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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Pamuk, inventeur et reporter

by Alain Nicolas

Pamuk, Inventor and Reporter

Translated Tuesday 24 October 2006, by Carol Gullidge

As the French parliament adopted a bill making it a crime to deny that Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of the Turks, the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. This puts a new slant on charges brought against him of “insulting Turkey and Turkishness” following his remarks to a Swiss magazine about the 1915 Ottoman Armenian massacres. Those charges were eventually dropped, although the prosecution are set to launch an appeal.

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Orhan Pamuk: Winner of 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature

2006 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Swedish Academy has rewarded a subtle and uncompromising author who is capable of immersing himself in reality without losing himself in it.

If any Nobel Prize has the potential to delight us, and for all sorts of reasons, then surely it must be the one that the Swedish academy has just awarded to Orhan Pamuk, thus acknowledging a courageous thinker, a little-known body of literature, and, above all, a great writer.

Orhan Pamuk’s demands for Turkey’s recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915 are well known. After making a statement to a Swiss publication that “1 million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were massacred”, he was charged, in 2005, with “openly insulting Turkishness”, a crime that carries a six-month jail sentence.

Never afraid to commit himself

Along with these charges came the death threats and physical attacks, as well as the order from the chief of police of Sparta ― a province in western Turkey― to burn his books... It took an international outcry to put an end to this campaign against a man who could scarcely pass as a traitor against the Turkish nation and who, only recently, had supported his country’s bid to join the European Union. But, without making a song and dance about it, he never shied away from committing himself when the situation demanded it: opposing the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989; and defending the novelist Yachar Kemal in 1995.

For all that, there is more to Orhan Pamuk than merely his commitments and the persecutions that these cost him. Born on June 7, 1952, into a wealthy Francophile family in Istanbul, the writer abandoned his architectural studies at the age of twenty-three to dedicate himself to literature. Seven years later came the publication of his first, and still untranslated, novel, Cevdet Bey ve Oğulları (Mr Cevdet and His Sons). Over the years, his talent asserted itself, and he won acclaim as the most gifted novelist of his generation; his books reached out to the general reader, and his sixth novel, My name is Red, published in 1998, proved to be a record-breaking best-seller. It was then that the West, having already discovered him with the publication, in 1983, of The House of Silence[1], recognised him as a writer of significance. He went on to win the New York Times prize for the best foreign book in 2004, and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 2005.

Turns down prestigious title of “State Artist”

In refusing this prize he was once again flouting the Turkish authorities. For “State Artist” is a position that he considers incompatible with his uncompromising idea of the artist, along with that of the journalist, a profession that he exercised briefly, and which was to appear later in Snow[2], in 2002. By then, he had gone on to publish, in 1990, The Black Book, which won the prix France Culture 1995. In this, he goes into great detail - in the fashion of a writer apparently describing things that have been happening to him - as he depicts a man’s search for a woman through the labyrinth of the snowy streets of Istanbul.

In 1996, he extended his range with The White Castle, a historical novel about the fate of a Venetian intellectual captured at the end of the 17th Century by Sultan Mehmed’s Turks, and about the ambiguous master-slave relationship that developed between the two men. Based on a plot involving protagonists in a city close to the former Russian border, Snow makes use of his immense knowledge of international literature, draws on the complex structures that he had created, and lays aside his literary conceptions, as it proceeds to investigate the theme of snow.

When Neige – which was to be awarded the prix Médicis étranger – came out in France in the autumn of 2005, this simple and engaging man granted us an interview, which took him back to the book’s reception in Turkey. “Political Islamists and the secular armed forces loved and hated the book, for diametrically opposed reasons. The Islamists found it gratifying that a secular writer – in other words, from the other side – should admit openly that the Turkish armed forces were oppressing them and that the politico-military establishment had no concern whatsoever regarding religious freedom and democracy. But they took it very badly that I should show a “believer” – as they call themselves – making love outside marriage. For them, that didn’t correspond to reality. But they didn’t take it out on me personally, didn’t threaten me. To start with, lay people appreciated that the book was a reflection on anxieties over the aims and methods of the fundamentalists, and their electoral advances. But they found it disturbing that a book should depict torture by the Army.

As for the women, who made up 60% of the Turkish readership, they felt that I paid too much attention to, and was too sympathetic towards, the motivation of my Islamic characters, and saw this as a form of betrayal.” His preoccupation with never simplifying, and his demand for a reading where the individuality of his characters has to be fully accepted, places him well and truly in the strict category of a writer apart, who, nevertheless, chose to align himself with Stendhal, the source of the epigraph to Snow: “Politics in a literary work is like a gunshot in the middle of a concert(... ) We’re dealing with very nasty things,” and he continues, “but I want the reading of these nasty things to be bearable.” (L’Humanité, October 6 2005)

The Nobel committee would have found in Pamuk a master of the understatement. Read him, it makes more-than-bearable reading!


1. Translated into French (La Maison du silence) in 1988 by Münewer Andaç, the widow of Nazim Hiknet

2. Translated into French (Neige), 2005


Bibliography in Turkish (from Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orhan_Pamuk#Bibliography_in_Turkish

· Cevdet Bey ve Oğulları (Cevdet Bey and His Sons), novel, Istanbul: Karacan Yayınları, 1982

· Sessiz Ev (The Silent House) , novel, Istanbul: Can Yayınları,

· Beyaz Kale (The White Castle), novel, Istanbul: Can Yayınları, 1985

· Kara Kitap (The Black Book), novel, Istanbul: Can Yayınları, 1990

· Gizli Yuz (Secret Face), screenplay, Istanbul: Can Yayınları, 1992

· Yeni Hayat (The New Life), novel, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1995

· Benim Adım Kırmızı (My Name is Red), novel, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1998

· Öteki Renkler (The Other Colors), essays, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1999

· Kar (Snow), novel, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2002

· İstanbul: Hatıralar ve Şehir (Istanbul: Memories and the City), memoirs, Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2003

Bibliography of Books Translated into English (from Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orhan_Pamuk#Bibliography_in_English

· The White Castle, translated by Victoria Holbrook, Manchester (UK): Carcanet Press Limited, 1990; Faber and Faber Ltd, 1991; New York: George Braziller, 1991 [original title: Beyaz Kale]

· The Black Book, translated by Güneli Gün, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1994 [original title: Kara Kitap]. A new translation by Maureen Freely was published in 2006 (by Faber in the UK)

· The New Life, translated by Güneli Gün, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997 [original title: Yeni Hayat]

· My Name is Red, translated by Erdağ M. Göknar, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001 [original title: Benim Adım Kırmızı]

· Snow, translated by Maureen Freely, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004 [original title: Kar]

· Istanbul: Memories and the City, translated by Maureen Freely, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005 [original title: İstanbul: Hatıralar ve Şehir]

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