Editor’s Note: Becky Anderson sat down with Orhan Pamuk for Connect the World in Istanbul. Watch the show this week live from Beirut, Lebanon.
Orhan Pamuk is Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author
Outspoken about Turkey's government but says he is 'not a political writer'
Found international acclaim with 1998 novel 'My Name is Red'
Recreated 'The Museum of Innocence' from eponymous novel as real museum in 2012
Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel Prize-winning author, is neither afraid to confront the human condition in his novels, nor his country’s past and political present.
The single-minded 62-year-old examined the vagaries of love and obsession in his 2008 novel “The Museum of Innocence”. It centers around the relationship between wealthy businessman Kemal and a young woman called Fusan.
Few authors would be able to physically create the world crafted between their pages, yet Pamuk’s remarkable Museum of Innocence opened in Istanbul in 2012, blurring the lines between fiction and reality.
“(The book) treats loves as a general thing; it’s something that happens to all of us, or most of us,” he says sitting among the relics of the fictional relationship.
“But on the other hand, our class, history, religion, culture… all forms various ways we enjoy love or suffer for love.”
The mix of influences and culture is something that Pamuk touches upon often in his work.
Between “The Museum of Innocence” and the 1998 novel “My Name is Red” – which first brought him international acclaim – Pamuk published what he says is his “first and last political” novel, entitled “Snow”. It tackles the tension between Islamists, secularists, Kurds and nationalists in Turkey.
Pamuk has also taken on taboo topics in Turkey, like the alleged Armenian genocide in the 1900s and the massacre of Kurdish separatists.
That led the government, in 2005, to sue him under article 301 of the constitution for defaming the Turkish state.
The charges were soon dropped, but the experience solidified his position as a controversial literary figure within the Turkish psyche.
“I’m not a political writer, but it’s a matter of dignity for me when the country is living in dramatic times to make my comments,” he says. “But I make them when I want to make them, not when the public demands.”
He’s written about deep-rooted tensions between east and west, and how Istanbul and Turkey have changed over the last few decades.
“If (modernity) means… economic growth, affluence, then Turkey is managing that in the last decade and a half,” he says.
“While, if modernity means secularism, democracy, respect for the dignity of the individual, I’m not sure we are getting near to that.”
According to Pamuk, the current government of Turkey, headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is largely responsible for the state of the country. However, he feels that the blame should not land entirely at this administration’s feet.
“The previous secularist parties and the army were also as ruthless as this (current) party,” he says.
“Free speech is troubled in Turkey. We have a good electoral democracy but not a full democracy in the sense that free speech is respected, rights of minority and journalistic writings are respected; we don’t have that.
“I’m very critical of the government; I am optimistic of the future of the country,” he says, citing the outpouring of creativity that he’s seeing in Turkey at the moment.
“In the end the government that we’ve been critical of has also produced this immense economic growth.
“I thank God that I’m alive, I can continue to write my book and can raise my voice and criticize the government. Who wants more?”