Orhan Pamuk's first book since winning the Nobel Prize, Other Colors is a dazzling collection of essays on his life, his city, his work, and the example of other writers.
Over the last three decades, Pamuk has written, in addition to his seven novels, scores of pieces--personal, critical, and meditative--the finest of which he has brilliantly woven together here. He opens a window on his private life, from his boyhood dislike of school to his daughter's precocious melancholy, from his successful struggle to quit smoking to his anxiety at the prospect of testifying against some clumsy muggers who fell upon him during a visit to New York City. From ordinary obligations such as applying for a passport or sharing a holiday meal with relatives, he takes extraordinary flights of imagination; in extreme moments, such as the terrifying days following a cataclysmic earthquake in Istanbul, he lays bare our most basic hopes and fears. Again and again Pamuk declares his faith in fiction, engaging the work of such predecessors as Laurence Sterne and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, sharing fragments from his notebooks, and commenting on his own novels. He contemplates his mysterious compulsion to sit alone at a desk and dream, always returning to the rich deliverance that is reading and writing.
By turns witty, moving, playful, and provocative, Other Colors glows with the energy of a master at work and gives us the world through his eyes, assigning every radiant theme and shifting mood its precise shade in the spectrum of significance.
Though the latest book from Nobel Prize-winning Pamuk (Istanbul, Snow) is a standard late-career essay collection, it makes clear the reasons behind the Turkish author's acclaim. Eschewing flash and flourish, Pamuk's style is plain, simple and persuasive-but therein lies its subtle power, well represented over more than 75 pieces divided into sections like "Living and Worrying" and "Politics, Europe, and Other Problems of Being Oneself." Self-reflection and cultural evolution emerge often as twin themes, as in his consideration of the Thousand and One Nights: "In those days, young Turks like me who considered themselves modern viewed the classics of eastern literature as one might a dark and impenetrable forest." These concerns lead naturally to political considerations, such as his conclusion that "the lies about the war in Iraq and... secret CIA prisons have so damaged the West's credibility in Turkey... it is more and more difficult for people like me to make the case for true western democracy in my part of the world." There's humor as well; in "Giving Up Smoking," a smoking cab driver begs Pamuk's pardon: "He was opening the window. 'No,' I said, 'keep it closed. I've given up smoking.'" Also included are musings on his own books and a short story, "To Look Out the Window." Disarmingly honest, Pamuk refuses to give in to melodrama or stylistic quirks, giving his feeling and frustration crystalline clarity and lasting weight.
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September 15, 2007
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Excerpt from Other Colors by Orhan Pamuk
have been writing for thirty years. I have been reciting these words for some time now. I've been reciting them for so long, in fact, that they have ceased to be true, for now I am entering into my thirty-first year as a writer. I do still like saying that I've been writing novels for thirty years--though this is a bit of an exaggeration. From time to time, I do other sorts of writing: essays, criticism, reflections on Istanbul or politics, and speeches. But my true vocation, the thing that binds me to life, is writing novels. There are plenty of brilliant writers who've been writing much longer than I, who've been writing for half a century without paying the matter much attention. There are also the great writers to whom I return again and again, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Thomas Mann, whose careers spanned more than fifty years. . . . So why do I make so much of my thirtieth anniversary as a writer? I do so because I wish to talk about writing, and most particularly novel writing, as a habit.
In order to be happy I must have my daily dose of literature. In this I am no different from the patient who must take a spoon of medicine each day. When I learned, as a child, that diabetics needed an injection every day, I felt bad for them as anyone might; I may even have thought of them as half dead. My dependence on literature must make me half dead in the same way. Especially when I was a young writer, I sensed that others saw me as cut off from the real world and so doomed to be "half dead." Or perhaps the right term is "half a ghost." I have sometimes even entertained the thought that I was fully dead and trying to breathe life back into my corpse with literature. For me, literature is a medicine. Like the medicine that others take by spoon or injection, my daily dose of literature--my daily fix, if you will--must meet certain standards.
First, the medicine must be good. Its goodness is what tells me how true and potent it is. To read a dense, deep passage in a novel, to enter into that world and believe it to be true--nothing makes me happier, nothing more surely binds me to life. I also prefer that the writer be dead, because then there is no little cloud of jealousy to darken my admiration. The older I get, the more convinced I am that the best books are by dead writers. Even if they are not yet dead, to sense their presence is to sense a ghost. This is why, when we see great writers in the street, we treat them like ghosts, not quite believing our eyes as we marvel from a distance. A few brave souls approach the ghosts for autographs. Sometimes I remind myself that these writers will die soon and, once they are dead, the books that are their legacy will occupy an even more cherished place in our hearts. Though of course this is not always the case.
If my daily dose of literature is something I myself am writing, it's all very different. Because for those who share my affliction, the best cure of all, and the greatest source of happiness, is to write a good half page every day. For thirty years I've spent an average of ten hours a day alone in a room, sitting at my desk. If you count only the work that is good enough to be published, my daily average is a good deal less than half a page. Most of what I write does not meet my own standards of quality control. These, I put to you, are two great sources of misery.
But please don't misunderstand me: A writer who is as dependent on literature as I am can never be so superficial as to find happiness in the beauty of the books he has already written, nor can he congratulate himself on their number or what these books achieved. Literature does not allow such a writer to pretend to save the world; rather, it gives him a chance to save the day. And all days are difficult. Days are especially difficult when you don't do any writing. When you cannot do any writing. The point is to find enough hope to get through the day, and, if the book or the page you are reading is good, to find joy in it, and happiness, if only for a day.
Let me explain what I feel on a day when I've not written well, am unable to lose myself in a book. First, the world changes before my eyes; it becomes unbearable, abominable. Those who know me can see it happening, for I myself come to resemble the world I see around me. For example, my daughter can tell I have not written well that day from the abject hopelessness on my face in the evening. I would like to be able to hide this from her, but I cannot. During these dark moments, I feel as if there is no line between life and death. I don't want to speak to anyone--just as well, since no one seeing me in this state has any desire to