|Biographical detail : ||Writer whose novels make a uniquely Turkish contribution to world literature
Orhan Pamuk is a celebrity, garlanded with prizes from Europe and the US, and a best-seller at home and abroad. He shines a light on the tensions between past and present.
Both My Name is Red and Snow, his best known and most recent novels, sold 100,000 copies within days of publication.
My Name is Red, an intricate and seductive murder mystery set among 16th century Constantinople miniaturist painters, and an exploration of the differing roles that art plays in Ottoman and Western culture, was recognised as the best work of fiction published in English in 2001 that won him one of the world’s most lucrative literary prizes, the International Impac Dublin Literary Award, in 2003.
Snow, published in 2004, is more contemporary and far more political, and got more mixed reviews. A poet visits a wintry Turkish town to investigate, on behalf of a newspaper in Istanbul, an epidemic of suicides among young women torn between their Muslim faith and the secular strictures of their society. It is a pessimistic book that addresses the clash between Islamism and secular nationalism that has shaped republican Turkey.
Orhan’s statement caused uproar in Turkey when he made his comment referred to the two most traumatic events in Turkey’s modern history – the struggle against Kurdish separatism in the 1980s and 1990s and the massacre of Ottoman Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces as the empire collapsed during the First World War. The Armenian question is especially sensitive in Turkey.
He risked prosecution, when he signed an international petition urging the Turkish government to give members of the country’s Kurdish minority “constitutional guarantee” of their right, and so rescue Turkey from the “shame” of past repressive policies.
Orhan believes that global media have become so successful, so universal in projecting images of western wealth, that the picture is getting “impossible to accept, impossible to come to terms with” in poor countries. The poor have no comparable means of celebrating their own culture, their own way of life, which might otherwise give them solace.
Orhan won 2006 Noble Prize for literature, “in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city [Istanbul], he has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures,” said the award giving Swedish Academy.
Orhan Pamuk, a soft-spoken and courteous man, has become lately “more and more political.” He was born in a wealthy family, whose grandfather made a fortune early last century building railways for the Ataturk regime.