Don't believe those who say the novel is dying: Pamuk

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The Turkish writer spoke to Khaleej Times in detail about his literary life on the sidelines of the SIBF.

By Anamika Chatterjee

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Published: Thu 31 Oct 2019, 9:50 PM

Last updated: Sun 3 Nov 2019, 12:13 AM

Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, who marked his place in the global literature scene with his novels including My Name Is Red, Istanbul, Snow and Silent House was present at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) on its opening day. The Turkish writer spoke to Khaleej Times in detail about his literary life on the sidelines of the SIBF. Excerpts from the interview:
You started as a painter and then wanted to be a writer.
I was raised by my family to be a painter, then I switched to writing novels. I explained why I made that choice in my book, Istanbul. I chronicled not only my life, but that of Istanbul itself. Its streets, how classical big-fashioned homes were developed, what it meant to go to a school in Istanbul in the late 1950s and 60s. It is also about why, in my childhood, I went out to the streets of Istanbul, did oil and watercolour painting of the street scenes and then, at the age of 22, switched to writing about these things rather than painting them.
How did having a background in painting help in the technique of writing?
They tell me that I am a visual novelist, a compliment that I accept, but don't take too seriously. There is truth to it. As compared to other writers, I imagine a scene first as a picture, but I am not the only visual artist around. Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust, Vladimir Nabokov - the writers I admire - have also been visual artists.
At which point in your career did you embrace political writing?
I started early part of my life writing books only for the sake of beauty - in fact, I still like that. But coming from Turkey, being political is inevitable. You're also asking me a question on politics. Not only in Sharjah, in Europe, too, they ask me such questions. You avoid one, two or three questions at most, but in the end, one has a conscience and hence wants to give an opinion and say, "Well, I am not a political person, but still let me give you an answer." And that's what creates problems. This is what happened in my life. I accepted this is normal. So, I am no longer running away from it.
My Name Is Red has many narratorial voices. As a writer, how easy or difficult is it to acquire different tones?
In some of my novels, such as Silent House, My Name is Red and A Strangeness in My Mind, I use first person singular. In A Strangeness in My Mind, I combine first person singular with traditional authorly voice. Your question is pertinent and provocative in that you're actually asking, "Well mister, how do you identify with a sixteenth century painter or with a woman giving birth?" The art of writing novels is based on this human strength to identify with other people. We care about others and try to see the world through their suffering. We understand their jealousies, anger, confusion and disappointments - sometimes by looking inside our own spirit. The talent of identification with others is a very humane talent, and art of the novel is based on that.
In My Name Is Red, not only do I try to identify with sixteenth century characters, but also identify with the objects.
What did winning the Nobel in 2006 change for the writer in you?
I was in New York, and sleeping around the time they called me. At that time, my books had already been translated into 43 languages - now, I think it's 63-64. The Nobel Prize definitely earned me new readers, but by that time, I was already an international writer. Readers bring you joy, but there is also a responsibility that the Nobel Prize brings with itself. You become a diplomat of sorts for country - in my case from Turkey, because then you're constantly asked political questions. I would say the Nobel Prize brought additional representational responsibilities. But I am happy with it. There are some authors who receive the prize but continue to complain about it. But I am a superficial person who can be happy with a prize (laughs).
In the age of instant consumption that digitalisation has enabled, will the novel continue to retain its present form or will it need tweaking?
Please don't believe journalists who tell you that the novel is dying. Digital transformation did make some of the readers disappear, but, on the other hand, it told people to read more by offering access. After the digital revolution, my books are getting more popular all over the world. So, I am not complaining. Yes, we are suspicious that some damage will come to us, but there is also a possibility of communication now - for example, selling your books through Amazon and other methods; I can talk to my readers in Argentina and the UAE now. So, I don't want to be a pessimist.

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