The New Life

Indonesian edition’s cover

The New Life is among Orhan Pamuk’s early works marking the big step of his career in the literary world. Consistently taking a political way, Pamuk presents an absurd work of fiction about the turning point in which Turkey, as both a nation and a country, finds its way toward resurrection via westernization, wielding figurative narrative as his weapon. The story is wrapped up in a hazy, strangely quiet atmosphere, yet strongly provokes our thoughts and understandings of what secretly happens behind the revolution of a fallen country which is, as the title says, figuratively described as “the new life”.

The story focuses on a young man named Osman, an ordinary student majoring in architecture who happens to get a hold of a strange book. The said book has made him fervently curious ever since his first encounter with the inanimate thing. Having read the book, Osman feels like his life totally changes: his surroundings, the “he” inside him, his thoughts, his feelings, the way he sees the world, all of it. He feels as if he is not his same old self anymore. He feels as if it’s not his place anymore and he wants to enter the new life described in the mysterious book.

One day, far before his feelings eating him, he meets Janan, the girl who deliberately leaves the book for him to find. He falls in love with her, oblivious to the fact that Janan has already someone to love. Mehmet, the man she loves, has also read the book Osman is holding, and gets shot in the chest then vanishes without trace. Osman witnesses the incident, and that’s what spurs him more to decide to go searching for the new life. On his journey, he meets Janan again and then they have the long trip together, to discover the new life and the missing Mehmet. But they never know what lies beyond their understandings and the seemingly endless road. At the end of Osman’s long, exhausting quest, years later, he eventually finds out all the things he never knows about himself for all this time.

Osman is the representative of Turks who’s caught in the middle of the tug of war between Islam and westernization over the newly built republic, restless and uncertain, yet curious and excited about the new life promised by westernization, and he successfully hides all his seething feelings inside his calm self. He cannot deny the conservative way stretching before him, nor can he wave away the fear he feels emanated from that road, but he hides it, too. He may not know where the new life will take him, but he’s eager to follow it, to enter it, because he believes it will be the best way he’s ever taken. While on the other hand, Janan is the epitome of the western ideologue, believing completely with all her heart and soul that she must step onto that life.

The mysterious, strange book told in The New Life symbolizes the westernization some conservative Turkish people cannot tolerate. That new way of life is shocking and causing uproar, and it surely can and will change everybody’s life. But everyone who dares to face the west has to endure the consequence, being banished by the conservatives, for they think it’s eating them inside out, eroding the base of their nation, which is the teaching of Islam. Nevertheless, the threat and fear fail to discourage those who believe in westernization from running after it, from grasping it firmly with both hands because, to them, westernization equals modernization and a better life, a once again arising nation. They will not let the opportunity to become a great country slip through their fingers, even if they have to risk changing the face of the formerly religious Islamic country forever.

Ever being figurative, The New Life is naturally meant to be an absurd tale, a product of prose covered in a haze of complexity. The narrative is not something which is crystal clear, and the reader is forced to grapple with the meaning implied at the end of it. Be that as it may, the plot is not too twisted and long to enjoy, and the beautiful, romantic language Pamuk used to narrate every scene and describe each character is definitely captivating. The story may seem difficult to comprehend, and what Pamuk wants us to see in it may not be totally clear. But he still has it in him to interweave history and politics with a gloomy drama to create such a thorough novel. He implies all the quiet upheaval happening in Turkey in his figurative creation of a story, using fictional tokens to symbolize what we may find true in real life. Somehow, The New Life has successfully become a wonderful yet challenging work to devour.

At last, I would say that The New Life is a work of fiction which is highly recommended. All literature aficionados certainly have to read it. It’s unquestionably stunning, and left me thinking and marveling at the last page. This book, I believe, will be something that stays forever in your mind.

Rating: 3.5/5

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