Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk: The Writer in His Novels (Utah Series in Turkish and Islamic Stud) 1st Edition
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"Very readable...includes interesting information about Pamuk, reflections of himself in his books, the intertextual dialogues between his books, references to Western literature in Pamuk’s works, and the impact of the translator and the importance of translation."—Roberta Metcalf, Boston University
About the Author
- Publisher : University of Utah Press; 1st edition (June 6, 2008)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 213 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0874809304
- ISBN-13 : 978-0874809305
- Reading age : 18 years and up
- Item Weight : 1.04 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #5,183,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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ORHAN PAMUK, DECODED
by HUGH POPE*
"Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk: The Writer in His Novels," By Michael McGaha, University of Utah Press, 2008, 199 pages, Introduction, Footnotes, Bibliography, Index.
The "Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk" is one of the best introductions yet to the works of Turkey's most famous author. This literary and biographical companion provides encouragement for those confounded by the many complexities conjured up by the 2006 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Michael McGaha untangles the way Pamuk weaves his own life into almost every story, gives critical accounts of all his major works and manages to teach the reader much about the history of modern Turkey as well.
At the end of this succinct and compelling analysis -- the text is just 180 pages long -- the reader feels in command of the content of Pamuk's books, how Pamuk wrote them, what Pamuk says he intended and what critics in Turkey and elsewhere say they think Pamuk really meant. With respectful but forensic skill, McGaha, a veteran professor of Spanish literature at California's Pomona College, picks apart controversies surrounding the author's political statements and his choice of translators. Above all, he has managed this with an admirable clarity, precision and lightness of touch.
Chapter 1 sets the scene with a well-researched account of the political row in 2005 that propelled Pamuk into the world news and direct conflict with right-wing nationalists and a part of the Turkish establishment. (McGaha shows that, before being translated back and forth between English, German and Turkish, Pamuk's original comment was probably: "Thirty thousand Kurds were killed here. And a million Armenians. Hardly anyone dares mention it. So I do. And that's why they hate me." This turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the outpouring of vitriol against Pamuk in Turkey was shocking, not to mention threats on his life. A top columnist called Pamuk a "miserable creature," another said, "He wants to tell the world how horrible Turkey and the Turkish people are." Legal charges followed, but were later dropped, for "insulting Turkishness.")
The second half of the first chapter introduces Pamuk's family, part of which came from the Caucasus during the Russian-Ottoman wars in the late 19th century. His paternal grandfather, an engineer, made a fortune in the 1920s republican railway building. His father had mixed success as a businessman, but was on occasion a chief executive of IBM in Turkey, Koç family companies and state industries. Pamuk was born in 1952. Pamuk says his father, an avid reader, collector of poetry and intellectual, "projected into my spirit the idea that being an artist is a good thing."
The class clown and mimic at school, Pamuk wanted to be a painter. His parents persuaded him to study architecture instead, but after two years he lost interest in the idea of building more of the soulless apartment blocks that were devastating his native city. He decided to become a writer and enrolled in journalism school, graduating in 1977.
After six months of trying poetry, he chose the novel. In 1979, while still living at home with his mother, the manuscript of his first book won the equivalent to a top prize in a Milliyet newspaper competition. He never looked back.
"Cevdet Bey and His Sons" (1982), his first novel, is modeled on three generations of his father's family, who lived in a grand stone mansion in 'stanbul's Ni'anta'' neighborhood and then in an apartment block they built on a plot next door. His second book, "Silent House" (1983), set in a summer house like the one where Pamuk spent his wilder student days as part of a privileged set with fast cars and speedboats, portrays the 1970s conflict between the right-wing and left-wing extremists. Next was "The White Castle" (1985), set in the 17th century, a sophisticated doppelganger story about an Ottoman astrologer and his look-alike Western slave. Pamuk said it took its emotional mainspring from his jealous rivalry with his brother 'evket, and from his sense of being on the margins of Europe. It represents his insistence on "saying no, I am at the center."
Pamuk spent the next three years in New York, where he wrote "The Black Book" (1990), which reflects his discovery there of a love for the classics of Turkish, Persian and Arabic literature. Then came "The New Life" (1994), which McGaha judges as his weakest, uncharacteristically full of "fuzzy, neo-romantic unruliness ... marred by an excess of cleverness that unsuccessfully seeks to mask the author's self-absorption and self-pity."
This cleared the way, however, for "My Name is Red" (1998). A murder mystery set among Ottoman miniaturists that "radiates joy," McGaha here finds the would-be painter at the top of his form. The book also portrays Pamuk's "most vivid" female character, a woman based so closely on his mother that Pamuk gave her his mother's name and called her sons 'evket and Orhan. Then came "Snow" (2002), an easier political novel in which Pamuk says he tries to "destroy the clichés" in its portrayal of a secularist coup and an Islamist rebel. After that, he produced "'stanbul: Memories and the City" (2003). The melancholy memoir pushed Pamuk's principle of honest beauty over privacy so far that it distressed his aged mother and his brother broke relations with him for a while. Pamuk's latest novel, "The Museum of Innocence" (2008), was published after McGaha's companion went to press.
Throughout, McGaha shows that all Pamuk's works contain at least one character that stands for the author himself, and often one or more other members of his family. Pamuk "ransacked" world literature for ideas and techniques, many of which McGaha deftly points out in his commentaries -- from Miguel de Cervantes' "Don Quixote" in "The White Castle" to Rumi's Persian-language "Mesnevi," Sheikh Galip's "Ottoman Beauty and Love" and James Joyce's "Ulysses" in "The Black Book." With his work, Pamuk succeeded both in igniting mass literary interest in the notoriously book-shy Turks, and, with translations in about 50 languages, also to make a wide international public aware of specifically Turkish issues: hesitation between East and West, friction and overlap between Christianity and Islam and the pain of being an under-appreciated, developing country that only recently lost a grand imperial past.
McGaha points out that while some critics see Pamuk as excessively obscure, pedantic or lengthy, others note that long, rambling sentences are mainly a feature of the "The Black Book" and are a deliberate device; Pamuk says he uses them to reflect the complexity of 'stanbul. McGaha tellingly compares the work of the four translators who have worked on Pamuk's books. Notably, he defends America-based Güneli Gün's "absolutely superb" translation of "The Black Book." Criticism was a British reaction, he says, and Gün's sin was to reflect faithfully Pamuk's own new anecdotal voice. A subsequent translation by novelist Maureen Freely was free of American idiom but "less accurate and less readable." (Gün's translation won a worst translation prize in Britain, but a best prize in the US.)
Perhaps the translation controversy is something of a proxy for people's frustration with a deliberately difficult writer. "The Black Book," for instance, seems to be a detective story, but McGaha shows that it is also a deliberately Sufi-inspired mystical mystery without a solution. One critic believes readers should approach Pamuk as one might do an encyclopedia or a puzzle. Or as McGaha says, "`The Black Book' is itself opaque; it is a mistake to try to make it transparent."
Prepared by McGaha's indispensable introduction, ordinary readers will feel inspired to explore the many facets of Orhan Pamuk's world.
*Hugh Pope is an author of books on the Turks and the forthcoming "Dining with al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East." This article was originally published in the current edition of Insight Turkey.