Thursday, October 12, 2006

Orhan Pamuk: Nobel Laureate

I had a nap post four-am-National-Book-Award-finalist discovery and then logged on to find Orhan Pamuk had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I had a surprisingly, to me at least, nationalistic reaction to this. I spend a lot of time explaining how not Turkish I am, and yet I felt really really proud to have Pamuk win. My parents are in Turkey right now and I look forward to hearing first hand about the country's reaction (Pamuk is hugely popular in Turkey but also controversial for his politics, and lately his international popularity has ironically caused a bit of a backlash at home). I think part of my pleasure in this win comes from the fact that I access Turkey largely through literature by Turks (translated into English, naturally). Most of my knowledge of being a Turk comes through the singular portal of my father, which can't be a very comprehensive view, and Pamuk, who is only a little younger than my father and who went to the same prep school, oddly enough has been particularly informative. His memoir Istanbul, which I've posted on previously, placed my father for me into a generation and a class and a culture that helped me see a lot of cause and effect when it comes to who my father is. It was for me a really personal and important read. But Pamuk's novels are quite different--more experimental, increasingly political, and not easy reads. So what they do for me as a writer is make me think about style and content and how attention to both of those leads to bigger and more important books. A simplistic remark yet true all the same.

I think sometimes about how my parents could easily have made the choice to stay in Turkey and I would be a Turk with an American mother, instead of the American with a Turkish father that I am. And I wonder if I was the Turk with the American mother if I would have become a writer. Turkey is hard on writers, watching them carefully and charging them with crimes when they are insufficiently patriotic. And I don't know whether this fact would have caused me to be a writer but more political or stopped me from being a writer altogether. Recently the writer Matthew Stadler came to read at FAU and he mentioned something along the lines of how the American government pays such little attention to fiction writers that we should feel very free to write what we want, to be bold, to write on the important issues of the day. Now I agree with this, but I also wonder if it's our freedom that causes our complacency. It's possible that if our freedoms were more threatened (of course we may be headed that way) our fiction writers (myself included) would grow more revolutionary. Though I certainly hope that's not what it takes.

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