fiction, review

Dijual: Keajaiban

32918651421_ddb0ce58f9_oNine different writers from various Asian countries with nine different stories. Dijual: Keajaiban is an anthology that provides you with this wonderful miracle. Despite the geographical question you might be left with after perusing the list of writers contributing to the collection, the nine short pieces bring you thought-provoking ideas, deep, vividly drawn characters, emotional plots and thoughtful messages. This book is something we can call a hidden gem, something that might not be popular among readers (here in this country) but has the value of a treasure.

All the stories contained in this book are of high quality, there is no doubt about it. But there are four that can truly tear your heart apart, or at least leave you dead silent and aware of the reality around you. The first one is also the first to welcome readers to the collection, a very subtle love story by the Chinese Nobel laureate, Gao Xingjian, entitled In the Park. It’s about a couple of childhood friends who meet again when they are grown up and are talking about their past and present, while watching a restless woman waiting for the man she loves nearby. The way Gao composes the dialogs tells us how both of them are actually in love with each other, unluckily, destiny doesn’t seem to want to see them together. But there has to be someone to blame, and the woman doesn’t conceal the fact that she intends to do so. However, it is not this attitude, or the subtle conflict being told she has with her male friend, which pulls the reader to the depth of the narrative, but the idea of how women, even in a personal love affair, has always to be on the losing side. It is crystal clear from what the woman says to the man:

“If the woman falls in love first, it’s always unlucky.”

The second lump-in-the-throat story of the book is Qismati and Nasibi by Naguib Mahfouz. Imagine you have a Siamese twin sibling and you cannot get away from the fact, much less from them. Characteristically, you both are so different you might as well be two different people born from two different mothers, and nothing unites you but your conjoined bodies. You cannot help but hate each other and fight almost everyday, sometimes willing to take the defeat only to get spurred again and determined to get what you want without an ounce of care about your twin’s feelings. Life is like a hell on earth, so much worse than that even. Unfortunately, even death cannot do you apart.

To Look Out the Window by Orhan Pamuk is as much heart-breaking. With its rather flat narrative, it surprisingly has the ability to set fire to the reader’s heart and make what seems to be a simple idea of family affair feel more moving and profound than any other Pamuk’s story ever did. Told from a first-person point of view, this long short story talks about a father secretly leaving his wife and children without so much as a word but telling his youngest son, who doesn’t have the faintest idea of what actually happens, not to tell anyone about his leaving for Paris. It appears, though, as the story progresses, that he leaves them for another woman. Pamuk is very clever in how he employs the viewpoint of an innocent little boy to elaborate his creation of a plot and describe the feelings of adults around him. On the one hand, it indeed makes it seem like nothing is really happening, but on the other, from the way the little boy relates his mother’s state of mind and conversations we can tell that she is suffering from severe depression and trying hard to deal with it, and to find out what she should do next. It’s a very sad story, and it’s my most favorite of all.

Yusuf Idris’ A Tray from Heaven is also moving, but in its own funny, stinging way. It hilariously relates the life of an old man named Syaikh Ali—poor, jobless, uneducated, with no family at all. His bad temper never leaves the people of his village upset, instead, they think his rage and the way he takes it out on his poverty are funny and entertaining. Until one day he gets them into a panic because he takes it out on God and curses Him for he hasn’t eaten the whole day. His neighbors are all afraid God will retaliate against the entire village for his foolish act. So on their own initiative, they give Syaikh Ali any food they have in store on a tray. And they keep doing it every time he gets cranky and starts to verbally attack the Almighty.

All characters inhabiting each story in Dijual: Keajaiban are portrayals of ordinary people, they are there to reflect our complicated, gray life with all the bitter-sweet: poverty, patriarchy, destiny, humanity, and, of course, miracles. They are, in some ways, not the center of the story where they live and look alive, but they are the center of attention to the reader. It is through their existence, then, that readers are able to look into the depth of each narrative and find out what the writer wants to say. This is especially true of The Blind Dog (R.K. Narayan) and Miracles for Sale (Taufiq el-Hakim). Both the blind dog and the priest are not the narrators, nor are they the aspects we should give more emphasis to, but it is through their characterizations that we see the messages and criticisms expressed strongly in each of the storylines.

