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Saturday, August second, 2008

Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk

I read to the end of McGaha's Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk today -- it is a good book and I think especially useful to the non-Turkish reader (i.e. myself) approaching Pamuk's books for the second time, to clarify cultural and historical references that might otherwise be lost. Does a really good job of drawing out common threads in Pamuk's books which the disparity of voices and styles can obscure. In short -- I would strongly recommend it if you have read all or most of Pamuk's novels to date and are thinking about rereading them. It also makes brief reference to the forthcoming Museum of Innocence, which will be translated by Erdağ Göknar -- in his application for a grant to do the translation, Göknar says,

the protagonist "comes from an upper-class Instanbul family who, after two failed relationships, goes on an obsessive journey in search of places and objects that remind him of his lost loves and that, once assembled, constitute the bulk of a museum of his obsessions"
which is more than I had heard about the content of the book before now.

McGaha ends by saying,

Orhan Pamuk is only fifty-five years old and is at the peak of his creative powers. There is every reason to believe that his best work still lies ahead of him. I look forward to reading his novels for many years to come.
which -- Wow! What a lovely thought! I can't wait for Museum of Innocence. (Which not that it means anything, but I'm finding kind of charming the parallelism between its title and Robyn Hitchcock's song, "Museum of Sex".)

Note: apparently Göknar's application did not pan out; Freely is doing the translation, which will be published in October '09.

posted evening of August second, 2008: Respond
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Tuesday, September second, 2008

Masumiyet Müzesi published

Pamuk's new novel is out! (In Turkish only; the German translation will be published in two weeks, and hopefully the English will be available before too long.) Today's Zaman has a short piece with some information about the novel, a love story which will be Pamuk's longest book excluding his first.

Additionally, Pamuk has written two articles related to his new novel. The first article sheds light on the literary, personal and philosophical sources of "Masumiyet Müzesi," and the second one discusses the themes of famous love stories in general. The publication dates of the articles are not yet known.

So exciting! I can't wait to read these.

posted morning of September second, 2008: 22 responses
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Wednesday, September third, 2008

“Hayatımın en mutlu anıymış, bilmiyordum.”

Ayse posts the first sentence of Museum of Innocence in my comments:

It was the happiest moment of my life, I did not know.

(See the comment thread for discussion of the translation.)

The official website for the book is here -- only in Turkish naturally, but with two lovely photo galleries: Pamuk in his study, and Pamuk around the town. There is also a Wikipædia entry of course, in English and in Turkish, but practically nothing written about it on the English site as yet.

...And, Banu Güven of MSNBC Turkey interviewed Pamuk about his new book yesterday. I am wishing I could understand Turkish...

posted morning of September third, 2008: Respond
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Sunday, September 7th, 2008

A Happy Author

I am essentially a fiction writer, and if I ever cry, it's because I am worrying about the beauty of my book.
Orhan Pamuk is interviewed today in the Deutsche Welle (in English). He speaks about his concerns for Turkey vis-à-vis Europe, and about his life post-Nobel Prize, and about the museum of innocence he has assembled to complement his novel Museum of Innocence. Which sounds totally worth making a pilgrimage to Istanbul for.

posted evening of September 7th, 2008: Respond

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Distant Relations

This is kind of confusing: the New Yorker published a piece of fiction by Orhan Pamuk this week under the title, "Distant Relations" (translated by Maureen Freely) -- there is no sidebar to the effect that "Orhan Pamuk's new novel, Museum of Innocence, will be published in English next month; this piece is an exerpt" or something like that; but that is what the piece appears to be. It seems strange to publish it as a short story without any explanation of that; and it doesn't really work as a short story -- it does work pretty well as a teaser, though.

posted evening of September 10th, 2009: Respond

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Opening the door of the museum

I am happy: The Museum of Innocence was published at long last today, the first novel Orhan Pamuk has published since I fell in love with his voice back in 2007. I have been anticipating this since last August when I saw it mentioned in McGaha's Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk...

I'm wondering idly -- only read a few pages this evening, they are nice -- they have the same beguiling prose quality I remember from the opening of The Black Book -- how well the metaphor of strolling through a museum will work for the experience of reading this book. Will I linger over certain images, walk briskly past others which are not as engaging? Will I want to stay past closing time or will I find myself wanting to go home early, when I have not even gotten to see the exhibit on the third floor?... I'm usually a bit intimidated by museums, I have not yet felt even a bit intimidated by Pamuk's prose* -- its inviting affect is the thing I love most about it. Well; we'll see.

Here are the epigraphs to this book:

These were innocent people, so innocent that they thought poverty a crime that wealth would allow them to forget. (from the notebooks of Celâl Salik)

[Celâl Salik? Is that Celâl from The Black Book? I sort of think so but not sure. Did the Black Book character have a last name? ...and, yes! the columnist in The Black Book is named Celâl Salik.]

If a man could pass thro' Paradise in a Dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his Soul had really been there, and found that flower in his hand when he awoke -- Aye? and what then? (from the notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

[This is very nice, and definitely calls to mind the opening of The Black Book.]

