On October 12th, 2006, Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The citation by the Swedish Academy stated that Pamuk was a novelist “who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.”
Discussion of the prize often included praise for Ms Maureen Freely, whose translations into English of Pamuk’s novels are supremely fluent and accurate, making Pamuk’s books a pleasure to read in translation.
You may have heard that Pamuk is controversial in Turkey, that many Turks think he is too “Westernized” or “European.”
His writing style is a pleasure to read in Turkish. I especially enjoyed Istanbul: Hatıralar ve Şehir, translated as Istanbul: Memories and the City. Pamuk’s sentences can be long and complicated. Sometimes one or two sentences will form an entire paragraph (something easily possible and not unusual in Turkish), and yet the meaning flows easily, at least to this reader.
In fact, I much prefer his Turkish writing style to that of many other famous Turkish novelists whose style tends to be more linear and conversational, with lots of inner dialogue.
Pamuk took his 2008 novel, The Museum of Innocence (Masumiyet Müzesi), from fiction into real life with the establishment of an actual Masumiyet Muzesi in Istanbul‘s Çukurcumadistrict of Beyoğlu. More…
But beyond Pamuk’s fluent style, there is the more important meaning of his work.
The world is now passing through a “hot” stage of the 1500-year-old struggle of the Christian and Islamic worlds to understand one another. (Other hot stages: the Arab expansion in the 600s and 700s, the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, the Crusades). Orhan Pamuk’s novels are a useful tool for non-Turks and non-Muslims to come to a better understanding of these important cultures.
The West has a poor understanding of Islam and Islamic peoples, a challenge that writers like Orhan Pamuk may help to meet.
The world gets smaller and more closely integrated every day, in every way: political, economic, social, commercial, environmental. We can no longer afford the hapless luxury of ignorance. We must all learn about one another, learn to live with one another, learn to respect, honor, aid and enjoy one another. As the world shrinks, there is no alternative.
Those who claim superiority for a particular nation, people or belief realize that the shrinking of the world challenges their power: in a smaller world with more knowledge, opportunity and possibility, people whose power and influence depends on a limited, parochial view will be most strident in their claims of superiority as they see their possibilities for empowerment diminish.
The struggle, therefore, is very much between people who want concord and progress, and people for whom division and discord are a means to personal power.
We must learn to live together. In the long run, we have no other choice. Neither the learning, nor the living, will be easy, but with writers such as Orhan Pamuk, we can make progress.