With the exception, unfortunately, of Yukio Mishima’s The Seven Bridges, every short story put into this anthology is very affecting and incredibly moving. The writings grip you, so much so that you need to pull yourself together to carry on reading. This kind of prose needs undoubtedly a superb writing technique and a perceptive mind, and the translated version needs a superb translator to do it. Tia Setiadi could really do it. It seems like he could naturally catch the tone used by each writer and follow their writing styles. It read so smooth and natural, as if those stories are his own. There are, however, some questioning diction and several sentences translated too much literally. It was a little annoying but fortunately it occured only rarely. No harm done. What actually bothering is the line-up of writers the publisher, or the editor, chose to get their stories put together into this “all-Asian” collection. There are two writers from Egypt and one from Turkey. When the entire literary world, people in general, and even Turkish people themselves think of Turkey as a European country, the editor of the collection put Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish Nobel laureate, into the list. Perhaps, it’s just perhaps, the editor thought that since Turks were originally coming from Central Asia, and the majority of the land geographically lies in Asia, then Turkey is fundamentally an Asian country. But what about the two writers from Egypt? The last time I checked, this country is still located in Africa. Why were they chosen to contribute their pieces to the book? Is it only because they write in Arabic? If so, then it sounds like Isabel Allende is thought of as a writer from Spain just because she writes in Spanish while in fact she comes from Chile in South America. I’d rather have writers from South Korea or South East Asia. We’ve got plenty here.

Having said that, I’d still like to thank the editor and the publisher for bringing out Dijual: Keajaiban. It really is a miraculous book, some kind of hidden gem that will make you feel rich only by reading the whole nine stories.

Rating: 4/5

fiction, review

The Black Book

black-bookWe might be one of those people in this century whose favorite slogan is “Be Yourself” and who never hesitate to go to any lengths to prove that we are not afraid to show our “true” self. But how true is that self? Or, to be precise, the question should be, “Is it truly ourselves? Or is it someone else we imitate?” The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk may talk about the intense tension between the right and left wings preceding the military coup that took place in the mid 1980’s Turkey, but for the most part it daringly expresses Pamuk’s criticism, as always, of his country’s sense of self. Over the course of the 400-or-so-pages mystery novel, Pamuk doesn’t seem to be able to stop himself from describing how Turkish people, in the modern era, start to leave their “true self” behind and imitate some “other people”. And that, I think, is still relevant to this day, and to anybody on this planet.

Our protagonist here is a lawyer named Galip who lives with his wife and cousin Rüya in an apartment in Nişantaşı, Istanbul. One day he finds her gone, bringing only a few of her belongings and leaving a short letter saying that she will be back soon. But she never comes back, not a day after that, not even two or three days later. Galip starts to have a worrying suspicion that she’s running off to her ex-husband, a left-wing activist she met in her younger days. But then he doubts himself if it all is true and turns to think that perhaps his wife is hiding somewhere with Celâl, her half-brother and Galip’s much older cousin, for apparently Celâl is also missing. Unable to sit still, Galip sets out to go and find them, searching the entire city, following traces and clues, trying to decipher signs and letters while at the same time pointing out how the people of his city, of his nation, have changed their ways and gestures. Between Galip’s slow and meticulous investigation, Celâl’s pieces of writing will appear and tell readers (both of his columns and of the book itself) the way of his thinking and thus adding to all the clues and signs already mounted up to the highest peak. So instead of shedding some light on the case, they only succeed in getting the reader into a trap and making them all the more confused about the nature of mystery.

It is throughout this draining search for meaning of signs that Pamuk keeps hammering into us the importance of asking ourselves, “To be, or not to be, oneself?” The question haunts us every time we turn a page down from the first chapter up to the last. Like the one entitled Bedii Usta’s Children, for instance, where Pamuk, through the writing of Celâl, talks about a mannequin maker who insists on making mannequins in original Turkish poses and refuses to imitate European mannequins. It is less about mannequin making than it is about struggling to be oneself and be happy with it. In a chapter called The Eye, Celâl creates an imaginary eye and pretends that this eye is following and watching him being someone else, because he longs to do so, to be so. In I Must be Myself, a barber comes to the newspaper office and asks him a bothering question, “Is there a way a man can be only himself?”

