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Beautiful woman is thwarted by male-dominated Turkish society
on December 20, 2013
This is an enjoyable read that is very smoothly narrated, with an easy-going quality. The story is divided into numerous small segments that serve well as digestible bite-size chunks, each one a temptation to read the next. Structurally it is also flawed, however- it drags on too long and could be improved by the ommission of four or five chapters of extraneous detail that go nowhere and contribute little to the plot. The author documents every detail of Turkish domestic life in the 1970's with the zeal of a curator, but goes slightly overboard. Despite this he manages to hold the tension right through to the final denouement, with his appealing and delightful evocation of romantic feeling.
The tragic ending is far too predictable though, and it follows an age-old literary pattern: love is elusive, brief and crowned by death. For once it would have been so much more satisfying to let love continue into old age.
Pamuk parodies lovesickness and the cult of virginity to ridiculous levels. We are expected to believe that a wealthy and succesful 30 yr old man would obsess to the point of pursuing his lost love for 8 years without even a hint of reciprocation or encouragement from her; that he is ecstatic to ceremoniously rub himself down in the hint of scent lingering on her discarded cigarette butts; we are asked to accept that she spends 8 years in a marriage that is never consummated.
Given that Pamuk humorously chooses to resort to such an unoriginal formula, it strikes me that we are probably being asked to view this tale in light of its wider concepts. The heroine Fusun, while adorable, is essentially a powerless figure. Her charm lies in her non-threatening girlish cuteness, her attractiveness in the somewhat inept lack of threat she presents to the patriarchy. Reliant on her looks and the favours of men to get ahead, she is also continually trapped, hampered and subtly controlled by men. In a male-dominated society still repressed by islamic tradition, she can find no way to self-development, self-expression or self-realisation. Her only escape, therefore, her only means of taking control of her own life, is ultimately suicide, and that becomes the most powerful action she undertakes.
Despite the absurd review from the Washington post on the front cover "with this book he literally puts love in our hands!"- this book does not depict love, but selfish obsession. The protagonist, Kemal, lives entirely for his own gratification and never puts the interests of his "beloved" first. A self-absorbed and pampered young man from a priveleged background, he never really gains the readers sympathy and while much of the intimacy is touchingly worded, it still reads like a parody of a sixteenth century chivalric romance. Ultimately Fusun is objectified for her beauty and in the final pages there is a strong sense of her being just another trophy, a prized possesion to be collected and looked at. It is almost as if the author is unaware of having created this final impression.