were doomed because there was not much interest in what they had to offer. And they were all drunks. So I worked very hard to make myself a novelist and finish my first book. I didn't want anyone to say - even though secretly I was saying it to myself - that I left school for nothing and was wasting my life."
Although a leftist himself he felt little sympathy with the socialist-sanctioned realism of Gorky or Steinbeck or some Turkish village novelists. "There were modernist poetry groups and magazines with which I sympathised but I didn't really develop any literary friendships in my 20s. I was arrogant and I looked down a little on them and thought they were a bit simplistic. Because of that it was a problem to publish my first book." It took him four years to complete Cevdet Bey and His Sons - "a family saga that is really about my grandfather making his money" - and although it won a competition to be published, Pamuk eventually had to sue the publisher before it finally appeared in print three years later. "Getting published in England and America and in 35 languages was easy compared with first getting published in Turkey," he laughs.
Throughout his time writing the novel, Pamuk had been enrolled in a journalism school just to put off his military service. But aged 30 in 1982, he did his spell in the military, and when he came out he married Aylin Turegen, a historian of Russian descent. Their daughter, Ruya, was born in 1991. The couple divorced three years ago. Cevdet Bey was published the same year as his marriage, followed the next year by The Quiet House.
Parla sees Pamuk "as a very conscious inheritor of the novelistic tradition, both with regards to Turkey and the west. It is no coincidence that he started his writing in a very classical format, that of the bildungsroman, in Cevdet Bey, and moved gradually through the modernism of Sessiz Ev (The Quiet House) to the post-colonial and post-modern works exemplified by The White Castle, The Black Book, The New Life, and My Name Is Red."
After the 1985 publication of his third novel, The White Castle, about a 17th-century Christian slave and his Muslim master who swap identities, the Pamuks moved to New York for three years so Aylin could study for a PhD at Columbia. Pamuk attended the Iowa writing school and taught a Turkish language class, but mostly he occupied a small room above the Columbia library where he began work on The Black Book, the contemporary story of a lawyer searching Istanbul for his lost wife.
"My cubicle was above three million books and I was very happy there," he says. "There was a good collection of Turkish books going back to the 1930s and many of them had not even had the pages cut. No one had ever looked at them before me." The publisher Keith Goldsmith, now with Knopf in New York, was working for Carcanet, the British publisher. He was recommended Pamuk's work by a Turkish friend and through him The White Castle became Pamuk's first book translated into English.
"Orhan was a very attractive character who was constantly chain-smoking, drinking coffee and speaking a mile a minute," says Goldsmith. "And it was plain that in his work, although it was cast in an historical period, he was addressing something of the essence of what was going on in the world today. He has obviously put his finger on something that relates to Turkey, but he has a resonance far beyond the place and the time he is apparently writing about. He is really a writer for the ages."
The books now sell worldwide and Pamuk says the initial impact of this was to make him more conscious of his Turkishness. "I was surprised that the word Turk was used as a sort of synonym for my name. Instead of writing 'Pamuk says this or that' they wrote that 'this Turkish author said this or that'. It did upset me a little. If I write an essay about Proust or Hemingway I might occasionally write about the French or American author, but not all the time. It seems if you write fiction in that part of the world your nationality is not that important, but if you write fiction in this part of the world your nationality and, even worse, ethnicity are important. When an English writer writes about a love affair he writes about humanity's love affair, but when I write about a love affair I am only talking about a Turk's love affair."
Pamuk says that as soon as he began to publish he realised he was expected to have an opinion on everything. "They would ask me what deodorants I used and I would answer them so I got a reputation for answering every question. For the first three or four years I didn't worry much about politics. The previous generation sneered at me as someone who became popular after a military coup. They implied my work was a product of that coup, which of course was not true. But although I was not in any party, I was still a leftist like them and as my fame grew, the new generation knew my opinions on things and especially on the Kurdish issue and on freedom of speech."
He, and two other Turkish novelists, Yasar Kemal and Aziz Nesin, were the first writers from a Muslim country to speak out against the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie. "Three days later President Rafsanjani answered back from Tehran complaining that Iran's neighbours were siding with Rushdie, who had insulted the Prophet. I was famous by then, but not that famous. No one knew my address, so I didn't worry too much."
