Sunday, September 23, 2007

BOOK: Other Colors by Orhan Pamuk

Other Colors: Essays and a Story by Orhan Pamuk

winner of the Nobel Prize

I read Pamuk's book Istanbul last year after I got back from my summer cruise, which included stops in Istanbul and Sirence, a small village in southern Turkey. I enjoyed the memoir and portrait of Istanbul immensely. It was not like any other book I'd read - full of imagery and descriptions, remembrances and anecdotes; I felt I'd been immersed in the melancholy and history of Istanbul that I'd only been able to visit for several hours.

This is Pamuk's first book since being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last year. He is most known for his novels, including My Name is Red, Snow, and The Black Book. I am interested in reading his novels, because he defines himself as a novelist foremost. However, I've only read his nonfiction, and I've enjoyed both now.

This book is a collection of essays and pieces he has written over the years. They are divided into sections called Living and Worrying; Books and Reading; Politics, Europe,and Other Problems of Being Oneself; My Books are My Life; Pictures and Texts, and a few other assorted writings, including his speech at the Nobel ceremony, and one story.

I liked certain sections more than others. As I haven't read any of his novels, his discussions relating to the books weren't as interesting as if I had. Once I read one of his books, I'll go back and read about his view and hopes for each. The essays about his favorite books exposed me as being terribly unliterate, as I haven't read Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Bernhard or Salman Rushdie. Still, his views and writings are enlightening, and rather deep.

The selections I enjoyed the most were the ones about Living and Worrying. A wide range of topics, from his daughter, to a seagull out his window, to the earthquake in 1999 that rocked Istanbul, Pamuk writes in a way that makes you identify with him, with humanity. We all feel the same way, think the same types of things, he just does it in a way that makes me think - why can't I put that thought into words in such a beautiful way? Some of these articles touch on themes from Istanbul, about the city, the river, the ferries, and his family.

One other major theme of Pamuk's involves identity and belonging. Istanbul has always been in the middle of the East and West of the world, and Pamuk as well struggles with his identity. As a Canadian, and from a small province, I can recognize the dilemma - so close to a dominant culture and a part of it, and yet different at the same time, and striving to maintain that sense of self, independent. It is very interesting to read his writings from the Western point of view, seeing how others, in the East, see us.

I enjoyed this book, especially as it reminds me of my wonderful trip. I got to see both Istanbul, in Europe, and Kusadasi and Sirence in the Asian part of Turkey. I read Pamuk before I knew he was a novelist; I was just looking for a book about Istanbul. Instead, I stumbled upon an amazing writer. His novels scare me a little, because they would be very 'literature' and I'm often not able to follow those strands of thought. His nonfiction, on the other hand, is very lovely. He thinks, and writes about many varied things, in a lyrical, magical way.

What's nice in a collection like this, is the varied topics and the number of essays, some of which are very short. There were some I didn't enjoy as much, but, turn the page, and there is another, new article which may engage you more. It is difficult ot summarize this book, because there is so much there. It is not often I get to read a book from a Turkish point of view, and I imagine his Nobel prize is partly that - beautiful writing that exposes the world to a unique point of view - western and eastern at the same time.
I loved visiting Turkey, and Pamuk's writing takes me back there. Incidently, I love the cover of the book. It is in black and white photo of Istanbul, with colored strips for the title. Very beautiful and wonderful play on the title. I jumped at the chance to get this review copy. I took all these pictures, except for the ones I am in, obviously, during our excursions.


  1. What a great review! A very dear friend gifted me two of Pamuk's novels for my birthday this year, "Istanbul" and "Snow". I plan on starting with Istanbul because, like you, I have visited the city and absolutely LOVED it. I would love to go on a tour with Pamuk and in that way bring back all my memories of that fascinating city!

    I have read his "My Name is Red", but I have to be truthful and say I didn't really like it. I will say, however, I learned a lot from it. It's a worthy read if you can make it to the end.

  2. lotus reads - I loved Istanbul, but Iam a little leary of his novels - I've read mixed reviews, but I do enjoy his prose. I really enjoyed Turkey, I wish we had been able to see more.

  3. So, did you bring home any evil eyes?

  4. bookfool - I did! I got a bracelet, and a wall hanging with the evil eye. I also got fez hats for each of my kids. They are awesome.


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