And this mysterious question doesn’t stop within the personal range, it widens into the range of nationality and nationalism. At some point, a certain character will say, “To live in an oppressed, defeated country is to be someone else.” By this line, Pamuk appears to intend to make a mockery of the state of his country: defeated at the World War I, scrabbled around for a “new country”, a “new self” under the rule of secularism and Westernization just so they can restore their pride and dignity as a nation but without, as it is clearly seen, caring if they have to pay it with their true identity. To make this shame even worse, in a chapter Pamuk writes that “…it was because they had failed to find a way to be themselves that whole peoples had dragged in slavery, whole races into degeneracy, and entire nations into nothingness, nothingness.” It’s as if he wants to give some kind of warning that once a people loses their identity, they will be buried under other civilizations of the world and cease to exist at all.

With The Black Book, Pamuk seems to want to make fun of popular Western detective novels which, to him, serve no purpose but to please only the authors and have an already definite ending without truly complicated clues. This may sound so cocky but I have to say that The Black Book is indeed a mystery novel not like any other. The structure is very different from those usually in the genre. By means of Pamuk’s signature narrative style—a long, winding one—the mystery the story proposes appears to multiply uncontrollably, overlap each other, and then overflow that the deeper we get into it, the more we’re lost in it. The pursuit of clues and the large number of signs scattered along the storyline do not even result in useful information nor lead to the looked-for answer, instead, they give us a glimpse of something that might, or might not, be the motivation of the crime. Even as the book is drawing to a close, the mystery isn’t still revealed and the answer is not fully satisfying, thus producing a much unsettling conclusion.

I cannot say that The Black Book is the best work of Orhan Pamuk, nor can I declare it to be the best one I’ve ever read. During my reading, I felt stuck at times, didn’t know where one point of the plot would take me to, or if it would take me to anywhere at all. But I have to say it’s very interesting, captivating at some point, and, with its rather cliffhanger, very curious to me. And, the best point of this book is I can relate to it, as Pamuk’s works have always made me feel.

Rating: 4/5


Seperti Membaca Diri Sendiri

Pada tanggal 29 Juli lalu saya menghadiri sebuah diskusi terbuka mengenai Orhan Pamuk, salah satu penulis favorit saya, yang diadakan oleh komunitas Pawon. Diskusi tersebut membuka beberapa bahasan menarik dan kemudian mengingatkan saya akan kesan yang saya tangkap dari karya-karya beliau dan alasan mengapa saya menggemari beliau.

Pertama kali saya mengenal Orhan Pamuk adalah ketika saya membaca My Name is Red edisi terjemahan bahasa Indonesia yang diterbitkan oleh Penerbit Serambi. Saya langsung terkesan dengan ide cerita serta gaya penuturan narasinya. Mungkin ini akibat pengalaman baca saya yang masih sangat kurang, tetapi saya merasa bahwa gaya bercerita Pamuk dalam novel tersebut sangatlah unik di mana kisahnya dituturkan dari sudut pandang pertama bukan hanya semua orang/tokoh tetapi juga semua benda, bahkan warna dan kematian. Walaupun plotnya sangat panjang dan kadang-kadang terasa melelahkan, gagasan mengenai tarik-menarik antara paham Islam yang dianut kekaisaran Ustmaniyah dan paham Barat yang mulai menyusup masuk serta konflik yang terjadi kemudian memicu berbagai pemikiran di kepala saya.

Gagasan mengenai tarik-menarik antar dua paham inilah yang membuat saya menggemari Orhan Pamuk. Tema seputar pertentangan antara Barat dan Timur, modernitas dan tradisi, sekularisme dan Islam terasa dekat dengan kondisi masyarakat yang saya kenal. Setiap kali membaca karya-karya Pamuk, saya selalu merasa bahwa Turki dan Indonesia adalah dua negara yang berbeda namun dengan karakter bangsa yang sama: sama-sama sekuler (tidak berdasarkan hukum agama) tetapi sama-sama sebagian besar berpenduduk Muslim; sama-sama kuat memegang tradisi tetapi juga sama-sama memimpikan modernitas hingga tak pernah ragu “berkiblat ke Barat”. Masyarakat kita selalu menganggap bahwa yang bagus dan yang hebat adalah yang “Barat”. Saya ingat dalam novel The Museum of Innocence diceritakan bahwa begitu inginnya seseorang dianggap modern dan fashionable “layaknya” orang Barat sampai tak malu memakai produk-produk branded palsu (karena gengsi lebih besar daripada kesanggupan membeli yang asli). Hal ini, saya amati, juga terjadi di tengah masyarakat kita.

