I am just listening to my inner music– Orhan Pamuk | Sunday Observer

I am just listening to my inner music– Orhan Pamuk

28 March, 2021

Orhan Pamuk was born on June 7, 1952 and is a Turkish novelist, screenwriter, academic and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature. One of Turkey’s most prominent novelists, his work has sold over 13 million books in 63 languages, making him the country’s best-selling writer.

Pamuk is the author of novels including Silent House, The White Castle, The Black Book, The New Life, My Name Is Red, Snow, The Museum of Innocence, A Strangeness in My Mind and The Red-Haired Woman. He is the Robert Yik-Fong Tam Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, where he teaches writing and comparative literature. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2018.

Of partial Circassian descent and born in Istanbul, Pamuk is the first Turkish Nobel laureate. He is also the recipient of numerous other literary awards. My Name Is Red won the 2002 Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, 2002 Premio Grinzane Cavour and 2003 International Dublin Literary Award.

The European Writers’ Parliament came about as a result of a joint proposal by Pamuk and José Saramago. Pamuk’s willingness to write books about contentious historical and political events put him at risk of censure in his homeland. In 2005, the ultra-nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz sued him over a statement regarding the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire. His intention, according to Pamuk himself, had been to highlight issues relating to freedom of speech in the country of his birth. The court initially declined to hear the case, but in 2011,Pamuk was ordered to pay 6,000 liras in compensation for having insulted the plaintiffs’ honour.

Career as a writer

He started writing regularly in 1974. His first novel, Karanlıkve Işık (Darkness and Light) was a co-winner of the 1979 Milliyet Press Novel Contest (Mehmet Eroğlu was the other winner). This novel was published with the title Cevdet Beyve Oğulları (Mr. Cevdet and His Sons) in 1982 and won the Orhan Kemal Novel Prize in 1983. It tells the story of three generations of a wealthy Istanbul family living in Nişantaşı, the district of Istanbul where Pamuk grew up.

Pamuk won a number of critical prizes for his early work, including the 1984 Madarali Novel Prize for his second novel Sessiz Ev (Silent House) and the 1991 Prix de la Découverte Européenne for the French translation of this novel. His historical novel Beyaz Kale (The White Castle), published in Turkish in 1985, won the 1990 Independent Award for Foreign Fiction and extended his reputation abroad. On May 19, 1991, The New York Times Book Review stated, “A new star has risen in the east—Orhan Pamuk.” He started experimenting with post modern techniques in his novels, a change from the strict naturalism of his early works.

Popular success took a bit longer to come to Pamuk, but his 1990 novel Kara Kitap (The Black Book) became one of the most controversial and popular books in Turkish literature, due to its complexity and richness. In 1992, he wrote the screenplay for the movie Gizli Yüz (Secret Face), based on Kara Kitap and directed by a prominent Turkish director, Ömer Kavur.

Pamuk’s fifth novel Yeni Hayat (New Life) caused a sensation in Turkey upon its 1994 publication and became the fastest-selling book in Turkish history. By this time, Pamuk had also become a high-profile figure in Turkey, due to his support for Kurdish political rights. In 1995, Pamuk was among a group of authors tried for writing essays that criticised Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds. In 1999, Pamuk published his book of essays Öteki Renkler (Other Colors).

In 2019, the 66-year-old Nobel Laureate held an exhibition of his photographs of Istanbul taken from his balcony, named “Balkon: Photos by Orhan Pamuk”. The exhibition captured the “subtle and ever-changing view of Istanbul” photographed by Pamuk from his balcony using a telephoto lens. Curated by Gerhard Steidl, the German publisher of his photo book Balkon, the exhibition ran for three months at the YapıKredi Culture and Arts building on Istanbul’s teeming Istiklal Street. It featured more than 600 colour photos selected from over 8,500 taken by Pamuk over five months in late 2012 and early 2013, in what was described by the gallery as “a period of intense creativity”.


Pamuk’s books are characterised by a confusion or loss of identity brought on in part by the conflict between Western and Eastern values. They are often disturbing or unsettling and include complex plots and characters. His works are also redolent with discussion of and fascination with the creative arts, such as literature and painting. Pamuk’s work often touches on the deep-rooted tensions between East and West and tradition and modernism or secularism.

Pamuk speaks about “the Angel of inspiration” when he discusses his creativity:

“I am just listening to an inner music, the mystery of which I don’t completely know. And I don’t want to know.”

“I am most surprised by those moments when I have felt as if the sentences, dreams and pages that have made me so ecstatically happy have not come from my own imagination – that another power has found them and generously presented them to me.”

A group of writers assert that some parts of Pamuk’s works are heavily influenced by works of other writers and some chapters are almost totally quoted from other books.

Pamuk said that his works have been inspired by the writings of rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. One of the writers, nationalist popular-historian Murat Bardakçı, accused him of counterfeiting and plagiarism in the Hurriyet, a Turkish newspaper.

Another accusation is that Pamuk’s novel The White Castle contains exact paragraphs from FuadCarim’s Kanuni Devrinde İstanbul (“Istanbul in the Time of the Kanuni”) novel. After a question raised at the 2009 Boston Book Festival as to whether he wanted to respond to these accusations, Pamuk responded, “No I do not. Next question?”.

However, many attributed such accusations to their ignorance about post modern literature and the literary technique of intertextuality which Pamuk almost always uses in his novels in full disclosure.