Words of Wisdom:

"My teacher's long and boresome speech adds my character." " - Tigris

Orhan Pamuk

  • Date Submitted: 03/28/2010 04:36 AM
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Mind the Gap

Turkey is everyone's idea of a "successful" modern Muslim state. A new novel will make you think twice
By Christopher Hitchens

Well before the fall of 2001 a search was in progress, on the part of Western readers and critics, for a novelist in the Muslim world who could act the part of dragoman, an interpretive guide to the East. In part this was and remains a quest for reassurance. The hope was (and is) that an apparently "answering" voice, attuned to irony and rationality and to the quotidian rather than the supernatural, would pick up the signals sent by self-critical Americans and Europeans and remit them in an intelligible form. Hence the popularity of the Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz, who seemed in his Cairo café-society mode to be potentially "one of us"—even more so when he had the misfortune to be stabbed in the neck by a demented fundamentalist. There was a much lesser vogue for spikier secular writers, such as the late Abdelrahman Munif, author of the Cities of Salt quintet, and the late Israeli Arab Emil Habibi, whose novel Saeed the Pessoptimist is the favorite narrative of many Palestinians (and who also had the grace to win Israel's national prize for the best writing in Hebrew). In some ways those two were not quite "Muslim" enough for the purposes of authenticity.

Orhan Pamuk, a thoughtful native of Istanbul who lived for three years in New York, has for some time been in contention for the post of mutual or reciprocal fictional interpreter. Turkey is, physically and historically, the "bridge" between East and West, and I have yet to read a Western newspaper report from the country that fails to employ that cheering metaphor. (I cannot be certain how many "Eastern" articles and broadcasts are similarly affirmative.) With his previous novel, My Name Is Red, Pamuk himself became a kind of register of this position, dwelling on the interpenetration of Islamic and Western styles and doing so in a "postmodern" fashion that laid due...


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