Ada yang mengatakan bahwa sebagai seorang penulis Turki beliau sangat “Barat”, namun dalam berkarya beliau selalu berusaha obyektif dan berimbang mengisahkan pertentangan antar paham. Kalaupun beliau memang sangat “Barat” seperti yang dikatakan orang-orang, tidak serta merta beliau berat sebelah dan membenarkan tindakan serta perilaku masyarakat Turki yang suka meniru-niru orang Barat—seperti yang disindirkan beliau dalam The Museum of Innocence dan yang tersirat dalam The White Castle. Namun begitu, di sisi lain, beliau juga sangat menyayangkan piciknya masyarakat tradisional Muslim di Turki yang seolah-olah sangat anti modernitas dan kemajuan—layaknya yang tersirat dalam My Name is Red (yang bercerita tentang pembunuhan terhadap seorang pelukis yang meniru gaya Barat dan “melanggar” aturan pembuatan gambar ilustrasi gaya Islam Turki), Silent House (yang tokoh utamanya, Fatma, digambarkan sangat kolot dan membenci modernitas karena dianggapnya sangat jauh dari ajaran agama dan memicu dosa), juga The New Life (di mana diceritakan bahwa mereka yang membaca buku yang membawa kehidupan baru alias “pembaharuan” dibunuh dan mati satu per satu). Obyektivitas Pamuk dalam menulis juga terlihat dari karya populer beliau yang berjudul Snow, di mana beliau menceritakan tentang tertekannya kaum Muslim Turki—terutama para pelajar wanita yang pada era novel tersebut dikisahkan masih dilarang memakai kerudung/hijab—sehingga memicu aksi bunuh diri dan terorisme.

Meski tema pertentangan selalu berulang-ulang dalam setiap novelnya (saya sudah membaca hampir semua karya fiksi Pamuk, baik dalam terjemahan bahasa Indonesia maupun bahasa Inggris, terkecuali The Black Book) saya tidak pernah bosan, karena Pamuk selalu menghadirkan tema tersebut dalam bungkusan narasi yang apik dan unik. Walaupun sering kali narasi Pamuk terasa membosankan (terutama bagi mereka yang tidak terbiasa membaca buku-buku beliau), bagi saya tetaplah menakjubkan. Pamuk sering kali membangun cerita dari berbagai sudut pandang tokoh-tokohnya sehingga pertentangan nilai-nilai dan paham-paham yang ingin beliau sampaikan terlihat sangat jelas, karena penceritaan dari berbagai sudut pandang itu kemudian memunculkan pesan/isi mengenai pertentangan itu sendiri.

Pesan/isi inilah yang membuat saya setia membaca karya-karya beliau. Sekali lagi, kedekatan karakter, meskipun tidak sepenuhnya, antara masyarakat Turki (seperti yang tertuang dalam novel-novel beliau) dan masyarakat Indonesia selalu membuat saya merasa seperti membaca diri sendiri.

fiction, review

Silent House

It’s been a very long time since I read Orhan Pamuk, and the last time only left me a bitter memory of deep disappointment. I went into Silent House, the 2012 English translation of the Nobel laureate’s 1983 Sessiz Ev, with a feeling of cautiousness, bracing myself for another dull narrative I’ve had to bear in The Museum of Innocence. It seemed likely that I would experience the same thing, especially after several first pages, until finally the long, winding road took me to the ideological conflict banging loudly from behind the silent lines.

