‘I do not re­gret any of my books’: Orhan Pa­muk re­veals his cre­ative process

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - Alexan­dra Chaves Shar­jah In­ter­na­tional Book Fair ends on Satur­day. See www.sibf.com for de­tails

Orhan Pa­muk’s ap­peal is un­de­ni­ably global, if the au­di­ence at his re­cent talk at Shar­jah In­ter­na­tional Book Fair was any­thing to go by, as fans of all na­tion­al­i­ties lis­tened to the No­bel Prize-win­ning Turk­ish au­thor speak last Wed­nes­day night.

The num­bers prove it, too. Pa­muk has sold more than 13 mil­lion books world­wide, and his works have been trans­lated into 63 lan­guages. But with all these read­ers (and huge mar­kets in South Asia and China), who does he write for?

“I write first for the Turks,” said Pa­muk in re­sponse to the ques­tion posed by mod­er­a­tor and fel­low au­thor Omar Ghobash. “But I think about the other 62 coun­tries, too.”

In the past, Turk­ish na­tion­al­ists have at­tacked him for ac­knowl­edg­ing the deaths of Ar­me­ni­ans and Kurds in Turkey. The au­thor has braved not only crit­i­cism, but also court cases and po­ten­tial im­pris­on­ment, to ex­er­cise free speech. De­spite this, Pa­muk said he is a “happy writer”. “This is nor­mal in my part of the world. There are so many writ­ers in jail [that] I’m em­bar­rassed to talk about my prob­lems. I’m happy. I’m out. I’m do­ing fine.”

He added that au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and po­lit­i­cal up­heavals of­ten draw peo­ple to read­ing. “This hap­pens af­ter mil­i­tary coups,” he said, ex­plain­ing that when tele­vi­sion and news­pa­pers are filled with gov­ern­ment pro­pa­ganda, peo­ple turn to fic­tion in­stead. “I thank the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment to get peo­ple to read more books,” he said jok­ingly.

“In the end, I have the good­will to say the truth as much as I can,” he added. When it comes to his books, Pa­muk’s truths are about con­nec­tions be­tween East and West, fit­ting for his city, Is­tan­bul, which strad­dles Asia and Europe and where most of his nov­els are set.

Born in 1952, Pa­muk grew up in a fam­ily of civil en­gi­neers, and it seemed the most cre­ative pro­fes­sion he could pur­sue was ar­chi­tec­ture. From the age of seven un­til his early twen­ties, he wanted to paint. Then it all changed three years into ar­chi­tec­ture school.

“A screw was loose in my head at the age of 22, and I de­cided I wouldn’t be able to be a painter. I be­gan writ­ing nov­els,” he said, adding that it took “self-im­posed dis­ci­pline” to un­der­take the process.

De­spite giv­ing up paint­ing, the in­flu­ence of art is ev­i­dent in Pa­muk’s nov­els. He com­pared the act of paint­ing to writ­ing – both are fu­elled by an in­nate “im­pulse to cre­ate”, and in the same way that ev­ery painter’s sig­na­ture is re­vealed through his ges­tures and brush­strokes, a writer com­poses a story me­di­ated through his in­ner world. His most pop­u­lar book, My

Name is Red, is a mys­tery tale with a cast of 16th-cen­tury Is­lamic minia­ture pain­ters. Dur­ing the talk, he spoke about the im­pact of Re­nais­sance paint­ing, with its fo­cus on por­trai­ture and use of per­spec­tive, on eastern art. The “death of minia­ture paint­ing”, he stated, is partly due to the “glob­al­i­sa­tion” of these Re­nais­sance styles. The same goes for the novel. De­vel­oped in France and Eng­land in the late 1700s, it has now be­come the most pop­u­lar lit­er­ary form. With the novel’s as­cen­dance, po­etry’s value be­gan to fade, some­thing the au­thor laments, es­pe­cially in the con­text of the Arab world and Turkey, which have his­tor­i­cally rich oral tra­di­tions.

“The per­sona and pres­tige of the poet in Ot­toman times was so im­por­tant,” he said. “Arabs and Turks were busy with po­etry. We are for­get­ting that past. We are all writ­ing nov­els.” Now with 10 books un­der his belt, Pa­muk has near-per­fected his writ­ing process with prose that is con­sid­ered, af­fect­ing and imag­i­na­tive. Dur­ing his talk, the au­thor spoke about the im­por­tance of re­search and rig­or­ous edit­ing in his writ­ing. “I come from a fam­ily of en­gi­neers. I plan ev­ery­thing ahead of time,” he said, adding that he is cur­rently writ­ing a book he has been think­ing about for 30 years. He re­vealed that the char­ac­ter of Fusun in The Mu­seum of In­no­cence, for ex­am­ple, took six years to de­velop. For works such as

A Strange­ness in my Mind, Pa­muk and his as­sis­tants in­ter­viewed a num­ber of street food ven­dors in Is­tan­bul. “I’m an in­ter­viewer. I some­times work like a jour­nal­ist,” he said. For his more his­tor­i­cal nov­els, which in­clude My Name

is Red, Pa­muk spoke to aca­demics as well as con­duct­ing his own re­search.

Then, he goes through his words me­thod­i­cally. “You write in a po­etic mood. The next morn­ing, you edit like an en­gi­neer,” he said. Be­cause of this, he has no con­tri­tion about any of his work as a whole. “I do not re­gret any of my books, but many times I re­gret some chap­ters, keep­ing that sen­tence or por­trayal of one char­ac­ter.” This usu­ally lasts for about a month af­ter the book is out, when it still has that “plas­tic­ity”, af­ter which “I’m al­ready open­ing my mind to a new book”.

Arabs and Turks were busy with po­etry. We are for­get­ting that past. We are all writ­ing nov­els

The Turk­ish writer is cur­rently work­ing on a novel he has been think­ing about for decades, the No­bel lau­re­ate re­vealed at Shar­jah In­ter­na­tional Book Fair Getty

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