Following the success of The New Life, he agreed to sell a Kurdish newspaper on the streets after the bombing of its offices by, it was generally assumed, government agencies. Through much of the 80s and 90s, a civil war was fought in east and southeast Turkey between government forces and Kurdish rebels from the secessionist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Pamuk recalls a "horrific atmosphere" at the time and says that when some "leftists and liberals and Kurds who were not ultra-nationalist tried to do something against the war and they wanted to use me, I said OK."
The result was that he was called a "renegade" on the front page of a national newspaper, and sections of Turkish society and the state have never forgiven him.
Pamuk began to write controversial articles for German newspapers and, in the late 90s, he signed a statement with other writers and intellectuals calling the government's Kurdish policy "a huge mistake". The government offered him an olive branch with the accolade of "state artist", but Pamuk refused it, saying that if he accepted, he couldn't "look in the face of people I care about".
He now says the Kurds lost that war, which he thought "was bad for Turkey. There should have been concessions from both sides to reach a peace. That would have saved so much time and would have been much better for the country. I just hope that over time the Turks forget some of their Turkishness and Kurds forget some of their Kurdishness. And my dream of Europe is something that can do that."
"He has been courageous about human-rights issues," says Freely, "and has been very lucky not to have spent time in prison for his views. Any classmate of ours who was remotely interested in politics ended up in prison at some time or other. The fact that he can get away with saying things about the state because of his international reputation makes the obligation greater for him to do so when he can. And there is a sense that the human rights issue has to be addressed before they stand any chance of joining the European Union."
Inal says that writers have an unusual mission in Turkey. "They are not just people working in their rooms. People ask them about social and political events and they have to respond. He has to give a provocative response so that people can look at things from different angles. Personally he is a loner and would prefer to be at home working and thinking about nothing more than writing. But he knows he also has a mission and he takes his social and political responsibilities seriously."
"People say I must have had great self-confidence to continue for so long without being published," he says. "Perhaps that is true, but in fact I had burnt my boats and could not go back. I knew I had to reach that shore and this is how I have done it.
"There are writers like Nabokov and Naipaul and Conrad who exchanged their civilisations and nations and even languages. It is a very cherished and fashionable idea in literature and so in a sense I am embarrassed that I have done none of this. I have lived virtually in the same street all my life and I currently live in the apartment block where I was brought up. But this is how it has to be for me and this is what I do. And look at my view. From here it is not so difficult to see the world."
Born: June 7, 1952, Istanbul.
Education: Robert College, Istanbul; Istanbul Technical University; Institute of Journalism at the Istanbul University.
Family: 1982 married Aylin Turegen; divorced 2001(one daughter, Ruya,born 1991).
Some books: 1982 Cevdet Bey ve Ogullari (Cevdet Bey and His Sons); '83 Sessiz Ev (The Quiet House); '91 The White Castle; '95 The Black Book; '97 The New Life; 2001 My Name is Red; '03 Istanbul (not yet translated); '04 Snow.
Prizes: 1983 Orhan Kemal Novel Prize; '84 Madarali Novel Prize; 2003 Impac award.
Snow is published by Faber & Faber.
by Andrew Finkel/ISTANBUL
Monday, Sep. 13, 1999
Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's best-selling novelist, has more than his fair share of critics. The country's Islamic intellectuals accuse him of exploiting religious and historical themes all in the name of Western post-modernism. At the same time Turkey's secular establishment--composed of ardent westernizers--is perturbed that Pamuk's irreverence for state ideology should find so appreciative an audience in the West itself. Some condemn his books as difficult and self-absorbed. Yet Pamuk's novels are nothing short of a publishing phenomenon in Turkey, and the government recently tried--and failed--to present him with its highest cultural accolade. "For years I have been criticizing the state for putting authors in jail, for only trying to solve the Kurdish problem by force, and for its narrow-minded nationalism," says Pamuk of his refusal last December to accept the prestigious title of state artist. "I don't know why they tried to give me the prize."
