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The Unknown World: Orhan Pamuk’s Essays 

Other Colors: Essays and a Story

Wednesday, Nov 14 2007

“A writer,” Orhan Pamuk revealed during his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in literature this past December, “talks of things that everyone knows but does not know they know. To explore this knowledge, and to watch it grow, is a pleasurable thing; the reader is visiting a world at once familiar and miraculous.” This is a vastly more transcendent form of communication than the popular artistic mode of saying the things no one wants to say. It, in fact, approaches the divine, because to awaken a person into a completely new world of awareness is like making a new man from a work of art. In this collection of writings — which include Pamuk’s own metacommentaries on his books (there are seven novels so far, and a memoir from 2005, Istanbul: Memories and the City) and essays on various topics (the anxiety of being mugged in New York City, the process of quitting smoking, the 1999 Izmit earthquake) — Pamuk takes the reader on a vivid, illuminating tour of his life and of modern-day Turkey. Over 73 brief but sprawling chapters, Pamuk — who is Turkey’s most widely read author and the only prominent public figure there to speak freely about the ongoing Kurdish strife and about the Armenian genocide of 1915 — asks big questions: Is it vulgar to be happy? Is there true joy in degradation? For whom does the writer sincerely and truly write? When is it all right to throw away one’s books?

In his Nobel acceptance speech, titled “My Father’s Suitcase,” Pamuk detailed how his father gave him a suitcase full of his writings, to be opened and lovingly pilfered for inspiration after his death. Pamuk connects himself to the tradition of the writers he loves, and admits that the writer who affected him most directly — his father — presented him with the problem of conflicting mythologies: Should he read the suitcase’s contents and continue on with the tradition of writing contained within, or should he hold on to his father’s identity solely as a father, pure and simple? Oftentimes, Pamuk’s questions are ones without answers, in which the long and winding process of asking ultimately proves to be the answer itself.

Other Colors: Essays and a Story| By ORHAN PAMUK | Knopf | 433 pages | $28 hardcover

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