Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk said he is not a political person but can’t ignore politics totally as the situation in Turkey is “terrible” and there’s “little respect for free speech”. In an email interview to reporters, the 2006 Nobel Prize winner for Literature talks about a number of things – his new book “The Red-Haired Woman”, a riveting story set in mid-1980s Turkey of a well-digger father-son duo; myths and relationships. He also feels he is a happier writer now than nine novels ago. “I am not the same person all the time.” He wants people to remember him as a story teller “who would entertain you with good stories and make you feel deep in the world”.
“I am essentially not a political man, I would be happy to avoid politics. On the other hand, the political situation in Turkey is terrible and one feels a moral responsibility,” he said. “We are not a European democracy at all but an electoral democracy where there is little respect for free speech… The judges are also controlled by the government… And with this newly-approved constitution, whoever wins the elections and is in power – leftist or rightist it does not matter – must behave like an autocrat,” Pamuk said.
“Thirteen thousand people were fired from their jobs last year after the failed and terrible military coup, 40,000 people were imprisoned for political reasons – a lot of them professors and intellectuals critical of the government,” he goes on to add. He also says that authorities are building new prisons all the time. “And since there is no available space in prisons anymore, there were various unannounced amnesties – freeing regular convicts to prepare empty prison space for the political new comers.”
Of late, Turkey has been witness to a political upheaval. Last year, there was an attempted coup with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blaming it on a movement led by that country’s Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen, who is now based in the US. In April, Erdogan won a crucial referendum for a new constitution that aims to grant him supreme powers. He is accused of clipping the wings of the Army, sacking hundreds of government employees, closing down many colleges, universities and schools, revoking licences of radio and TV channels and arresting scores of journalists. Pamuk’s new book, however, talks mostly of father-son relationship and normal life in Turkey.
“The story I tell is a fictional comparison between two foundational myths of Western and Islamic civilisations about fathers and sons. One is Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus the King’ (parricide – killing of the father) and the other Persian Ferdowsi’s story ‘Rostam and Sohrab’ (filicide – killing of son by father). “I relate Oedipus’ murder and our understanding of it today to ‘European individualism’ and Rostam’s killing of his son and the legitimisation of it to ‘Eastern authoritarianism’,” he said.
According to Pamuk, every educated Ottoman knew Ferdowsi’s “Shahname: The Book of Kings” and Rostam’s story but it was all forgotten after mid-19th century when Ottoman and Turkish literary models were taken from Europe and not from Persia anymore. “But it came back in disguise in popular melodramatic Turkish films, in our daily expressions and language, in paintings etc. Gustav Jung called these collective unconscious symbols and stories ‘archetypes’.
“In ‘Red Headed Women’, archetypes form a part of the intellectual texture of the detective story. Let’s not forget that Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus Rex’ is also a political detective story where the son tries to understand who killed his father,” he said. Pamuk is famous for his novels such as “My Name is Red”, “A Strangeness in My Mind” and “Museum of Innocence” and memoir “Istanbul”.