Pamuk's rejection of state honors is the most tangible example of why some find him disturbing and why still others--particularly a younger generation--find his low-key rebelliousness so attractive. His writing provides an antidote to those who see Turkey as caught in a war to the death between Islam and secularism, East and West. "That Turkey has two souls is not a sickness," he says. He does worry that a Turkey mesmerized by itself is becoming isolated from the world. He is an outspoken critic on issues like human rights. "Geographically we are part of Europe," he muses as he gazes out of the huge picture window in his office that overlooks the Bosporus to the Asian side of Istanbul, "but politically?"
Pamuk's own ability to straddle two continents has led to huge commercial success at home and critical acclaim abroad. He is by far the country's best-selling author and his books are now translated into 20 languages. His first novel, Cevdet Bey and His Sons, a dynastic saga of the Istanbul bourgeoisie, appeared in 1982 after an eight-year search for a publisher. Subsequent books have abandoned all pretense of classical narrative, but there are certain subjects that recur, most notably the city of Istanbul itself, a place Pamuk describes as having "no symmetry, no sense of geometry, no two lines in parallel."
The same might be said of Pamuk's style. The White Castle (published in 1979 but translated in 1990), the story of a Turkish master and his European slave, is a perfect example of his melding of the modern with the traditional. By the end of the novel the two main characters are indistinguishable. One of them dies but we are not quite sure which. The Black Book (1990), a mystery that arrives at no obvious solution, confirmed his international reputation.
His novels are rich with allusion to old Sufi stories and traditional Islamic tales as well as the tinsel of popular culture. The point seems to be that a person does not have to abandon the past in order to be part of the future. His latest novel, Call Me Crimson, returns to the 16th century and tells of murder and artistic intrigues among the Islamic miniaturists in the Ottoman court. Its success, by Turkish standards, was astronomic and his publishers actually opened a court action against a newspaper which refused to believe published sales figures of 100,000 copies. The book sold half as many again.
Pamuk is the Turkish novelist of his generation best equipped to navigate the mainstream of contemporary European literature. He is delighted that what many find new and experimental about his novels are often rediscoveries of traditional forms. His work is a rejection of an intellectual tradition that aspired to be Western by forgetting about the past. "If you try to repress memories, something always comes back," Pamuk says. "I'm what comes back".
The White Castle is short, fun, and Calvinoesque. Not his best book but an excellent introduction and guaranteed to please. Snow is deep, political, and captures the nuances of modern Turkey; it is my personal favorite. The New Life isn't read often enough; ideally it requires not only a knowledge of Dante, but also a knowledge of how Dante appropriated Islamic theological writings for his own ends. My Name is Red is a complex detective story, beloved by many, often considered his best, but for me it is a little fluffy behind the machinations. The Black Book is the one to read last, once you know the others. Istanbul: Memories and the City is a non-fictional memoir and a knock-out.
I read 'Snow', thought highly of its fascinating psychological portrayals, but was disappointed by its perspective on the headscarf suicides.
'Snow' essentially portrayed the suicides as decisions by young girls to protect what they perceived as their honor + chastity. But from what I've read the suicides were largely the result of fundamentalist family members killing young women suspected of having sexual relations (or pressuring them to kill themselves):
*"Batman (pronounced bot-MON) is a grim and dusty city of 250,000 people where religion is clashing with Turkey's official secularism. The city was featured in the latest novel by the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, "Snow," which chronicled a journalist's investigation of a suicide epidemic among teenage girls.
In the past six years, there have been 165 suicides or suicide attempts in Batman, 102 of them by women. As many as 36 women have killed themselves since the start of this year, according to the United Nations.
Last month, the United Nations dispatched a special envoy to Turkey to investigate. The envoy, Yakin Erturk, concluded that while some suicides were authentic, others appeared to be "honor killings disguised as a suicide or an accident."
Until recently, a family member of a dishonored girl, usually a brother younger than 18, would carry out the death sentence and receive a short prison sentence because of his youth. Sentences also were reduced under the defense that a relative had been provoked to commit murder.
But in the past two years, Turkey has revamped its penal code and imposed life sentences for such killings, known as honor killings, regardless of the killer's age. This has prompted some families to take other steps, such as forcing their daughters to commit suicide or killing them and disguising the deaths as suicides."*
The above isn't really on Pamuk's radar in 'Snow'. A lot of it read as off-topic ruminations on what might be going through young women's heads if the suicides had been genuinely their choice.