As anyone might expect, Pamuk brings out the recurring theme that always swirls in his every novel: the tug of war between the East and the West, traditions and modernity, Islam and secularism. A bit to my surprise, the issues of communism, anti-communism and nationalism also emerge from this book. All those clashes of isms are told so subtly through the silence of a family of which members hold different ideas, also in the occasional interaction between said family and the outsiders forming their neighborhood. Fatma, a ninety-year-old woman, lives alone in her old, almost crumbling house in Cennethisar with a dwarf of a servant, Recep, who is actually the bastard son of her dead husband Selâhattin. In the summer, as usual, her three orphaned grandchildren come to spend some time of the holidays. However, instead of taking care of and accompanying their grandmother through the days, they’re busy doing their own business: Faruk struggling to accomplish his history project, Nilgün swimming and reading communist newspapers, and Metin having fun with his upper-class, “society” friends. All these daily repetitions continue to weave the narrative the whole time while a gang of extreme nationalists lurking among them, represented mainly by Hasan, Recep’s nephew. It is this young, zealous, big-dreaming boy who stirs the storyline with his enthusiasm for nationalism and his love, tragically, for the leftist Nilgün. Being in a right-wing extremist gang, who are determined to spread their political ideas by writing slogans on the walls, Hasan can’t help but feel conflicted. And so, in the throes of confusion over his stance and of his unrequited love, he unconsciously does what the reader might, or might not, expect him to do.

Much like in My Name is Red, here Pamuk elaborates each of his characters’ viewpoints through a certain chapter, where those characters tell the story the way they see their lives. So unfortunately, the character of Selâhattin, who represents the ideas of Westernization and secularism, and Nilgün, who represents communism, do not get the same treatment as the others do. While Selâhattin appears only in the vivid memories of the old Fatma, Nilgün is merely told in bits from Recep’s and, mostly, Hasan’s points of view. On the other hand, as much as Recep, Faruk, Metin, and Hasan might be drawing much of the reader’s attention with their stream of consciousness, it is Fatma whom I think of as the central character of the book. She is portrayed so silent and introvert throughout the story, so traditional, so afraid of God and the threat of sins, so unwilling to say so much as a word, much less fight the horrible things she despises. And yet, at some point, she can be so narrow-minded and cruel, so unforgiving. In some ways, I saw her as a representation of the centuries-old Turkey as a whole, the one that I know Pamuk always perceives in his mind, and channels through his stories. The silent conflict between the religious, conservative Fatma and her secular husband who messes up religious teaching in the name of modernity and development of his country behind the closed door of their inharmonious marriage more or less depicts the tug of war which has been wrecking for years and years the seemingly quiet yet continuously rioting nation.

Readers of Orhan Pamuk must have known, I believe, that scrutinizing his long-plotted, winding narratives needs patience and willingness to read on no matter how unbelievably tiring they might be. Devouring this one is no exception. It is not for a complicated, nonsensical storyline just as the case with The Museum of Innocence, though, because Silent House has a surprisingly simple one, but for the elaborateness of all thoughts and behaviors and actions of the characters in each chapter. Through all these can readers see the whole picture of what is being told, and Pamuk has expertly accomplished the mission of delivering it to us. The main tools of this story to unfold itself to the reader are obviously the thoughts and memories narrated by the main characters, and although the annoying unquoted past-time dialogues got in my way of enjoying every each one of them, I still think this kind of storytelling is quite riveting. The most appealing about this book, however, are the slow-burning climax, which is so emotionally grueling and obnoxious at some point, and the way Pamuk puts the entire story to an end, which is a bit shocking and cliffhanging. The translation is also well done, thanks to Robert Finn, it helped me tackle the general difficulty in reading this book.

Overall, Silent House is so much more satisfying than the latest Orhan Pamuk’s work I’ve read. Despite some flaws, it lives up to my expectation and more. It has a great idea, a tiring yet beguiling narrative, strong characterizations, also a proper ending. It’s just mesmerizing the way it is.

Rating: 4/5

fiction, review

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

fiction, review

The Museum of Innocence

A true love never comes about easy. Orhan Pamuk has made it clear in his several novels, but here, in The Museum of Innocence, he seems to assert it more that anything can be obstacles, even a hypocritical society in which the love story happens. First published in 2008, The Museum of Innocence bears testimony to Pamuk’s skillful adept in blending his personal, adamant perspective on the modern Turkish society with a tale of unconditional yet implausible love. But unlike his other similar works, The Museum of Innocence has a higher proportion of a love saga as it turns out to be the core of the whole book.

