Friday, October 13, 2006

Times Of London On Pamuk's Nobel

The Times of London
October 13, 2006

How master of allusion makes his voice heard

Erica Wagner, Literary Editors's View

NO AWARD is ever completely apolitical; this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature is a firm reminder of that. Orhan Pamuk is a wonderful writer, justly lauded for such novels as My Name is Red (which won him the Impac Award, the richest prize available for a single work), The White Castle, The Black Book and Snow, published in English two years ago. His most recent book, Istanbul, is part memoir, part meditation on his native city; it is his treatment by his country’s Government, however, that has found him much in the news, and perhaps had some hand in his receiving this prize.

Pamuk’s work is allusive and yet rarely elusive. My Name is Red is set in 16th-century Istanbul and is, to some extent, a murder mystery: the murder revolves around the conflict between Western and Islamic art. An Ottoman illustrator visiting Venice is equally alarmed and attracted by what he sees: “He was frightened because he suddenly understood — and perhaps desired — that Islamic artistry would meet its end on account of the appeal of portraiture.”

Another novel, The New Life, is narrated by a young engineering student. One day he comes across a book that changes his life. The trick is that we never learn what the book is (the Bible? The Koran? Shakespeare?) only its effect. It’s a device that owes a debt to writers such as Borges and Calvino, but also expresses Pamuk’s unwillingness to be pigeonholed. Five years ago, at the time of the attacks on the twin towers in New York, Pamuk wrote: “Now, as cries for an east-west war echo throughout the world, I am afraid of the world turning into a place like Turkey, governed almost permanently by martial law.” The Nobel will help to ensure that this strong voice is still heard above those cries.

No comments: