Sunday, February 03, 2008

Book #8: The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk

This is the first book of Pamuk's to be translated into English, which started to bring this extraordinary Turkish writer to international attention.

It's a very strange book, which I started several times before I got a handle on what was going on, and then I couldn't put it down. A Venetian scholar is captured by Turkish sailors while returning to his home. He is imprisoned, but through his knowledge of science and medicine, escapes hard labor. One day, he is summoned to treat the Pasha of a chest ailment and meets his double. The Pasha gives he as a gift to this man, and the start of a strange and intense relationship forms the remainder of the book.

Orhan Pamuk was the first Turkish writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize

He sets all his books in Istanbul, during different time periods, and the city itself is as much a character is his books as the humans who act upon themselves in its landscape. He writes about impersonations and identity. Although he is not a political writer, his work touches on politics. And this has gotten him into trouble, for the comments he had made about the Armenian genocide, for which he faced a jail term. He was pardoned, possibly as much a result of Turkey's desire for EU membership.

This book is not the easiest reading - but it's thought provoking. At the end I wondered "who was who" and the phrase, "Why am I what I am?" still haunts me.

Another review of The White Castle

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