Orhan Pamuk interviewed

by Chris Bertram on October 22, 2005

Der Spiegel has an interview with Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk —currently facing criminal charges for having publicly discussed the mass murder of Armenians during the First World War—which touches on his career as novelist, the political evolution of Turkey, the possibility of Turkish accession to the EU, among other matters.

{ 9 comments }

1

Amardeep 10.22.05 at 8:01 am

I was struck to see that Kars is a real place. In the novel, it felt like a somewhat allegorical non-place.

Also striking to see that he considers it a “historical novel”! As in this section of the interview:

Pamuk: In Holland a friend said to me: “You know, I used to be in favor of Turkey’s accession, but now I’ve read your novel and I’m horrified. Is it really that dismal in your country.” My answer to him was that it’s an historical novel.

SPIEGEL: But it takes place in the 1990s!

Pamuk: Exactly. A lot has happened since then. Just the hope of some day being able to join the EU has changed the legal situation in Turkey. In my imagination, the events in the novel happened in the early 1990s, when there was great concern that Islamic fundamentalists could assume power. That’s why I said that it’s an historical novel.

It’s hard to know whether he’s being sincere here. On the one hand, it’s true a lot seems to have changed in Turkey since the arrest of Ocalan and the rise of Erdogan… But it is still a stretch to use the “historical fiction” label.

2

Lorna 10.22.05 at 12:01 pm

Amardeep – out of curiosity (and sorry if this counts as hijacking the thread or going off-topic – I’ll stop, if so), did you actually enjoy Snow? I found it was one of the very rare books I really didn’t want to continue reading. Absolute chore to finish.

3

CG 10.22.05 at 4:15 pm

I’m not Turkish, but my girlfriend is, and I just visited the country for six weeks, criscrossing it and seeing many of the lagging eastern provinces that Pamuk’s Kars tries to typify.

I read Snow after the trip, and I found it strange… this was not the Turkey I had just seen. In Snow, it was clearly a more divided place, one more wracked in the political sphere by the secularist/Islamist, Europe/Middle East tension that is the core of the book. When I was in Diyarbakir and Van and Erzurum, I saw quite a bit more obvious solidarity and universal acceptance of the idea of “development”, from all kinds of people… It seems like the Islamists have transformed into technocrats under the AK Party. In the words of someone I met in Konya, “In the past few years Turks have stopped treating political parties like football teams..” So I really don’t see a problem with Pamuk’s characterization of Snow as a historical novel. The book now actually makes much more sense to me, realizing that it is a story of the early 90’s.

In a side note, many of the Turks I talked to, as well as my girlfriend, who visits the country every few years, are astonished at the material progress the country has made in the last five years or so. Highways are being built everywhere, prosperous suburbs are springing up, everything has a new coat of paint, more TVs, computers, internet cafes… that sort of thing. I’m excited to see where this country goes.

4

amardeep 10.22.05 at 4:46 pm

Lorna,

Yes — I wrote a rather long post on it on The Valve this past summer.

Some parts of the book are a bit chore-ish, I would agree; what really gripped me was the idea of a theatrical performance that resulted in members of the audience getting killed.

There’s sort of a theory of literature in it:

Theater: violence, absurdity, spectacle, major social impact; always bordering on propaganda

Poetry: solipsistic, quasi-religious activity for loners and freaks

The Novel: go back in to the scene of the crime; try and figure out what happened; mull it over; speculate.

* * *
I don’t know if you’ll buy it. Either way, if you have any further comments on my take on Snow, I would welcome them.

5

Lorna 10.23.05 at 3:46 am

Amardeep,

My comments would be nowhere near as in-depth as yours, I’m afraid. I was just distracted by what a total idiot Ka was, and therefore unable to enjoy the book, because I just wanted to yell “stop being so self-absorbed, you moron!” at the central character every few pages. Artistic musings got tainted by the fact we’ve got a central character who insists on reading his poem to the leading lady twice and directly asking her if she thinks it’s beautiful – way to get kicked out of bed – and so since I couldn’t take him seriously, I couldn’t take that seriously, either. Ah well.

6

elizabeth 10.23.05 at 7:02 am

In response to Amardeep’s comments– yes, I’m pretty sure he’s serious. The phrase ‘historical novel’ may be a bit of wordplay–he likes teasing interviewers–but he is absolutely right to say that the political restructuring in Turkey over the last decade is fundamental enough to make the portrayal in Snow largely obsolete. The rise of the AKP and the reforms undertaken in hopes of EU membership have led to a lot of step-by-step improvements in human rights, democratization, etc (though there’s still a very long way to go) but the real change has been the end of the Kemalist/nationalist/military elite’s strangehold on politics–as well as the development of a more moderate “Islamist” party that draws some of its support from a secular constituency. A decade ago it would have been unthinkable that the conference about the Armenian genocide in Istanbul last month would have been held at all–let alone that when a local court tried to stop it in response to a nationalist petition, the prime minister would speak out in support of the conference being held and condemn the court’s interference.

The Speigel piece is also interesting because of the interviewer’s constant attempts to portray Pamuk as the beleaguered victim of a reactionary state, and Pamuk’s refusal to play to the script…I liked the part where he outright said “you tend to over-dramatize things,” and then proceeded to respond to a question about being imprisoned as a “badge of honor” for Turkish writers by pointing out that it would be a greater honor to be the first who was not. Here’s hoping.

and setting the story of Ka in the (yes, very real!) city of Kars is another of his verbal tricks–the word for snow in Turkish, and hence the original title of the book, is Kar.

7

elizabeth 10.23.05 at 9:02 am

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elizabeth 10.23.05 at 9:04 am

oops, that was “this piece by Maureen Freely, the translator of Snow.” Damn html.

9

Musta 10.24.05 at 8:15 pm

I always looked forward to reading his books even though the characters in it are shallow and do not shed new light on human condition. They are more like an entertainment and they wouldn’t be understood even twenty five years from now. Only exeption is White Castle and My Name is Red since they are historical mystery novels. The real events in Turkey are more surreal then ten Pamuk novels. Such as the propagation of Islam in Turkey has been mainly an USA foreign policy. Complicated history of what happened to Armenians, Turks and Kurds etc can not be simplified and quantifed by number of deaths and aqusiations and counter aquisations. As a novelist Pamuk should realize Kurds, Turks and Armenians were like Brothers Karamazovs.

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