Thursday, October 12, 2006

Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk has won the Nobel Prize for literature. He is well deserving of the prize. When his name was floated last year, the committee didn't go near him and I believe that was so as not to appear too political. At the time Pamuk was facing trial in Turkey for "insulting Turkishness". He was freed from that charge. This year he wins the prize.

Good for him and good for literature. His body of work is well deserving of the prize. My Name Is Red, The Black Book, and Snow are my favorites. Pamuk's command of language and it's lyricism are coupled in his books with themes both personal and large. In My Name Is Red, he mixes mystery and romance with discussions of Western and Eastern perspectives in the arts and philosophy. In The Black Book, Pamuk mixes a mystery with a meditation on identity in a way that recalls similar explorations by Kafka. Snow is Pamuk's only explicitly political novel in which a poet, exiled in Germany, returns to Turkey and through a series of events finds himself in a snow-bound city as a political coup takes place to stem the tide of local religious/political fundamentalists. It weaves romance and mystery into it's tale as well as it discusses the various factions which make up and tear at the social fabric of Turkish life.

In all of these books, Pamuk puts at the forefront his Turkish identity. As he notes in his book Istanbul (by turns a description of the city he loves and lives in as well as an autobiography) his books and his view has a certain hüzün, or "romantic melancholy" to them. His characters are infused with it. At one moment they are filled with excitement and joy and the next they are drowning their sorrows in alcohol at a cafe and eating desserts. A certain detachments in their views of the world can be suddenly turned around with a joyful emotion filling their own hearts. In other words, they are thoroughly human and normal and just like you and I, if we're to be honest about ourselves.

Seek out his books and read them. You will not be disappointed.

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