Nobel in hand, Pamuk exits political stage
December 11, 2006
ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
When Orhan Pamuk received the Nobel Prize for Literature on Sunday in Stockholm, he also emerged with greater global fame and a refusal to address political matters publicly.
“He said he would no longer be discussing political details, “as a matter of principle.” “I'm looking at the world from a cultural window,” he said, the Anatolian News Agency reported yesterday. Upon learning the BBC would ask him about the political nature of the Nobel Prize, Pamuk refused to give an interview with the BBC, Turkish news channel NTV reported.
His decision to go quiet on political issues might well be based on Turkey's political pressure cooker environment. It was in this environment that the Nobel Committee recognized the novelist for exploring "new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures." Pamuk has become substantially less active in human rights activities since the 1990s.
Pamuk's comments about the deaths of Armenians and Kurds and subsequent trial for "insulting Turkishness," created a perfect storm on the same day France voted to make denying the Armenian genocide a crime. The timing of the prize deepened Turkey's already heated conflict over EU membership and raised nationalist fists to new heights.
Nobel in hand, Pamuk exits political stage
Monday, December 11, 2006
Along with the Nobel Prize for Literature Orhan Pamuk received on Sunday in Stockholm, he also walked away with elevated international status that both burdens and emboldens his new refusal to discuss political matters in public.
Along with the Nobel Prize for Literature Orhan Pamuk received on Sunday in Stockholm, he also walked away with elevated international status that both burdens and emboldens his new refusal to discuss political matters in public.
Pamuk declared to a German newspaper yesterday that he would no longer discuss politics publicly. “Sometimes I may not be able to shut up, but, as a matter of principle, I'm looking at the world from a cultural window,” he said, according to the Anatolian News Agency. On Thursday Pamuk refused to give an interview with the BBC upon learning they would ask him about the political nature of the Nobel Prize, Turkish news channel NTV reported. The writer also said he was not reading news that is critical of him in Turkish newspapers.
His decision to go quiet on political issues might well be based on Turkey's political pressure cooker environment, in which he has become substantially less active than he was in the 1990s. Pamuk, whose best-selling novels include "Snow" and "My Name Is Red,” earned the literature prize, according to the Nobel Committee for a body of work that illustrates the struggle to find a balance between East and West. The award for Pamuk, whose comments about the deaths of Armenians and Kurds and subsequent trial for "insulting Turkishness," created a perfect storm on the same day France voted to make denying the Armenian genocide a crime. The timing of the prize deepened Turkey's already heated conflict over EU membership and raised nationalist fists to new heights. It was in this environment that the Nobel Committee recognized the novelist for exploring "new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."
However, in Sweden a more passive attitude toward the author prevails. The Turkish Ambassador to Sweden Necip Egüz said Swedish interest in Pamuk is huge. “Pamuk's books have been increasingly visible in Swedish bookshops during the last two years,” Egüz said. He said the interest has peaked in recent weeks.
The awards ceremony at Stockholm's concert hall will be followed by a lavish banquet a few blocks away at City Hall. For the first time in 105 years the queen and king of Sweden included Turkish representatives in their annual dinner banquet that followed the award ceremony
Pamuk said he is “about to enter Nobel depression” while eating breakfast Friday morning, according to Turkish daily Hurriyet. Drawing attention to the demands that go with upholding a 105 year-old tradition, Pamuk said, “I now understand the significance of being a Nobel Prize winner. People want to touch me wherever they see me simply because I'm a Nobel Prize winner. I'm starting to see myself as a holy person.” Pamuk said the Nobel victory had left him with mixed emotions. These are “the most difficult yet enjoyable times in my life, but I miss going on holiday,” he said. “I hope this Nobel depression will end here. It wouldn't be easy to cope with this lifestyle forever.”
In Stockholm Pamuk told a local radio station that inspiration hits an author in moments of utter solitude and self-doubt and that the secret to good writing is patience and stubbornness. Unlike last year's winner Harold Pinter, Pamuk did not use his lecture for political commentary, but focused instead on the sometimes-agonizing craft of writing.
