Orhan Pamuk

Presented to the club on Oct. 29, 2019 by S. Mattison

Studies in Huzun

A melancholy worldview, a painter’s eye, and a writer’s ability to make you want to find out how it all ends…

These are the things that Orhan Pamuk offers me. In his autobiographical work Istanbul, Memories and the Cityhe defines the Turkish word huzunas melancholy.  He goes on to use this term repeatedly in this book, and I think it suffuses all of his work. There are fatherless sons, lost loves and challenging marriages. Whether his books are set in the sixteenth century or in the twenty-first century, Istanbul seems sophisticated and modern yet world weary.

His best-known fictional works (among those I have talked to) are My Name is Redand Snow. In My Name is Red,a murder mystery involving miniaturists working for the Ottoman court, he uses artistic imagery and “flawed narrators” to present the struggle to maintain Eastern masterwork while integrating Western innovation. This also brings out discussion of what constitutes heresy in art and in life. In addition, classical literature is used to highlight a character’s rediscovery of a lost love. I found this mystery to be a page-turner, but I wanted to slow down to appreciate the artistry and to understand the philosophy.

Snowexplores the relationship between secularism and Islam. As in My Name is Red, the protagonist re-discovers a lost love.

In Istanbul, his early life is described in terms of its setting in a wealthy, westernized, secular family whose fortunes are slowly draining away. His parent’s fights, his father’s frequent absence, and the development of his artistic sensibilities by seeing through the eyes of other artists and writers are chronicled, but this book is a love letter to Istanbul. These essays describe his Istanbul through his photographs and his experiences, with reference to historical writers and authors that formed his view of Ottoman Istanbul.

Mr. Pamuk’s life has been spent predominantly in Istanbul, with absences for work and for political reasons. He began as a painter who was studied architecture but dropped out to write a novel. “Once upon a time I used to paint. I was born in Istanbul and I understand that I was a somewhat curious child. Then when I was 22 I seem to have begun writing novels without knowing why.”(from Instanbul, Pamuk, 2003).

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2006. He has continued to write fiction and non-fiction since winning the award. His most recent novel to be published in English is The Red-Haired Woman, which continues the themes of alienation, family life and the struggle between father and sons.

Most recently, he returned to the visual arts in 2018 with the publication of Balkon(Balcony) a story in photographs of the modern Bosphorous. “I recognized my own sorrow in the landscape; […and] I was enthralled by the multitude of functions on my new camera, and they distracted me from my melancholy state,” writes Pamuk in the introduction to Balkon.

I am sure that I don’t always understand all of the imagery or all of the literary references when I read Orhan Pamuk’s books – but I keep turning the pages. He explores the struggle between father and son, the past and present, piety and secularism through stories that can be read simply or metaphorically. His world is melancholy, but his images and stories distract me from my melancholy state.