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Friday, December 22, 2006

Orhan Pamuk - I give up...

The Black Book has been lying beside me forever, unfinished, and finished it will never be, at least not in the near future. Pamuk, the Turkish author, has been winning prizes right, left and centre in recent years. I am not sure whether some of those awards have not also been very slightly influenced by his political stance, for example vis a vis the Armenian genocide where he suggested that Turkey begins to accept that it happened. For this and other utterances he landed in court (for something like 'defaming the Turkish nation'), though the last court case was thrown out. The reason why I have so many books by him is that I like reading books by international authors, and at least in one case, when Prague Airport lost my suitcase, this was one of the few books by a known author I could find at Istanbul Airport.

I have read or half-read quite a few of his books, and another one is still waiting to be read (though, note, not in my list of 5 books to finish before the end of January). All his books are very beautifully crafted, very descriptive, and describing in great detail the fullness of all the mental processes undergone by the protagonists. I finished 'Snow', a book set in very rural Turkey which is visited by a Turkish writer living in Germany, and which is cut off for three days by a snow storm. In these days all hell breaks loose, between the more modern Turks and those who insist on girls wearing headscarves. There are a number of deaths, a theatre is taken over by gunmen, and a love story also drifts through the book (all his books, it seems). It is a very gripping book but like all his books very slow moving; you'd really want to have a lot of time to spend on it, and preferably no other distractions whilst doing so.

The New Life, which I almost finished, is about a young student from Istanbul who gets hold of a book which totally changes his life. He keeps reading and rereading it, trying to work out what it is telling him. After a fleeting meeting with the author, who then disappears, our hero falls in love with the author's girlfriend, who also disappears. He abandons his studies, and travels all over Turkey on rickety buses, preferably at night, looking for these two people. In this process he keeps being involved in accidents with deaths, where he finds a certain beauty in the corpses of young women. (Not sure how he finances these trips - maybe by stealing from the corpses??) Then he finds the young woman and they take on the identities of a couple, killed in one of these crashes, get involved in a strange conference and so it goes on and on. Very complex.

The Black Book, which I will not finish now, is about a guy, Galip, in Istanbul who comes home one day to find his wife missing. He is part of a large extended family but pretends to them, and anyone else, that she is away, at home sick or in another way indisposed. He finds that his uncle, a famous newspaper columnist is missing, too. He walks and travels all over Istanbul trying to find them. In the process he takes on the identity of the uncle even to the degree that he starts to live in the uncle's flat and he gets involved with a British TV crew as the uncle. The chapters dealing with Galip are interspersed with the newspaper columns written by the uncle, which remarkably, are very relevant to the turn of the story ('turn' is too active a word, 'meander' is better). Apparently the neighbourhood described by Pamuk closely resembles that where he grew up; in the westernised part of Istanbul.

All his books are very very complex, very very dense, and so quite hard work. Also if you put them down, they might be hard to pick up again after a while. Perhaps they can be described as slow-burning thrillers? As a reader, one wishes to move on to the next bit of activity, but gets caught up in the intricate details of the persons' thought processes instead. They might be good reading if you are trapped somewhere; the density of words per page is quite high, so they would keep you occupied for a while.

2 comments:

varske said...

I liked Snow which I read on a beach in Tunisia. A bit weird when you looked up, as reading the book is definitely an intense experience. Now I'm stuck in his "Istanbul". Not sure it's not because the old black and white photos are not really evocative enough if you have not been there.

violainvilnius said...

While I was writing the review I was thinking - I am sure he won a really big prize - and indeed he did, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize....