fiction, review


Indonesian edition’s cover

When it comes to Turkish literature, we don’t seem to be able to separate it from its characteristic melancholy. And this melancholy seems to come from, very strangely, matters of bad politics, social injustice, clashes of ideologies and failed romance all at once. At least, Orhan Pamuk has proven so. We might not want to think that Turkish literature is only about the Nobel laureate, but Selahattin Demirtaş exudes apparently pretty much the same kind of atmosphere when writing stories. All of his twelve short pieces in this small and thin collection are dimly melancholic, be it about honor killing, a wrongly accused house cleaner, conflicts and suicide bombings in Aleppo, or a little girl running away from the war in her home country with her mother.

The first issue to be brought foward in the book Subuh (translated from Turkish into Indonesian by Mehmet Hassan) is, interestingly enough, masculinity. Or the way we see it. Laki-laki dalam Jiwa Kami (The Man Inside) looks like a semi-fable where the protagonist is a prisoner who watches everyday a female sparrow building a nest to lay down her eggs, while the male one doesn’t do anything more than staying in guard on the fence outside. One day comes a group of inspectors from the “Department of Nesting Code Enforcement”, charging them with a crime of building a nest without permission. Those inspectors give the pair of sparrows two options: destroy the nest, or give them their brood as compensation. The female, of course, refuses to do so and chooses to fight the inspectors, but the male seems so scared of them and tries to talk it over. At the end, it’s only the female sparrow that fights them alone and fiercely to defend the nest she builds and her offspring.

Looking at it from a distance, or closer, the piece shows the instinct of a mother and to what extent they would wield their power to protect their children. This is the nature of a woman. Males, quite the opposite, tend to use threats and physical strength to stomp on others, especially when they are part of the authority. On the other side, though, they can also be as lame as the male sparrow when it comes to facing the upper power while as weak as people in general see women, they can be strong enough to fight the injustice.

Speaking of masculinity, the second story Seher (the original book title and the Turkish word for Subuh/Dawn) displays blatantly and brutally how toxic it can be when added to pride and honor. They demand even the lives of women, in the name of the family’s good reputation, despite the women being innocent in any sexual crime or assault or even harassment they have suffered from. For the men of the family, their female relatives are guilty only for losing their virginity, whatever way they lose it, and whether or not they actually want to lose it.

Seher, the titular character, falls in love with Hayri and believes that the man returns her feeling as “he picks her out” from so many other women in their work place. He asks her to go out and meet up after the day of Eid celebration, and Seher feels both anxious and excited at the same time about the meeting that she doesn’t dare to look at anyone in the eye. And so they meet and talk, and when it’s time for Seher to go home Hayri offers her a ride to her house. At this very point, it would be pretty much unsurprising to see Hayri (and his friends) stir the vehicle to a different direction and then rape her in turn. This secret cannot be hidden, cannot be hushed, and cannot be solved in any civil way. Once her father and brothers know it, it’s over for her.

Injustice seems to be penned down everywhere in this book, Nazan Petugas Kebersihan (Nazan the Cleaning Lady) and Salam Untuk Si Mata Hitam (Greetings to Those Dark Eyes) being the most glaring examples. But while Nazan Petugas Kebersihan generally talks about the injustice we often see in legal system, Salam Untuk Si Mata Hitam is more about the huge gap between the rich and the poor, between people with low and high education, and between those living in the city and in the village. In Nazan, we see how demonstrations voicing any dissatisfaction with the government are deemed disruptive that everyone on the street should be arrested and tried for such “crime”, whether or not they’re truly involved in them. In the latter, two illegal child laborers are faced with difficulties when they are trying to get their payment after working on a construction site, building a type F jail in Edirne. This seems to be something which is, surprisingly, common in any unskilled, physical labor. People with money (or, in this case, the government) always want cheap labor to do these things, so they go and hire child, lowly educated laborers who have no insurance or official permission to work, hence no need to pay them high. If anything happens, they can also wash their hands easily.

Demirtaş’ narratives on wars are no less thought-provoking, matter-of-factly yet gloomily elaborating how people try to escape from them and still do not meet a good end. In Gadis Laut (The Mermaid), a five-year old girl named Mina and her mother are running away from their hometown Hama in Syria where war has taken her father’s life. When they don’t have much on them her mother has to bribe the boatmen so they can cross the Mediterranean Sea, but that doesn’t help them at all. The story of Hidangan Aleppo (Kebab Halabi) is certainly not less heart-breaking. Hamdullah is himself a refugee from Aleppo who ran away to Hatay and who has finally had a good life there, opening a kebab restaurant where everyone eager to taste the famous Arab kebab is going to. But he never forgets his friends in Aleppo and lets them stay in his two-story house, including the first love of his life, Rukiye, who was married to another man at 16. Sadly, though, his good life must end there when a suicide bombing ends Rukiye’s and her husband’s lives.

Besides those short stories, Subuh also presents others with different themes such as mundane life (Sesunyi Sejarah/As Lonely As History) minority (Akan Berakhir Istimewa/A Magnificent Ending) and even one with a surrealist style (Tak Seperti yang Anda Pikirkan/It’s Not What You Think), which is looking at imaginary love stories that never once end well. Despite the various themes and diverse styles, all stories in this collection have proven the melancholic tone the writer chooses to use most of the time, melancholy which doesn’t particularly bring tears but is there to make readers feel moved and think about the things depicted in each narrative. It is all because, presumably, Demirtaş wants to show us what is wrong with his country, what is wrong with his society, and that even if life seems so hopeless there in his land there is always hope, at least hope to escape from the misery.

Subuh by Selahattin Demirtaş is really a heart-wrenching collection, well written and pretty well translated. It’s small and condense, short yet with such knocking effect on the reader. It is one which people really should consider to read to know, even if not about Turkey, at least about how this world in general doesn’t really work well.

Rating: 4/5

poetry, review

Raksasa Bermata Biru

Indonesian edition’s cover

Sepertinya masih sangat jarang kita temui, atau bahkan mungkin belum ada sama sekali, karya sastra Turki dalam bentuk puisi diterjemahkan dan diterbitkan dalam bahasa Indonesia. Raksasa Bermata Biru karya Nazim Hikmet yang diterjemahkan oleh Bernando J. Sujibto ini bisa jadi yang pertama. Sebagai sebuah perkenalan kepada pembaca Indonesia, kumpulan puisi ini berisikan sejumlah tulisan yang memang tepat untuk memberitahukan tentang siapa seorang Nazim Hikmet.

Perkenalan dengan Hikmet ini dibuka dengan puisi berjudul Otobiografi, yang menceritakan tentang Nazim Hikmet secara keseluruhan: kapan ia lahir, di mana ia menimba ilmu, kejadian apa saja yang pernah dialaminya, kisah cintanya, sifat-sifatnya, kecenderungannya yang tidak tertarik pada kekuasaan maupun jabatan, juga kerendahan hatinya. Namun dari sekian banyak hal yang diceritakan melalui bait demi bait dalam Otobiografi, yang paling menarik adalah sifat-sifat sang penyair. Salah satu contohnya sebagaimana yang tersirat pada bait pertama:

“aku tidak akan kembali lagi ke kota kelahiran

aku tidak suka kembali ke belakang”

Dari dua baris ini tampak jelas bagaimana seorang Nazim Hikmet memandang masa lalu. Ia sama sekali tidak tertarik untuk menengok ke belakang, mengenang-ngenang kembali yang sudah lalu terutama asal-usulnya. Mungkin baginya tidaklah penting ia terlahir di mana dan bagaimana masa kecilnya. Mungkin yang penting baginya adalah apa yang saat ini dijalaninya.

Sifat Hikmet lain yang menarik adalah kemandiriannya, yang sedikit banyak memperlihatkan betapa tinggi harga dirinya, seperti yang dapat dilihat pada dua baris yang berbunyi:

“aku berbohong karena malu mengendalikan orang lain

aku berbohong demi tidak menyusahkan orang lain…”

Hikmet tak mengelak bahwa ia telah berbohong pada orang lain, tetapi itu dilakukannya agar ia tak perlu menyusahkan atau merepotkan orang lain, agar ia tak perlu meminta orang lain melakukan ini dan itu (maka mengendalikan). Jika membaca jalan hidup Hikmet sendiri yang dijabarkan pada bagian pembuka oleh Bernando J. Sujibto, maka ini tidaklah mengherankan. Jalan kesendirian yang ditempuh Hikmet ini juga terang ketika ia berkata di salah satu bait bahwa ia “tidak pergi ke mana orang pergi.” Hikmet bukanlah seseorang yang suka menggerombol dan mengikuti arus, ia lebih suka berjalan sendiri.

Bisa jadi, jalan kesendirian inilah yang membawa Nazim Hikmet pada pilihan ideologinya. Dengan memilih untuk menjadi seorang komunis, ia melawan arus di negerinya sendiri dan harus menanggung julukan pembelot. Hal tersebut disinggung dalam puisinya yang keenam di buku ini, yang diberi judul sesuai dengan pandangan pemerintah Turki pada saat itu terhadap dirinya, Pengkhianat Negara. Puisi ini menyajikan ironi, karena ketika di satu sisi pemerintah menganggapnya pengkhianat negara, di sisi lain mereka telah “menjual” negeri mereka sendiri kepada Amerika Serikat dan menyediakan tempat bagi pangkalan militer negeri Paman Sam. Hikmet secara terang-terangan menunjukkan siapa sebenarnya yang telah mengkhianati negara, dan siapa yang tidak.

Hikmet juga menyindir Amerika Serikat lewat puisinya Nelayan Jepang, sebuah puisi pilu yang ditujukan untuk mengingat tragedi uji coba bom hidrogen di tahun 1954. Pada puisi tersebut, Hikmet mengandaikan kapal di laut sebuah keranda berwarna hitam, siapa pun yang berada di sana pasti mati, dagingnya pasti membusuk, yang tertular pasti tak akan selamat. Uji coba semacam ini tentu sangatlah keji karena melibatkan dan mengorbankan banyak manusia tanpa pikir panjang dan tanpa pandang bulu. Ketika dalam satu baris Hikmet bertanya, “wahai manusia, di manakah kalian?”, sesungguhnya yang ia pertanyakan bukanlah di mana keberadaan manusia, tetapi keberadaan “akal sehat” dan “belas kasihan” mereka yang menciptakan senjata demikian.

Puisi-puisi Hikmet dalam buku ini yang menyindir pemerintahnya sendiri pun tidak sedikit. Ambillah contoh Rezim dan puisi berjudul 5 Oktober 1945. Dalam Rezim, ia berkisah tentang Presiden Adnan Menderes yang mengirimkan tentara panggilan untuk ikut bertempur di Perang Korea. Melalui pilihan kosakatanya (atau setidaknya yang digunakan oleh sang penerjemah, Bernando J. Sujibto) terasa jeritan pilu para prajurit yang dikirim bukan untuk membela negeri sendiri, melainkan ikut campur perkara negara lain demi aliansi politik. Di sisi lain, ironisnya, sang presiden bersenang-senang dan menikmati kekuasaannya, tubuhnya sehat, benaknya tak memikirkan mayat-mayat prajurit yang diutusnya.

Sementara itu, pada puisi 5 Oktober 1945, Hikmet mencurahkan kekesalannya kepada pemerintah lantaran abai terhadap rakyat. Negara membiarkan mereka kelaparan, kedinginan, kelelahan sampai mati (akibat kerja membanting tulang) dan berpisah (dengan keluarga dan orang-orang tercinta). Untungnya, kata Hikmat, rakyat belum sampai pada tahap saling membunuh. Untungnya lagi, rakyat biasa bukan tak mungkin punya kuasa atau daya untuk menunjukkan kepada pemerintah cara-cara kemanusiaan dan mencintai.

Bicara soal cinta, Nazim Hikmet tidak melulu berbicara tentang dirinya, perjuangan, maupun mengkritik ini-itu. Dalam kumpulan puisi Raksasa Bermata Biru ini, sang penyair juga berbicara soal cinta—suatu hal universal yang dirasakan oleh setiap insan—pada puisi berjudul Salju Membelai Jalanan misalnya. Selain cinta, sang penyair juga berbicara tentang kehidupan dan kematian. Pada puisi Tentang Kematian, Hikmet berkata kepada istrinya Hadijah Pirayende bahwa ia tidak tahu siapa di antara mereka yang akan lebih dulu mati dan kapan, di mana, serta bagaimana kelak mereka akan mati. Sedangkan dalam puisi berjudul Laut Malam Itu, Hikmet mengingatkan bahwa nafas (atau kehidupan) kita adalah pemberian Ilahi, maka dari itu jangan sampai kita lupa kepada sang Pencipta dan lupa bahwa yang abadi justru adalah kematian: kehidupan setelah kita mati.

Raksasa Bermata Biru secara langsung maupun tidak langsung merupakan otobiografi Nazim Hikmet sendiri, yang bercerita tentang riwayatnya, kisah cintanya, pilihan politiknya, kritik-kritiknya, juga apa yang diperjuangkannya. Setiap puisi tersaji dalam pilihan kata yang mengundang dan mengandung pilu, ironi, serta sendu. Hasil terjemahan Bernando J. Sujibto mampu menyalurkan ketiga rasa tersebut kepada pembaca, sehingga pembaca juga dapat mengenal nada dan gaya berbicara Hikmet pada bait-bait ciptaannya.