Pamuk, 54, collected the US$1.4 million award in the award ceremony and, after a brief stay in Istanbul, is expected to return to Columbia University where he is a visiting professor. At a Stockholm press conference on Thursday, the writer said that winning the Nobel Prize had not changed his life, “except perhaps financially.” Winners typically see a sharp climb in book sales and Pamuk's books are currently selling out and being reprinted in dozens of languages around the world.
A Turkish television station on Saturday urged Turks to gather en masse at the Istanbul airport to give the Nobel winner a hero's welcome on his return from the ceremony in Sweden. Private Haberturk television said the author had earned the same congratulatory welcome that Turkey's third-place World Cup soccer team received in 2002. However, the public appeal might fail to move viewers from the couch; Turkish daily Milliyet found in an extensive, Turkey-wide study that only 37 percent of Turks were pleased that Pamuk won the Nobel Prize.
Back at work in his study or in the classroom, Pamuk will be seeking to preserve a private life. Where the Nobel is concerned, the world and Turkey might have other plans in store.
Inside Pamuk's Room
December 11, 2006
An analysis of the Weltanschauung of Turkey’s Nobel Laureate
ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
Pamuk takes no clear side between East and West or on their reflections in Turkey, i.e., the secularists and the Islamists. No wonder he has been criticized for that. “Some of my secularly minded readers were furious at the fact that I had made such efforts to understand the situation of girls who voluntarily wear the headscarf,” says Pamuk. “I really don't want to portray the Islamists as simply evil, the way it's often done in the West.”
What he is trying to show, instead, is the commonality of human nature, which he thinks is overshadowed by the ideological battles we mortals fight over. And what he implicitly proposes to his people is a liberal solution, a live-and-let-live Turkey.
In his Boston Globe interview he says: “I'm not saying, look, here are bad guys, here are good guys. I'm not taking sides. In fact, it's more a crying out for happiness: Life is short, enjoy it, take your girl and run away.” Yet can one really be happy by simply “taking your girl and [running] away?” Does man live by the “girl” -- and bread, of course -- alone?
First Nobel for Turkish Literature
By Ramazan Kerpeten, Stockholm
December 11, 2006
Nobel laureates received their awards at the ceremony held in Stockholm Sunday night. Orhan Pamuk, the first Turkish person to win, received his reward ($1.4 million), diploma and medal from the Swedish king Gustaf VI.
The ceremony held in the Stockholm Concert Hall commenced with the Swedish national anthem. In his address at the ceremony, Prof. Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Prize Committee, discussed Pamuk’s novels and literal personality. Reinterpreting Pamuk’s works from a Western perspective, Engdahl noted that the Orhan Pamuk made his native city an eternal literal soil, as Dostoyevski with St. Petersburg, James Joyce’s Dublin, and Proust’s Paris.
Invited to the Stage in Turkish
Engdahl noted that Pamuk transmitted what he grasped as an Eastern figure to the readers in a Western style and method. Noting that in his novels, Pamuk reflected the double truths in his life and led his readers to a labyrinth of beliefs and stories through other cultures, Engdahl ended his speech with the invitation he made in Turkish to Pamuk to receive his prize. Taking the stage after the speech, Orhan Pamuk received the prize from the Swedish King Gustaf.
At the ceremony, the physics, chemistry, medicine and economy laureates also received their prizes. John Mather and George Smoot from the United States received the Physics prize, Roger D. Kornberg the chemistry prize, Andrew Fire and Craig Mello the medicine prize and Edmund S. Phelps the economy prize. In Oslo, Norway, Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammed Yunus, known as the father of the poor. The ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall was marked by tradition. A rehearsal was performed in the hall before the ceremony, during which the laureates were briefed about their seats and the ceremony. Following the prize ceremony, the Swedish King received about 1,300 guests at a dinner held in Stockholm City Hall.
The International Nobel Prize is given in honor of Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite, by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm to those who demonstrated a significant achievement in the fields of physics, chemistry, economy, medicine, literature, and world peace. The literature prize is given to the most successful work of a writer. The prize, awarded since 1901, is announced in October by the Swedish Academy. At a press conference on Oct. 12, the Academy announced that 2006 Nobel Literature Prize was given to Orhan Pamuk.
