The Red-Haired Woman
Orhan Pamuk Trans by Ekin Oklap
Faber, hdbk, 251 pages, €21.50
Being a writer in Turkey these days isn’t easy. One can be jailed for simply expressing a dissenting voice that disagrees with the current Islamist authoritarian government. History helps explain this slide towards religious authoritarianism. Ever since the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the country has gravitated towards western, modern, secular values.
Turkish literary culture was more likely during the 20th century to be inspired by Zola, Joyce, Kafka or Baudelaire, than anything from the eastern canon, but with a recent rise in support for Islamist ideology — where politics, the state, culture and religious conservatism all work hand in glove — Turkey appears to be culturally closer to the Ottoman Empire: which collapsed following World War I after 600 years of rule.
In novels like Snow and A Strangeness in My Mind, the Istanbul-born writer — and 2006 winner of the Nobel Prize for literature — Orhan Pamuk has consistently grappled with this double-sided sword of Turkish identity: where secular western modernity lies on one side, and strong religious conviction — pointing eastwards — lies on the other.
Pamuk’s writing is overtly political. In both his work, and his public persona, the novelist has