The Pamuk Within Orhan
By Ali Ünal | Thursday, October 30, 2014
By Ali Ünal
Thursday, October 30, 2014
“A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him,” wrote Orhan Pamuk in his magnificent Nobel lecture. Upon close reading of his books, one could easily rewrite this confession as: “An Orhan is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the Pamuk inside him.” Of course Orhan Pamuk is not the first Turkish author to deal with inner dualities. But no other fiction writer has spent so much energy exploring the connections between his own internal fissures and Turkey’s fraught national identity.
Orhan Pamuk’s search for his second being began with Cevdet Bey and His Sons, his first book from a rather traditional vein where we are introduced to a modern Turkish family lifestyle spread across three generations in Nişantaşı―a wealthy neighborhood in İstanbul. Following this semi-autobiographical bildungsroman, he embarked on his substantial odyssey with what would be his magnum opus, The Black Book. In his search for his missing wife Rüya and his also missing cousin, famous columnist Celâl, our protagonist Galip sets out on a journey throughout İstanbul only to find what he had never looked for―a bleak desire to be someone else and a different face for the city he lives in. Identity subtext is never more intricate in Pamuk’s other works than it is in The Black Book. The reader is made aware of this gendarmerie of a writer―Mr. Pamuk himself―who seems to be the one overseeing the struggles of his characters and his city for identity from above as well as keenly waiting, arms wide open, for the answers that are unknown even to himself. This is Orhan Pamuk’s ever expanding spiral as a writer.
In all of these works he tries to understand that nameless entity inside him. And after each attempt, he climbs down from his post, sits in his chair, face to face with all these Pamuks—Celâls, Galips, Elegant Effendis, Osmans, Kas, Kemals—and feels less complete than content. They all look and smile empathetically at Orhan, who grasps the pen one more time in The New Life: “One day I had read a book and all my life has changed.”
As Orhan Pamuk keeps writing, he continues to create his own bridge between himself and his other self. Both The Seer and The Seen. At the same time, Turkey, this imposing geographical providence that not only defines its political agenda and social tensions but also continues to write its own identity crisis, one that creates the deepest cracks in individuals’ identity. Eventually readers of the novels and the country will realize that such fissures are uncrossable, which is of course what Pamuk has known all along. The country within country, the Pamuk within Orhan, will forever be complete in their incompletion.
Celebrated author and Nobel Laureate, Orhan Pamuk, visited UMass for the 2014 Troy Lecture. Receiving international acclaim for his literary work, his writing has been into 61 languages. In 2006, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the second youngest person to receive the award in its history.
Ali Ünal is a current MFA student at UMass Amherst