The Black Book.
Orhan Pamuk is an amazing writer and totally deserves the Nobel Prize he won. He is also a great inducer of sleep.
I finally finished The Black Book (and I’m sure I did this rather quickly, but it feels like it has been forever), another recommendation from Sonika, and this time on loan from her, which meant I got to read her notes in the margins. I’d previously read Snow by Pamuk, and liked it a lot, though I have never in my life taken so many naps while reading a book. I chucked it up to all of the images of quiet snow and stillness.
After reading this book however, I’ve decided it’s that Pamuk demands your attention so fully on each and every page that it cannot help but exhaust you in the best possible way.
The Black Book was fantastic. It opens with Galip finding that his wife, Ruya, has left their home- after leaving him a short note, the full contents of which are never revealed to the reader- and he begins to look for her. He also discovers that Celal Bay, her half-brother, has also gone missing, and decides they must be together. Celal is a famed columist for the newspaper, and Galip begins to search his column (which is every other chapter) for clues.
The central theme of the novel is identity: national, internal and external, the personal and the political. As Galip tries to find Ruya- whose name means dream- and Celal, he slowly absorbs Celal’s identity, eventually going to so far as to write his columns, and he is left to wonder how well he knew his wife or his brother-in-law, but even more alarmingly, how well he knows himself.
“So that’s all it takes,” mused Galip, as the dolmus drove along the Dolmabahce Palace walls. “If you want to turn your world upside down, all you have to do is somehow convince yourself you might be someone else.”
The idea is also presented that everyone is made up of who they would like to become and pieces of other people we admire and have absorbed. This even extends to art and writing- what does it mean that Galip can easily mimic Celal’s writing? Is there anything original, or should we embrace the fact that it’s impossible to not be influenced by other people’s thoughts? And what does it mean to be yourself? Who are you? (One can see how this novel would be great for a college class.)
On another note, I think I could have gotten more out of this book if I knew more about Turkey’s political history, especially after having read the translator’s note at the end that noted that this book begins in January 1980, nine months before a coup. I think Celal’s political involvement could have really been interesting if I’d had the background knowledge.
Fortunately, I would usually slide into a deep sleep before I had too much time to worry about what I might be missing, and what I did come away from The Black Book with was both satisfying and refreshing.