The beginning of the story sees the life of Kemal Bey, a rich man running his father’s large business, where luxury and Western life style are inseparable parts of his surroundings. One day, he happens to meet his distant relative, Füsun, with whom he has acquaintance back in his childhood. Despite already having been soon to be engaged to Sibel, Kemal falls crazily in love with Füsun, who is much younger than he is. Lust, I’d rather say, is what first binds them together, although it then blazes up into strong love for each other with every secret encounter and lovemaking they have. Kemal is so deeply in love with Füsun that he dares to break off his engagement to Sibel, agonizes over Füsun’s leaving him, and pulls himself free of the society, his own family, and the world.

Sometime later, they meet again but Füsun is already married to another man. Never thinking of giving up, Kemal goes back to court her discreetly, having supper together and offering her an opportunity to become an actress she has been dreaming of for so long. Eight years, and Kemal never stops waiting and never surrenders his obsession and patience. But when Füsun’s marriage ends in divorce and they can finally plan their future together, that’s the point where the long wait has to stop.

Kemal is a picture of a bored member of the modern, glamorous Istanbul society in which everything is fake. He may seem like any other rich men we know, successful, rewarded with a beautiful, high-class fiancée, but deep down he is screaming in distaste. He is stubborn in nature, that’s why he refuses to be dictated by the pale imitation of a Western society and dares to leave the social world he’s been living almost his entire life to be with Füsun. His persistence brings him to willing to do everything for love, even though Füsun’s selfishness makes all his efforts in vain. She can be described as a naive, innocent, hapless girl, but her terribly unbearable weakness feels like a pain in the neck to me. Living in a more traditional, and poor, family, it may seem proportionally rational to have her rather passive in their pursuit of happiness. But still I cannot erase the idea in my mind that she doesn’t love Kemal enough to try hard. Easy or not, their love story is not one to run smoothly with that kind of attitude of hers.

Pamuk has channeled his feelings and understanding of the Westernization of the modern Turkey into many kinds of stories, into many intriguing embodiments of ideas, but never before has he channeled those things in his mind entirely into a love story. Through the love journey Kemal and Füsun take, Pamuk depicts ever so clearly the fake, modern, glamorous life in Istanbul with its fake branded products and fake respectable behavior and fake “Western” society. No one in The Museum of Innocence is portrayed as an honest person, even Kemal. They are all sadly hypocritical and empty, have no depth whatsoever. Once again, to them, the modern Turkish society, Westernization is the only way to get away from the shadow of the fall of the old Ottoman Empire and sneak into the prosperous European world. All these views would have been fabulously better written had Pamuk known where to stop his lines. If I have to choose one particular adjective to describe the way Pamuk telling this story, it’s boring. I know, reading Pamuk’s works had always been a challenge for me for their long, seems-like-forever plot, but I could always deal with it. The Museum of Innocence has bored me to the end. It’s so unfortunate that Pamuk failed to concoct its narrative into a more compact yet realistic story-line. The best things about this book are thankfully its characterization and description of today’s modern Turkish society. They are so vivid and lucid, enlightening and unpretentious, smooth and mouth-gaping. I never doubt Pamuk’s capability of describing his troubled country. Or his surrounding society, for that matter.

In conclusion, I have to say that The Museum of Innocence is the worst work of Orhan Pamuk I’ve read so far. Compared to his other works of fiction, or even his memoir, this book is completely dull and unbelievably ugly. Had he not been my favorite author, I would have stopped reading it then and there.

Rating: 2.5/5

fiction, review


The question of terrorism will remain relentlessly having a foothold in the mind of anyone concerned about international relations and politics. Be it a separatist, socialist, or fundamentalist group, terrorists are thought of as the most dangerous evils ever threatening the world. Terrorism had long gone by the names of many things, but mostly, in the recent years, it has emerged under the name of Islam. The root of the so-called terrorism is never specifically known, but in the novel Snow, one of the most phenomenal works by Orhan Pamuk, terrorism in some ways presents itself as none-too-secret action of people who are desperately oppressed for their belief and religious practices. Set in a small, poor, isolated town of Kars, located far away in Anatolia, Snow presents the very issue mostly talked about of the early 2000s in a love story taken place in the throes of war between Islam and secularism.