First I surveyed the little trinkets on the table, her lotions and her perfumes. I picked them up and examined them one by one. I turned her little watch over in my hand. Then I looked at her wardrobe. All those dresses and accessories piled one on top of the other. These things that every woman used to complete herself -- they induced in me a painful and desparate loneliness; I felt myself hers, I longed to be hers. (from the notebooks of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar)

*Oh wait, sorry, I am forgetting about The New Life. So make that "have not in most cases".

posted evening of October 20th, 2009: 1 response
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So many years later

I wonder when the narrative present of The Museum of Innocence is. The novel is rooted very firmly in time -- in the first few pages we see that the high point of the narrator's life was on May 26th, 1975 (a few weeks past my fifth birthday), and that his involvement with his distant relation Füsun had started a month previous to that, on April 27th (when I was still four years old) -- when is he speaking though? In chapter 4 he says, "As I sit down so many years later and devote myself heart and soul to the telling of my story..." -- I hope (and expect) his road to the present moment will be as much a part of the story as are the events he is narrating.

Kemal was 30 at the time of the happiest moment of his life, so was born in 1945, the same age as my uncle. So he could well be narrating in my present moment, as a 65-year-old. Pamuk is 57 years old now, perhaps his narrator is his age, in which case he would be speaking in 2002. Or maybe something else.

The excerpt that appeared in the New Yorker this summer under the title "Distant Relations" was adapted from chapters 2 through 6 -- I thought at the time that it would work much better in the context of a longer novel than as a short story, and I was right -- instead of getting to the end and thinking "well, then what?" you just turn the page and keep reading...

Update: The narrative present has to be after 2007; when Sibel leaves him in 1976, Kemal says "I would not see her again for 31 years." He opened the museum in the mid-90's -- there is a reference to him doing this "twenty years later."

posted evening of October 20th, 2009: Respond

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Museum of Innocence backstory

I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla
And I kiss this wall and that wall
It's not Love of the houses that has taken my heart
But of the One who dwells in those houses

-- Qays ibn al-Mulawwah

Thanks to Ayse Papatya Bucak of Reading for Writers, for pointing out the connection between Museum of Innocence and the Ottoman story of Layla and Mejnun -- Ms. Bucak calls Pamuk's book a rewriting of the old story, which tells how Mejnun goes obsessively mad after being refused by his love-object.

Interesting! I had never heard of that story but some quick experimentation with Google will demonstrate that its influence is very broad in the Islamic world. The New York Turkmen Institute has put online Sofi Huri's translation of Fuzûlî's version of the story, which appears to be the primary Ottoman version -- it was made into an opera by Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov (produced in NYC just this past Spring by Yo-yo Ma) -- Here are Erkan Oğur and İsmail H. Demircioğlu performing "Leyli Mecnun" from that opera:

posted evening of October 22nd, 2009: Respond

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

Love is Leyla and Mecnun

First explicit mention of Leyla and Mecnun comes near the beginning of Chapter 24, "The Engagement Party." Kemal is talking with his sister-in-law, Berrin, about the prospects for romance between Sibel's friend Nurcihan (who lives in Paris and has had romantic liaisons there) and Kemal's college friend Mehmet (who comes from a conservative family but does not want a marriage arranged by his parents). Berrin does not think Mehmet has any chance with modern (i.e. sexually liberated) women, because "they know if they go gallivanting around town with him too much, a man like this will secretly begin to think of them as whores."

"But the reason that Mehmet couldn't fall in love with them was that they wouldn't let him get close enough, because they were conservative and frightened."

"That's not the way it works," said Berrin. "You don't have to sleep with someone to be in love. The sex is not what matters. Love is Leyla and Mecnun."

(Also in this chapter is the first mention of Kemal's parents' friends the Pamuks...)

I am getting a slightly anthropological-ish feeling from the first part of this novel, from Pamuk's narrator explaining carefully the customs and mores of 1970's Istanbul. (I happened on a really good example of this last night but I'm not finding it now...) On the one hand this is not something I would necessarily expect from a memoir-writer -- but it seems somehow totally in character for Kemal, the obsessive documentarian of his obsession with Füsun, to leave nothing unsaid -- the obsession with Füsun becomes an expression of his obsession with his society and his place in it. Possibly this could be expressed by saying, Kemal (a bit like Ka in Snow, though the parallel is far from exact) is a neurotic cosmopolitan searching for Authenticity.

posted morning of October 24th, 2009: Respond

The pace of the story and its structure

"Please bring it tomorrow. Don't forget," Füsun said, her eyes widening. "It is very dear to me."
Chapter 17, "My Whole Life Depends on You Now," is the end of the first major cycle in Museum of Innocence -- it ends with the same words as Chapter 1, completing the flashback/exposition that began in Chapter 2.

The pace of the book has been very even through this first piece of the narrative, not dragging nor rushing. The sense of Kemal leading me through his exhibit is palpable... There is a lot of room left for the story to escape from his control, which I am hoping for -- being led this way could start to feel stifling if I am not given more freedom to roam the museum looking at what I want to look at. (It does not feel stifling at this point, alls I'm saying is I could see that developing at some point...)

posted afternoon of October 24th, 2009: Respond

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