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Orhan Pamuk: The Black Book

Discussion in 'Fiction Books' started by beer good, Nov 19, 2006.

  1. beer good

    beer good Well-Known Member

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    The Black Book, Orhan Pamuk.

    Now this was one bewildering read. It took me a while to get through, not because I disliked it but simply because it's hard work; it's impossible to browse through this book, you really have to focus. On one level, it's a detective story of a man searching for his wife and her half-brother who have mysteriously disappeared but are sure to be hiding somewhere in Istanbul. Much like in Eco's mysteries, the story isn't centered so much around finding clues as HOW we find and interpret clues - in fact, much of this novel seems to be about reading reality like a book, or alternatively how reality doesn't exist until we turn it into stories. Schrodinger's cat, I guess: nothing is fact until it is observed as fact. Or fiction, as it may be.

    Then there are themes. History, identity etc. If I have any major complaint with the book, it would be that the identity theme is way too obviously done, each single character (if in fact - or fiction - there is more than one character narrating the book) going off on lengthy diatribes about how one becomes oneself or someone else (which may be the same thing). It pays off at the end, but after a while you do get a little bit tired of reading the phrase "to become someone else".

    Though that's a large part of the narrative as well. Characters change names and roles like in a Lynch movie, and the plot, if indeed there is a plot, is hidden under - or perhaps simply made up of - lots of anecdotes, side plots, the lives of historical figures etc, all of which do tend to contribute, but it doesn't exactly make it easier to follow. Then again, storytelling itself is a large part of novel; the nature of storytelling, the purpose of it, the dangers of it, the benefits. It's a work of literature about literature. And as such, perhaps a tad too meta at times, though I can't say I don't like it.

    There's one passage towards the end which really pinpoints what I believe Pamuk is going for in his constant examination of literature/storytelling both as a way of describing reality and creating it. Two painters are hired to paint two opposing walls in a whorehouse. A drape is put up between them so they can't se what the other is doing. After six months, the drape is removed and it turns out one has created a beautifully realistic painting of bustling downtown Istanbul; the other has simply covered his wall with a mirror, creating a perfect copy of the opposing wall. But as people look in the mirror and see themselves in front of the painting of Istanbul, they see the dogs in it bark, the water start to actually flow, the street vendors actually move. The copy has, by observation and tricks of the light, become something more. Not sure I'm phrasing this right, but it works, damnit, it works.

    Pamuk is a very descriptive writer, which is part of the reason the book doesn't really suffer even though it's 512 pages of very little actually happening. If you like Eco and Calvino, you'll probably like this. If you want murders, sordid love affairs, car chases and, you know, PLOT (though there are murders, love affairs, car chases etc in the book) you might tend to get lost somewhere in it. If you hate postmodernism, you'll end up throwing it at the wall. But it's a mind-boggling, boundary-deleting novel and I really liked it, even if it gave me a headache or two. 4/5.
     
  2. stellanor

    stellanor New Member

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    glad to hear somebody likes OP as much as I do... I agree 100% with you about the Black Book. I also think 'Snow' and 'My name is red' are great. I particularly enjoyed 'Snow''s structure, because Pamuk took a great risk with it - that of being too literal, too naively symbolic. But he pulled it off and the result is brilliant, it seems he's one of the few who really has the courage to state the crucial importance of literature and art - he's not playing around, he's not an amateur, he seems to be very serious about his job. And he does this without losing his irony!
    It's true, he's pretty young, but I think he deserved the Nobel prize for his intellectual courage - I don't mean his political courage, the turkish affair and all that- but because he is poetic where other are ridiculous or cheesy. You read him, and think he's the best reason for admitting turkey in the UE. He's the best ambassador ever for this rich, layered and fascinating culture - take for example 'My name is red' and one of its themes, eastern miniaturists meeting the late renaissance...an amazingly modern situation that speaks volumes about Turkey's history.
     
  3. Yonilokatan

    Yonilokatan New Member

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    Orhan Pamuk is quite excellent as a writer. However, I found the Black Book, though excellently written, difficult to read in Maureen Freeley's translation. Is there another translation currently in publication?
     
  4. beer good

    beer good Well-Known Member

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    There's a previous translation by Guneli Gun that came out in the mid-90s. I couldn't say anything about the pros and cons of the two translations, but I know that Pamuk (who speaks fluent English) and Freely work very closely together on her translations, so supposedly that's the one that's closest to Pamuk's intentions...
     
  5. silverseason

    silverseason New Member

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    Snow

    I have just finished rereading Snow. I read it the first time over a year ago, mostly out of curiosity about a Nobel prize winner. Many scenes from the book stayed with me, but I found the length and the many characters somewhat wearying.

    This time around - the reread was for my book group - I like it much better. The themes of snow, exile, love, expectation of unhappiness worked better, probably because I was less concerned with what would happen next, the outcome. I note that Pamuk several times reduces the suspense by letting you know the result before the scene is played.

    As a picture of Turkey it is fascinating and one can see why the Turks did not (do not) like it.

    I have a copy of Istanbul which I haven't started yet. Has anyone here read it?
     
  6. blackfootyankee

    blackfootyankee New Member

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    I am a third of the way through My Name Is Red now and like Snow I am loving it.
     
  7. blackfootyankee

    blackfootyankee New Member

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    Are all of Orhan Pamuk's novels metafictional? Thank you.
     
  8. blackfootyankee

    blackfootyankee New Member

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    A new Pamuk novel is out: Here.
     

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