Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul in 1952. He grew up in the Turkish capital and went to school at an English-speaking college. He studied architecture and then journalism at the University of Istanbul and started to work as a freelance writer. After publishing “Beyaz Kale” (1985; Eng. “The White Castle”, 1990) he lived for three years in New York and returned to his home city in 1988.

Pamuk is considered one of the most important Turkish writers. He received all major Turkish National Prizes as well as the Independent Foreign Fiction Award, the Prix de la découverte européenne, the IMPAC Dublin Award, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and the Ricarda Huch Prize. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2006. His novels have been translated into 35 languages with record numbers sold not only in Turkey.

Although Pamuk from time to time makes decidely political statetemts and has taken postion with regards to the question of minorities and the Kurdish language, he refrains from taking political sides in his writings. “In a country in which 95 percent of all literature has political origins and is politically justified, I made it clear from the beginning that I am content to live in my ivory tower”, Pamuk once said provocatively, though he was quick to add that his experiment was “akin to walking a dangerous tightrope”. He considers his novels to offer a way out of the incessant confrontation between East and West, between fundamentalism and blind consumer behaviour, oriental mysticism and dogmatic enlightenment. In his eyes, literature has a “value per se, which proves that it is possible for something else to exist which is free of the burden of religion, of everyday politics, free of totalitarian visions and problems of (Turkish) identity.”

Ideally it reveals a “mosaic depicting Turkey stripped of all things oriental, in a way which could not be more unfamiliar to the western reader, who has certain pre-conceived ideas”, as commented on by Barbara Frischmuth in her review of “Yeni Hayat” (1994; Eng. “The New Life”, 1997) in the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”. This is why this novel challenges the reader: “the fact, that it contradicts all the usual expectations, offers no exhausting explanations, and does not indulge in ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake.”

“Kar” (2002; Eng. “Snow”, 2004) is Pamuk’s most political novel. It portrays the ethnically and ideologically heterogeneous population of an Eastern Anatolian city with its islamists, Turkish and Kurdish Nationalists, democrats, church, army, secret service. While a poet goes on his search for love and inspiration, young Muslims commit suicide on behalf of the ban of headscarfs and a theatre group performs a Kemalist coup d’état in the city which is cut off from the world by heavy snowfall. Through depicting the different ways of life and world views as being similary justified as limited, Pamuk shatters their claim to be superior.

After he had called – in an interview with the Zurich “Tagesanzeiger” – for the public discussion of the genozide of the Armeniens, Turkish nationalists burst out in a storm of indignation. Pamuk was faced with a lawsuit on cause of “insulting Turkishness” which was however shortly after suspended. Pamuk being awarded the highest literary honour was met with suspicion among Turks. The collection of essays “Der Blick aus meinem Fenster” (t: The view from my window) and “Istanbul: hatıralar ve şehir” (Eng. “Istanbul: Memories and the City”, 2005) was published in German in 2006.

© international literature festival berlin