Sunday, June 8, 2008

Orhan Pamuk and his evocative novels

Turkey is located geographically right in the middle of two great continents, Europe that lies west of the Straits of Bosporus's and the vast Asian lands to the east. Such a location is not without its obvious difficulties, a cultural confusion noted right from the days of Herodotus is only one obvious problem. Turkey aspires to join the European Union and as such has to meet certain exacting standards of human rights, judicial due process, political and intellectual freedom etc. This bill of political freedoms in an Islamic country itself is an anomaly. And yet Turkey in spite of rising time of Islamic fundamentalism and even al Qaeda inspired terrorism has proved to be a stable and vibrant society. The Nobel Prize for literature has gone to a Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk who seems to represent both the grand historical past of the Ottomans and the contemporary angst in his writings. Most critics would argue that Orhan Pamuk is a post modernist in that he experiments with different structures of time and narrative in his novels. We can even speculate about Pamuk's questioning of the Turkish identity of present day Turkey. He has won my admiration for the courage he displayed in publicly calling upon the Turkish state to acknowledge the Armenian Massacre that took place in the first decade of the 20Th century.Pamuk unlike western liberals who blame Islam for all the ills of present day society. He denounces quite vehemently all those who preach islamophobia in the name of spreading democracy. I will quote a passage from his writings to illustrate the point;It is neither Islam nor even poverty itself that engenders support for terrorists whose ferocity and ingenuity are unprecedented in human history; it is, rather, the crushing humiliation that has infected Third World countries. And for this the west has to be held responsible because it has failed to comprehend the shame and the humiliation that has fallen on the poorer nations. Hot-headed military operations and war swill only take us away from the order of peace.This sentence sums up all that is wrong with the policy of powerful nations against Islamic countries. Pamuk has spoken strongly in favor of intellectual and cultural freedom in Turkey and was even prosecuted for the crime of insulting "Turkish Identity". He regards the writers primary objective as being the unpacking of all that a culture refuses to talk about. A clinical examination of the sites of silence in any given society. Politics of civil liberty and unrelenting questioning of the staus quo are the credo of Pamuk's writing.His writing is aimed at the so called public sphere constituting civil society and he does believe strongly in the tranformative nature of good writing.The book that I enjoyed the most was one of Pamuk's earliest novels, My Name is Red.It is set in the dark days of the Ottoman Empire when Istanbul was the cultural capital of ASIA.The novel attempts an exploration of the subjective world through the experiences of a range of characters,Stork, Butterfly, Olive and Esther.The miniaturist and his world are etched out in a manner that suggests that Pamuk is quite familiar with the mentalities approach of the French Annalist es.

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