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Pamuk takes city to an Ottoman coffee house

Before Orhan Pamuk reads out a chapter from My Name is Red,he asks the audience to shut their eyes and imagine.

Written by Alaka Sahani | Mumbai |
March 6, 2009 2:56:03 am

Before Orhan Pamuk reads out a chapter from My Name is Red,he asks the audience to shut their eyes and imagine. As he starts reading from the International IMPAC Award-winning book — set in 16th century Istanbul — it seems necessary to follow his suggestion,for he transports the audience to an Ottoman coffee house. There,a picture storyteller is narrating the seven-year journey of a 22-carat Sultani Ottoman gold coin in first person,only to confess soon after that it’s a counterfeit coin.

This episode — steeped in history and laced with humour — set the mood for a reading and interactive session with the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006,on Thursday evening in the city. Pamuk is not known to be an easy-to-read author. However,with a quick smile,a fine sense of humour and genuine replies,he came across as an easy person.

The Nobel laureate,who in 2006 faced criminal charges for his outspoken comments on the Armenian genocide,tells the audience,“It’s now my past. It doesn’t trouble me as much as the chances of Turkey’s entry into the European Union. The conservative Germany,France and the authoritarians in Turkey are resisting it.”

Being a victim of Turkish nationalism,he gained the status of one of Turkey’s most loved and hated writers. But that might be changing now as the critics in his country love his new book,The Museum of Innocence. This love story,spanning 25 years,takes the shape of a 600-page tome. His newest novel,which had an August release in his homeland,will be hitting the bookstands in the UK in mid-September and the US in November — a veritable proof of the author’s universal appeal. He has always based his stories in Turkey — with lots of its history,culture and politics permeating the narrative. This hasn’t stopped his writings from being translated in 55 languages. “I write novels for people across the world,” he says.

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Some of the recurring themes of his novels are the clash of civilisations with Turkey caught between the East and the West. Along with it runs the search for identity and the changing culture. But it’s the quest for “the meaning of human life” that spurs him to write novels,though the characters are often found facing these issues.

The celebratory status for Pamuk,who dropped out of a course in architecture to become a writer,came about in the ‘90s.

He had to struggle to find a publisher for his first book,after devoting seven years to writing it. Now,his novels My Name is Red,Snow,The Black Book and The White Castle as well as his memoir Istanbul Memories of a City are considered to be modern masterpieces. He plans to write a sequel to Istanbul. “It will be my look at the western civilisation coming from a member of the upper middle-class Turkish society,” he says.

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