SPIEGEL Interview with Orhan Pamuk: 'No One Drives Me into Exile'
Author Orhan Pamuk, 54, discusses his career leading up to the Nobel Prize for Literature, the new Turkish nationalism and his country's difficult path to the European Union.
Nobel Literature Prizewinner Orhan Pamuk, right, of Turkey, poses with his daughter Ruya after the ceremony his Nobel Prize in Stockholm (2006).
Pamuk: The murder of my friend Hrant Dink came as a great shock to me. Many writers and intellectuals were deeply depressed over this assassination. It awakened the fear that in Turkey we are returning to the dark days of the 1970s, when so many people were killed and when murder was used for political ends. In that situation, my preference was to travel to the United States. I wanted to gain some distance from the tragic event by going abroad.
SPIEGEL: Many interpreted your sudden departure as a decision to flee.
SPIEGEL: Critical authors must even fear for their lives in Turkey. How endangered do you feel?
Pamuk: I have hired a bodyguard, on the recommendation of my friends and the government. It's outrageous, having to live like this.
SPIEGEL: And were you able to be productive in the United States?
Pamuk: Visiting America has always been productive for me, even in the past. It was there that I wrote "The Black Book," my first major international success, in the 1980s. At the time, New York's Columbia University, where I currently teach, became a second cultural home for me, a place were I feel comfortable and relaxed. And on this trip I was also able to write well and complete my new book, "The Museum of Innocence." It is a very ambitious book, which I have been working on for 10 years. The story, which takes place in Istanbul between 1975 and today, is about obsessive passion and the great question: What is love, really?
SPIEGEL: But on your book tour you plan to introduce "Istanbul," a portrait of your home city, which was especially honored during the awarding of the Nobel Prize.
Pamuk: Yes, I talk about my childhood in the book, the days of post-Ottoman melancholy, when Turkey was still very, very far away from Europe, both culturally and economically. Back then the city had nothing of the modernity it had always longed for, but instead stood on the ruins of lost Ottoman glory. It was more of a gloomy mood, a feeling of sadness and isolation, not just of individuals but of an entire city, a sort of collective resignation.
SPIEGEL: Are you describing your own feelings about life in the book?
Pamuk: When I describe Istanbul, I am also writing about myself. When I was a boy I was a complete prisoner of the melancholic introspection we call "hüzün." It may have something to do with the fact that the history of my family is a story of decline, not unlike the family Thomas Mann describes in "Buddenbrooks." We owned a large house when I was born, but both it and our fortune were later lost. In this respect, my personal story coincides with the mourning of the loss of Ottoman wealth.
SPIEGEL: Your book ends in 1972. Istanbul today is considered the most modern city in the Islamic world. Is this the Istanbul you have dreamed about -- cosmopolitan and Western?
Pamuk: The Western Istanbul, as visitors see it, only makes up about 10 percent of the city and its population. Istanbul is certainly in the process of transforming itself into an attractive cultural, tourist and financial center. But there are also millions of sad stories in this giant sea of immigration, poverty, misery and contradictions. So much anger, frustration and fury. Turkey's political and ethnic problems are concentrated here. Fortunately, however, these conflicts are no longer dealt with so brutally.
SPIEGEL: You say this, even though you were even summoned before a court for writing a critical sentence about the Turkish massacres of the Armenians in 1915?
- Part 1: 'No One Drives Me into Exile'
- Part 2: 'Turks Have a Love-Hate Relationship with European Culture'
- Part 3: 'Seen from Mars, We're on the Verge of Joining'
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2007
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH