The Red-Haired Woman

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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