Pamuk to be part of Turkish curriculum
December 13, 2006
ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
Following his Nobel Prize win, Turkey's Instruction and Discipline Board head Irfan Erdoğan signaled that some of Orhan Pamuk's stories might appear in history, social studies and foreign language textbooks. A Pamuk story has never before appeared in a Turkish textbook, a tightly controlled entity that is governed by the Education Ministry.
In recent years, the cultural battles that have been played in Turkish politics and the media continue to influence the content of school textbooks, which is highly regulated by the state. Textbooks used in most schools exclude content about some of Turkey's largest religious and ethnic minority groups. Pamuk was put on trial in Turkey for referring to Armenians and Kurds, the very groups omitted in the curriculum. His writing is also well known for addressing the cultural and ethnic identity clashes that occur in this country.
Recognizing that Pamuk's identity as a Nobel Laureate makes him “from now on, a world literary figure,” Erdoğan asked, “Why shouldn't an Orhan Pamuk story appear in school textbooks if Faik Abasıyanık's ‘Simit and Çay' does.”
“In history chapters related to world civilizations, excerpts from “My Name is Red” especially could be included.”
December 13, 2006
It first started with interviews conducted by Hadi Uluengin and then Yasemin Çongar in the U.S. Then, most of our media followed suit. These days not a day passes by without a news piece about Pamuk. Pamuk arriving in Turkey; Pamuk waiting for his luggage at the airport or Pamuk leaving Turkey for Sweden. Even Pamuk paying his airport exit tax (just like every Turkish citizen has to) became worthy of the news. It appeared as if someone pushed on a button and asked our media to facilitate the rehabilitation of Orhan Pamuk in Turkish public opinion. With the exception of Hürriyet's Oktay Ekşi I could not see any comment that exhibited some honesty about what was going on.
Regardless of how hard Turkey's dominant media outlets try; in the eyes of most Turks Pamuk remains suspect. That is rightly so. Because, as Pamuk himself knows as well, his infamous comments to the Swiss Tagesanzeiger damaged Turkey's reputation considerably. I think Pamuk is a very creative writer. I have read some of his books and found them extremely good. The New Life was truly breathtaking for me. I remained under its influence for weeks. There is no doubt that his more recent books have helped attract more international interest in Istanbul and Turkey. He is also very successful in conveying the tensions felt by many Turkish intellectuals – the vagaries of a dual life between East and West. For all of these I have great respect for the man.
Yet, since his infamous remarks there is a shadow upon him, his work and his intellectual honesty. A shadow I most felt when he was on CNN Turk where he in a most apologetic manner repeatedly noted that he was “misunderstood”. I could not understand what he was trying to explain. After all, he claimed to be one of the few people in Turkey who “dared” to say that we killed one million Armenians and thirty thousand Kurds. I was truly perplexed. Admittedly, I would have had more respect for him if he had dared to tell us Turks as well what he had said to the Tagesanzeiger. Although I do not agree with him, at least he would have had exhibited some intellectual honesty and consistency.
I criticized Article 301 when it put the kinds of Elif Şafak and Orhan Pamuk in front of a court for what they said or wrote. To this day, such cases remain incompatible with our democracy and constitute embarrassing road blocks for our EU ambitions. Furthermore, we do not need court cases or articles in the penal code to win the argument on the Armenian issue. We will win this debate intellectually, not through court cases. We will continue to argue that the unfortunate events of 1915 can only be understood by putting them into a proper context. We will provide the intellectual evidence for the case that the losses were common during those existential days in the eastern front of World War I. Our own intellectual honesty will undoubtedly appreciate the tragic losses suffered by the Ottoman Armenians. We acknowledge that Anatolia's social fabric has yet to recover from the relocation of them to the southern provinces of the Empire. However, we also commemorate the losses of hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Muslims while defending their homeland against invading Russians and nationalist Armenians who genuinely believed they could set up an independent Armenia just like the Serbs and Bulgarians managed to do.