Selain dengan Nazim Hikmet sendiri, buku kumpulan puisi ini juga merupakan perkenalan pembaca Indonesia dengan perpuisian Turki. Pembaca Indonesia tentu sudah tidak asing lagi dengan karya-karya fiksi karangan Orhan Pamuk, Elif Shafak, atau O.Z. Livaneli, tetapi mungkin kita belum mengenal pujangga-pujangga Turki secara luas. Buku ini bisa menjadi jalan pembuka bagi diterbitkannya lebih banyak lagi karya-karya puisi dari negeri dua benua.

Rating: 3/5

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


Indonesian edition’s cover

There are times when we look at our society, we feel that we are actually imprisoned in our own home, a place where we’re supposed to be safe. Bliss by Zülfü Livaneli, a remarkable work of Turkish literary fiction, reflects accurately the notion. Set across the land of Anatolia and Istanbul, it unfolds the bitter fact of social oppression in a secular country where, in truth, religious belief and modernity stand side by side, merely separated by a very thin, transparent line. Livaneli manages to set up an atmosphere so pulling that the reader can feel the restlessness of people living in a traditional, social jail.

Cleverly told in two separate parts overlapping in one whole narrative, Bliss talks about three people who have to deal with what their society wants them to do and to be. Meryem is found losing her virginity and deemed dirty by her family and surroundings. The leader of the village, her own uncle, decides that she has to be executed. She has two options, committing suicide, or having one of her male family members kill her. Unable to end her own life, she is sent to Istanbul to face her death penalty in the city. Cemal, her cousin who has just returned from war, is appointed to do the dirty job. Emotionally damaged after killing his own best friend, Cemal feels nothing but numbness and a sense of responsibility toward his father. So he takes Meryem to Istanbul, with mixed feelings of disgust and compassion for his future victim.

On the way, they meet Irfan, a prominent university professor who suffers severe depression and is running away from the so-called normal life. Their encounter changes everything in them, and especially the way they see things. Irfan, who always tries to hide his true self inside, looks at Meryem and decides that there must be something wrong with her. She is too timid and shy for a bright girl, and seems to keep something awful. Irfan attempts to make her open up to him, revealing what she fears and what she’s doing in Istanbul with her cousin. Until one night, something horrendously shocking happens and eventually tears her secret open. Later after that night, Meryem has to decide on her own the life path she is going to take in the future.

Bliss presents to us such intricate characters laced with depression, trauma, confusion, feeling of lost. The three of them are the result of the social molding who feel uncertain about themselves. Meryem, born and raised in a traditional, strict, religiously fanatical family of East Anatolia, gamely and determinedly refuses to commit suicide for a sin that people are not supposed to blame on her. She’s innocent, yes, but she’s mostly described as strong and brave. Meanwhile, Cemal is just her opposite. Nationalist and brutally faithful to his religion, he looks so arrogant, patriarchal, tough and so able to bear anything while inside his heart, where nobody can see, he’s always uncertain, anxious, and afraid of his father. And among them, Irfan is the most complicated one. A self-proclaimed atheist, he is cynical and unhappy in the cocoon of his pretentious life. He is escaping because he is afraid of death, but mostly, he is afraid of dying without leaving any legacies. He’s so wrecked inside, so damaged and emotionally hurt. But, aside from his inner conditions, he is a kind and generous man.

Bliss is, on the whole, a very riveting novel. Every sentence, every narration, every description of character, and every elaboration of social background are very much capturing. The narrative is not perfect, I must say, for it flows a little bit slow at the beginning, having to introduce the three characters one by one with their elaborated backgrounds and respective problems. What’s more, Livaneli seems a bit hasty in putting the conclusion at the ending, although it doesn’t disrupt the entire beauty of the story and the enjoyment of reading it. However, the overall plot is very nice to follow, captivating even. Slowly but surely, it streams forward and feels steady, despite being inserted with a shocking flashback in the middle. Along the book, Livaneli serves the reader with social upheaval, dilemma, and problems of Turkey of which cultures, traditions, and religious understandings dangerously vary. We can see that they hold nationalism very tightly, so tightly that they erase the significance of their inherited religion. They have a problem, a crisis of identity, but they keep quiet and ignore it. Their unfair treatment toward women keeps prevailing and there’s no one even feeling moved to change it. Through the story of Meryem, Cemal, and Irfan, Livaneli shows the reader the true social, cultural, religious color of his country. Livaneli is so blatant and flagrant in telling his story, so careful and clever in overlapping the pieces of his narrative, so down to earth and argumentative in putting forward the issue he deems important.

Bliss by Zülfü Livaneli is a very beautiful, very astounding, very brave and brazen novel. It’s not only wonderfully written in narrative and characterization aspects, but also in its content and message. Livaneli is definitely a brilliant writer, and I dare say so even though this is his only book I’ve ever read so far.

Rating: 4.5/5

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