On a glistening, crisp, mid-September afternoon, Edinburgh had the glorious reminder that the Edinburgh International Book Festival is not just for one month and one month only. Thanks to Booked!, EIBF’s on the road, all year round event schedule, the city was graced with Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author, Orhan Pamuk, who discussed his latest novel, The Red-Haired Woman, with Literary Editor and author, Stuart Kelly. It was quickly established to the audience by his friendly and chatty ease on stage that Pamuk is a man every inch as witty and charming as his books.
Pamuk revealed early on that his latest novel, set in his beloved Istanbul, has a plot which stems from a very literal source; for the master well digger and his young apprentice who serve as protagonists in the novel are based on a real scene Pamuk witnessed thirty years ago in Istanbul himself. Touched by the scene of a father chastising his son for his work, but then immediately expressing love and respect for him the moment the work ceased evoked strong emotions in Pamuk, who admits he lacked any form of sentimental relationship with his own father.
However, what I founds lightly ironic about this particular part of Pamuk’s discussion was that it immediately followed on from a discussion about origins and sources; a topic Pamuk blatantly refuted he had any care for. Whilst there is some irony in Pamuk’s new novel having such a traceable origin story, the novelist asserts that the book serves as testimony for his disbelief and dismissal of origins and traditions. Istanbul, he claims, has no centred origin; over the past forty years he has watched the city shimmer as a concoction of multiple cultural influences. It is a melting pot of Byzantium, Islamic, Christian, Parisian, European culture which has combined gracefully to form the Istanbul he knows and loves.
Whilst sometimes erratic and disjointed in narrative, no doubt entirely down to his enthusiasm and passion, Pamuk was more than capable of carrying the discussion entirely which made for an entertaining and thoughtful cocktail of discussion. Pamuk shared fascinating theories on reading into the emotional depth of artwork, which referred to Freudian theories which ultimately connected his allusions to mythologies, such as Oedipus and Sohrab and Rostam, in his novel. What Pamuk’s new novel aims to do is draw attention to the differing moral and social“atrocities” in these myths, as defined by modern and ancient audiences, whilst playing with, and breaking, literary, social and narrative dichotomies.
For more on the Booked! strand of the book festival click here.