The author began this year facing prison, and ends it a Nobel laureate. Here he discusses his artistic development, his country's future, and the benefits of having both a western and eastern soulby prospect / December 16, 2006 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2006 issue of Prospect Magazine
Orhan Pamuk was born in 1952 in Istanbul, where he still lives. His family made a fortune in railroad construction during the early days of the Turkish republic, and Pamuk attended Robert College, where the children of the city’s elite received a western-style education. Early in life he developed a passion for the visual arts, but while at college studying architecture he decided he wanted to write. He is now Turkey’s most widely read literary author.
His first novel, Cevdet Bey and His Sons, was published in 1982. It was followed by The Silent House (1983), The White Castle (1985; his first book translated into English, in 1990), The Black Book (1990; translated 1994 and again in 2006) and The New Life (1994; translated 1997). Then, in 1998 (translated 2001) came My Name is Red, a murder mystery set in 16th-century Istanbul and narrated by multiple voices, which in 2003 won the international Impac Dublin literary award. The novel explores themes central to Pamuk’s fiction: the intricacies of identity in a country that straddles east and west, sibling rivalry, the existence of doubles, the value of beauty and originality, and the anxiety of cultural influence. Snow (2002, translated 2004) was the first of Pamuk’s novels to confront political extremism in contemporary Turkey, and it confirmed his standing abroad even as it divided opinion at home. Pamuk’s most recent book is Istanbul: Memories and the City (2003, translated 2005), a double portrait of himself in childhood and youth, and of the place he comes from.
This interview was conducted last year over two sessions in London, with clarifications discussed by correspondence. In February, two months before the second session, Pamuk had declared in an interview with the Swiss newspaper Der Tages-Anzeiger, “30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it.” Since the Turkish government persists in denying the 1915 genocidal slaughter of Armenians in Turkey, and has imposed laws restricting discussion of the ongoing Kurdish conflict, Pamuk’s remarks set off a campaign against him in the nationalist press.