Written distinctly from Ka’s viewpoint, the story begins with his return to his motherland after years of political exile in Germany. Previously thinking to attend his mother’s funeral, Ka then decides to veer to Kars at the last second, a small town where he can find the actual reason of his coming back to Turkey, İpek. In his search of İpek, and later, in the middle of his courting her, he realizes that he is stuck in a place where both sides of its people make it a battlefield: for and against the secularism of the new republic. In disguise of a journalist reporting head-scarf suicides, Ka discovers that Kars is half-full of people still strictly holding and practicing the teaching of Islam who have to struggle for what they hold against the apparatuses of national secularism. He doesn’t want to get involved in it, for he doesn’t care. His sole intention remains the same, to be happy, and the key is being with İpek. However, in pursuit of his happiness, he has to deal with all this thing first, only to get İpek refusing his love and unwilling to go to Germany with him at the end.

Snow, in common with other Orhan Pamuk’s works, describes in words how his country is an endless battlefield of Islam and Western secularism. Pamuk gamely talks of the secular people’s refusal of Islam for they think the religion is the cause for the fall of their old empire and the ground for its backwardness. Being religious then leads to being stereotyped as backward, and only secular people imitating Western way of life can claim to be modern. The secular people think that westernization is the only way out of poverty and ignorance, hence the effort to banish the teaching of Islam and its every struggle to stay alive. They insistently believe that people fighting in the name of Islam are terrorists, planning and carrying out terrorism in Kars.

The way I see it, the battle being fought which is told in this book is more of a political movement than a religious one. The practice of wearing headscarves is even deemed to be merely politics in an attempt to get control of the country and bring it back to the way of Islam. The girls committing suicide want nothing more than protecting their pride when they do their action. So, instead of being fundamental, the so-called terrorism is nothing if not political.

Writing a love story set in the middle of a war, whatever war it may be, is never an easy task. I wouldn’t say that Snow has an exceptional nor fascinating way of telling it, but Pamuk is clearly determined to make it sentimental. It was dramatically challenging to finish this book for the plot is too unrealistically dragging and even quite boring at some point, and the complicated love conflict and emotions interlaced it got me exhausted. Nevertheless, Snow is consistently well written and could still have me staying attentively on my seat and reading it to the last page, what with its interesting theme and intriguing characters and great narrative. It is so typical of Orhan Pamuk to write about prominent issues interlaced with love and drama in a splendidly strong narrative.

All in all, I can say that Snow is a great novel, deep and lucid, despite the dragging plot. Orhan Pamuk can always captivate his reader and engage me with issues near to my heart. Thus, I would like to recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the issue of terrorism as much as I am.

Rating: 3.5/5

memoir, review

Istanbul: Memories of a City

Indonesian edition’s cover (source:

Trust Orhan Pamuk to weave together culture, history, religion, social condition, political issues, and his own point of view on his troubled yet quiet country into a detailed, wonderful tale. Either historical or contemporary, Pamuk’s works of fiction never fail to capture people’s attention. Or raise endless arguments, for that matter. But now he comes up with a memoir, Istanbul: Memories of a City. True to his writing nature, Pamuk doesn’t make Istanbul a sole account of his life and experiences, but he recounts the historical events ever happened in the past to the place he lives in, which in turn shape what he is and the choices he makes. First published in 2003, Istanbul offers so much more than a merely written docu-soap, if I may say so, and has particularly amazed me in any possible way.

Pamuk begins his memoir with the story of his childhood, in which, as a kid, he is suspicious that in another part of the world, in another house out there, there is another him. He’s so convinced of having a “twin brother”, of being different from the one in that other house that he creates a belief in his mind that one day he will also have another life, live in another world. Subsequently, he imagines living in two separate worlds, one of which is a world of art. When he draws or paints something (most of them are of scenery of Istanbul, especially scenery of the Bosporus), he feels as though he exists in that another world, being far away from his real life. He continues to feel so; even as he’s in the presence of his friends, he can be different persons.

