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Meet the author: Orhan Pamuk remains “a storyteller first”

October 26, 2009

pamuk0508Orhan Pamuk, the first Turkish writer to receive the Nobel Prize, is the most distinguished among many well-honored international writers scheduled for the Miami Book Fair International (Nov. 8-15). But winning the big prize hasn’t blunted his pen, according to early reviews for his new novel, The Museum of Innocence.

As Karen Long writes in yesterday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Jane Austen would approve” of his way with scene and character in The Museum of Innocence, the story of the rich, dissolute scion of a Westernized Istanbul family and his illicit obsession with a poor, ambitious young woman.

“Pamuk is brilliant at the human parade,” writes Long, “and especially at humiliation in its masculine forms, frequently played out in Istanbul along East-West tensions.”

Last week The Los Angeles Times‘ Tim Rutten praised Pamuk’s new novel in the highest terms: “The Museum of Innocence deeply and compellingly explores the interplay between erotic obsession and sentimentality — and never once slips into the sentimental. There is a master at work in this book.”

For an excerpt from The Museum of Innocence, visit The New Yorker.

At 57, Pamuk already has a considerable body of work behind him, including his breakout novel (in the West, anyway), The White Castle (1985), and his two most popular novels, My Name is Red and Snow (2004).

Pamuk is that rare literary novelist who also enjoys a large following of devoted readers, partly because his books, though sometimes challenging, always provide rich storytelling pleasures. He is often likened to Garbriel Garcia Marquez in this regard. As a result, he is not only Turkey’s most honored literary novelist, he’s also its top best seller.

Pamuk himself grew up in an affluent, Westernized Istanbul family. He is sometimes cited as a cultural and political “bridge” between East and West — a designation he rejects.

“Bridge is a cliche imposed on me just because I’m a Turk and of course the first thing everyone says about Turkey is that it’s between east and west,” Pamuk recently told the German broadcasting network Deutsche Welle. “That kind of political representation or agenda — I don’t have that. I am essentially a literary person, who writes stories. Yes, in my books there is also a philosophical side. I’m an essayist, I also make judgments about cultures, politics, but essentially I am a storyteller first, and mainly of stories about people.”

Pamuk found himself cast into a role of “political representation” in 2005, when he was threatened with prison under new laws making it a crime to “insult the Republic or the Turkish Grand Nationalist Assembly.” Pamuk had made statements that Turkish historians should stop denying the genocide of Armenians and Kurds.

The charges were dropped after an international outcry, led by writers such as Marquez, John Updike, Jose Saramago,Gunter Grass, Umberto Eco and others.

Today, Pamuk says the most political thing a writer can do is write.

“A novelist’s politics arise from his imagination — his ability to imagine himself as someone else,” he said in a 2007 speech at Georgetown University, as reported by The Washington Post. This “makes him a spokesman for those who cannot speak for themselves, whose anger is never heard and whose words are suppressed.”

Novels, Pamuk believes, offer the best hope of meeting and understanding people different from us.

“Obviously we cannot hope to come to grips with matters this deep merely by reading newspapers and magazines or by watching television.”

An Evening With Orhan Pamuk, Fri., Nov. 13, 7:30 p.m., at the downtown Wolfson Campus of Miami Dade College, 300 NE 2nd Ave, Miami. Tickets: $10.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. rachel permalink
    October 26, 2009 2:55 pm

    “Novels, Pamuk believes, offer the best hope of meeting and understanding people different from us.”

    I agree with this statement. I know it isn’t always right, and that even if it is it is just a small representation of a culture different from my own, but I always feel that books bring me into them. And that is how I have any sort of understanding about other parts of the world that I have not experienced and time periods that I have not lived through. I know that actually going and visiting, or better yet living in, a place that I have read about will alter the perception I have of that place and not fit my imagined view exactly, but it does give me some sort of idea. And books seem to do that even better than television shows or movies. I mean, visual media is really good at showing what people wear and the scenery, but to really feel like I am in a place, like I am experiencing the feelings of someone else…for that I have to pick up a book.

    Thanks Chauncey Mabe for another great article. Now I’ll have to put Pamuk on my reading list.

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    October 26, 2009 5:17 pm

    Yer welcome, ma’am. Just doin’ my job.

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