For a number of years, it has been my habit to seek out and read current Nobel Prize Winning authors. This has led me to chance upon writers with worldwide renown who might be relatively unknown in the United States.
My favorite writer is one I discovered this way. His name is Orhan Pamuk. He won the Nobel Prize for his novel, The Black Book in 2006. I have read Snow, The Black Book, and My Name Is Red. These are three of his six novels. The books I’ve read are all set in his native home Istanbul, Turkey.
Like many of us, Orhan Pamuk started out in several different directions before deciding on his career. Pamuk was born into a middle class family in Istanbul, Turkey in 1952. As a young boy, he thought he would like to be a painter. So he began painting at age seven. His father and grandfather were both civil engineers, but he studied architecture for several years in college. He gave that study up suddenly, along with painting, when he realized, at age twenty-two, that writing was his true passion.
Orhan Pamuk’s early novels are all positioned in Istanbul where he grew up and still resides. His writes mysteries in which he creates layers and layers of stories within stories. In The Black Book, for instance, he writes about a lawyer whose wife disappears. The lawyer is afraid his wife has left him for an old boyfriend who writes a popular newspaper column. The lawyer is afraid to tell his family about this embarrassing situation. So he pretends all is well while he searches for his wife. The plot gets more complicated as he assumes the identity of the columnist who also is missing. In doing so he has to write the missing journalist’s column.
This intricacy is what I like most about Pamuk’s writing. It’s like a box within a box within a box. There is no way to predict the outcome of the story. Every one of his books is written like this. There is no formula for the progress of his plots. This is what creates subtle suspense and makes it difficult for me to put his books down once I begin reading one.
There is not a lot of detailed information about Turkey or its history in Pamuk’s books. What I got was more of a feeling about the region and its people. It wasn’t until I happened to work with several young Turkish students that I learned Pamuk is considered to be very political in his native country. He is thought to be a little too sympathetic to the Kurdish people. I honestly did not realize he had that point of view when I read his books.
Anyone who enjoys a good suspense-filled novel should try reading Orhan Pamuk. His books are intriguing and beautifully translated.