Alongside the story of his life, Pamuk tells the reader about the city of Istanbul itself and everything within: the ruins and the piles of rubble, the mess, the poverty, the ignorance, the sorrow, the gloom, even the pretense of being “rich and modern” performed by its people. Somehow, Pamuk has intertwined those articles with historical facts and events taken place at the same spot and also books and encyclopedias he deems proper as references and sources of inspirations. And amidst his complicated yet readable description of Istanbul and everything it has, he irreluctantly conveys the secret of his family and even his feeling about it. That unconventionally unashamed part of him is what makes this memoir more gripping and alive, sinking us into a whirlpool of fantastic blending of a particular place, its history, its society, and the persons living in it.

Pamuk presents all this in a somewhat sorrowful atmosphere. He thinks the fall of the Ottoman Empire has brought the fall of Istanbul, and the fall of Istanbul has brought the fall of its people, one of whose is Pamuk himself. He was growing up within and with the sorrow of the city, which is truly undeniable after the last war bringing down the old kingdom. Pamuk can’t help but reveal the irony where the people of Istanbul think that being westernized and secular is the only way to recover from their sufferings of the fall. They think that being “western people” is the best way to get back to the glory of their country as a “new republic”. Yet they can’t be true “western people” because they are not, in any sense of the word.

Though personal, Istanbul: Memories of a City is not a dramatically written account of someone’s life and experiences. Rather, it is a complete narrative of events, connecting people with place and time. Pamuk’s way of narrating it is unexpectedly not boring for a memoir, and he equips his with beautiful images of classical paintings and childhood photos. This memoir is presented, very normally I’d say, in a total narrative and description, giving almost no room for dialogues nor utterances. However, the honest and nostalgic tone of the book has successfully put me through a better understanding and insight into a country I consider as the cultural and social “twin” of my own.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although I don’t enjoy memoirs nor biographies as a general rule. Not because Orhan Pamuk is one of my favorite authors, but I found this book comprehensively written and very much attractive, both visually and narratively. So in the end, I would like to recommend Istanbul: Memories of a City not only to Orhan Pamuk’s fans, but also to everyone who seeks for something more than a memoir.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

My Name is Red

You can always rely on Orhan Pamuk for a culturally comprehensive, history-related read to satisfy your hunger. His sole intent to communicate his perception of his troubled country to readers has been channeled through several interesting works of fiction. And My Name is Red is certainly one of them. First published in 1998, this historical fiction has gained many prestigious prizes and established Pamuk as a literary star. His commitment to be honest in telling stories about the tug of war between Islamic ideology and Western influence to get a grip on the country of Turkey is clearly reflected in this wonderful novel.

Set in the 16th century Turkey, My Name is Red presents its core of message by a story of a murder mystery. In a nutshell, it tells about the effort to imitate Western/European style of painting, in replacement of the illustration style which has been so rooted in the early days of the Ottoman Empire. What’s so unfortunate, this effort demands the sacrifice of a certain person who believes that this Westernization is wrong and damages the teaching of Islam. As the story goes on, the mystery of who has murdered him is about to reveal.

The narrative is very unique, in my opinion, told from different points of views of each character and/or thing. The numerous personalities and thoughts beneath indeed complicate the whole storytelling, yet trigger my honest amazement. Pamuk’s obsession to reveal Turkish history in so much detail has also been executed stunningly. Pamuk is never reluctant even for a second to tell everybody who reads his book about the disease eating his country inside out, namely the dream to become modern by way of following Western ideology and imitating Western culture, with no thought whatsoever for banishing its deep-rooted teaching of Islam. I found this novel successfully appealing, despite its slow run of plot and dragging flow.

Pamuk has succeeded in wrapping up all that ideological conflict occurred endlessly in Turkey in a beautifully blended tale of passionate love, complicated mystery, and humble humanity. It’s strewn with some shockingly vulgar sex scenes here and there, yes, but while I myself disapprove of them, they can be thought to be the necessary steps in building the passionate love interaction depicted in this book. I can only naively think that, having nothing to do with mainstream romance, those sex scenes are what generally needed in this modern-day Western literature. That, if you want to think of Turkish literature as a part of it.

At the end, I would say that My Name is Red is indeed a masterpiece, no doubt about it. I was left unmoved and strongly affected by it through my long-durated reading. It is just well written, captivating, and amazingly-detailed in every aspect, which makes it unrestrictedly comprehensive. I would recommend this beautiful novel to anyone who’s hungry for a great revelation of history and inordinarily written story.

Rating: 4/5