What is most distasteful about Pamuk is that to this day he does not seem to understand that his irresponsible comments did not help Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. On the contrary, they embellished the Armenian narrative and are being effectively used by those Armenians who believe that the only way to further their nationalist agendas is to force Turkey to recognize what they define as “genocide”. This is what is so offensive to us Turks. To those hundreds of thousands who have lost their loved ones in the eastern front. To those hundreds of thousands who were pushed out from every corner of the Ottoman Empire. To those who had to leave their lives, memories and properties in the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East. To those who were ruthlessly cleansed in Greece, Crete, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia, the Caucasus and could only find refuge in impoverished Anatolia. True, we were not able to narrate our tragic experiences effectively. We also failed to articulate the context and events of 1915 in a proper manner. Yet, that does not mean we have not experienced them.
What troubles me most is that Pamuk had no illusions about what his words meant and how controversial they could be. Watching his performance at the Nobel Academy he seems to have finally understood he has no place and credibility to talk about the Armenian issue. His repeated comments that he “belongs to Turkey” or “does not want to talk about politics” surely reflect newly acquired wisdom. It has dawned on him that when the dust settles he will dwell among millions of deeply offended Turks. No wonder he wants to bring his human side to the fore and is distancing himself from his infamous comments. However, the damage has been done and it will be extremely difficult for him to recover from this. Pamuk may have conquered the world of literature but in the eyes of the Turkish nation he will remain tainted with the shadow of his comments. In his Nobel lecture Pamuk referred to “patiently discovering our secret wounds”. While leaving him alone with his conscience it might be best for him to recognize the true extent of “our common wounds”.
Nobel Winner Orhan Pamuk Back Home From Sweden
December 14, 2006
Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, the winner of Nobel Prize in Literature for 2006, has returned from Stockholm, where he was awarded the prestigious prize on Sunday.
On Sunday, well-known novelist Orhan Pamuk received the coveted prize from the hands of Swedish King Gustaf XVI in a pompous ceremony held in Stockholm Concert Hall, becoming the first-ever Turk to be awarded the Nobel.
Renowned writer and novelist did not want a large and imposing welcoming ceremony for fear of provocations due to his previous remarks on so-called Armenian genocide, which angered some nationalist circles.
Pamuk arrived in Istanbul via Munich late on Wednesday. He was welcomed by Ataturk Airport personnel and presented a bunch of flowers while passengers in the terminal applauded and took pictures of him.
In a brief statement at the airport, Pamuk told reporters that the prize was a big honor both for him and for Turkey. "I received this prize not for myself only but I did for Turkish literature", he remarked.
"This award was given to Turkey, the Turkish culture and the Turkish language in which I have been swimming like a fish for years," he noted, adding that he was little tired but happy.
Pamuk greeted with applause, flowers as he returns home
December 15, 2006
'This award was given to Turkey, the Turkish culture and the Turkish language in which I have been swimming like a fish for years,' he says
ISTANBUL - AFP
Orhan Pamuk, the winner of the 2006 Nobel Literature prize, flew back home late on Wednesday amid tight security against possible demonstrations over his dissident views on the killings of Armenians under Ottoman rule, the Turkish media reported on Thursday.
Dozens of riot police were deployed at Istanbul's Atatürk Airport for Pamuk's arrival after a nationalist television station urged Turks to denounce the writer at the airport with Turkish flags. But there were no security incidents. On the contrary, Pamuk was greeted with flowers while passengers in the terminal applauded and took pictures of him.
"I am a little tired but very happy," a smiling Pamuk told reporters.
"This award was given to Turkey, the Turkish culture and the Turkish language in which I have been swimming like a fish for years," he added.
The 54-year-old Pamuk won the reputation of a "traitor" among nationalist circles and stood trial on charges of "insulting Turkishness" when he told a Swiss magazine last year that "one million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in these lands."
His remarks were widely seen as an acknowledgement that the Ottoman Turks committed genocide against Armenians during World War I, a charge that Ankara fiercely rejects.
The court case against Pamuk, in which he risked up to three years in jail, was dropped on a technicality in January.
The celebration of Pamuk's award at home was overshadowed by skeptics who argued that the author won the favors of the West not for his literary skills but for his vocal criticism of his country.
Pamuk was in the United States when it was announced in October that he won the 2006 literature prize.
He came back briefly to his home town Istanbul before Sunday's awards ceremony in Stockholm, and was greeted with indifference, going through the airport like an ordinary passenger.