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.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Pamuk, you are traveling to Germany this week to complete the book tour you canceled in February. Why did you cancel all your engagements so suddenly at the time?

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.

Pamuk: I received threats. But my cancellation had nothing to do with any lack of confidence in the German security officials. However, I would have been asked constantly about the death threats during my book tour. As a result, they would have acquired a significance they do not deserve.

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?

'Turks Have a Love-Hate Relationship with European Culture'

Pamuk: We are still fighting for complete freedom of expression. But there is no comparison to the Turkey of my childhood, when certain topics were only discussed in a whisper and most things were swept under the rug. At that time, Armenians and Greeks on the street were told: "Speak Turkish, citizen!" Nowadays almost everything is discussed openly.

SPIEGEL: Is Istanbul truly a bridge between cultures, between East and West?

Pamuk: That's a cliché, as far as I am concerned. It also annoys me to be constantly reduced to the role of a bridge builder. I don't have the right to be the representative of a culture, a political constellation, a certain ethnic group or history. Because I have now been translated into more than 45 languages, I am considered a representative of Turkey. But I don't want that role. I am a writer.

SPIEGEL: What role does Islam play for you?

Pamuk: I think it's horrible that we Turks are always seen under the aspect of Islam first. I am constantly asked about religion, and almost always with a negative undercurrent that makes me furious. True, most of my countrymen are Muslims. But if you truly wish to understand my country, you have to look at its history and our consistent orientation toward Europe. The Turks have a love-hate relationship with European culture. Turkey is part of Europe.

SPIEGEL: Do you also feel European when you give university lectures in Paris or are on book tour in Germany?

Pamuk: National consciousness is truly a miraculous thing. When I am not in Turkey I feel even more Turkish than in Istanbul. But when I'm home my European side becomes more apparent. My opponents, especially the Turkish nationalists, use this as an excuse to attack me. This makes me even more upset because hardly anyone has dealt with our culture more comprehensively than I have in my books. But when it comes to my Western orientation, my love of European literature and lifestyle, I do fall between all chairs.

SPIEGEL: Unfortunately "Istanbul" ends at an exciting turning point in your life, when you decided in 1972, at the age of 21, to become a writer.

Pamuk: That Istanbul boy from a bourgeois, secular background stood at the beginning of a long and bumpy road, which I will describe in another book. My decision to view the world through novels, as it were, which is a typically European way of looking at things, became a heavy burden for me. But I took it on consciously, even though it was torture for me.

SPIEGEL: You often talk about craft and patience when you discuss writing -- not unlike the painters of miniature paintings you portray in your book "My Name is Red."

Pamuk: I certainly see myself more as a craftsman than as an artist. Of course, creativity and inspiration do play a role. True literature is more than just a story someone has told. It must provide the reader with the essence of the world on a moral, philosophical and emotional level. I have tried to develop this inner truth in all my works. But without patience and the skill of a craftsman, even the greatest talent is wasted.

SPIEGEL: When are you most creative?

Pamuk: I am a highly disciplined person. I get up at seven every morning and, still in my pajamas, sit down at my desk where my checkered ring binders and my fountain pen are ready for use. I try to write two pages every day. Sometimes I am so anxious to read through my work from the day before, work on it and continue it that I would rather drink cold coffee than make a fresh pot. Sitting there, reading and writing are my favorite things to do.

SPIEGEL: And you completely tune out what's happening in the world?

Pamuk: I don't read newspapers in the morning. I take a look at the dailies in the afternoon, but only when I've finished my work for the day. Reading about what is happening in Turkey once again would only be demoralizing for me. I've been doing it that way for 30 years now, but the conditions in those days were far worse than they are today. During the troubled '70s, when the left and the right were at odds and the police acted with great brutality, people were being shot in broad daylight.

SPIEGEL: Do you feel, like the protagonist Ka in your novel "Snow," that you too are a victim of politics?

Pamuk: There are certainly similarities between him and me. But Ka is a pathetic version of me. He tries his luck as a poet, becomes frustrated and hangs out abroad, in Germany. I am more successful, and no one drives me into exile, not even the nationalists -- all difficulties aside. But in his attempts to understand people, in his moral pretense, in his fears and desires, his naiveté, but also in his perseverance, Ka is certainly similar to me.

SPIEGEL: Because you are considered a perceptive observer of Turkish life, many saw your last two books, in particular, "Snow" and "Istanbul," as guides to understanding Turkey.

'Seen from Mars, We're on the Verge of Joining'

Pamuk: It's very gratifying to me to see my works bringing people closer to my country. But it troubles me to be reduced to that. It is not my intention to explain Turkey, its culture and its problems. My literature has a universal concern: I want to bring people and their emotions closer to my readers, not explain Turkish politics.

SPIEGEL: But you make no secret of your political views, and you have spoken out in favor of Turkey's acceptance into the European Union. Are you disappointed that your country still has no concrete outlook for accession?

Pamuk: In any event, the Europe project is currently in the process of becoming a sad piece of history. Both sides are at fault. Some Europeans have, for example, exaggerated the human rights violations that still exist here and have sometimes even exploited them. The Turkish leadership, for its part, reacted too sensitively to reservations about us that were expressed in certain countries. Our establishment simply lacked self-confidence. Our elites were offended and made their disappointment known. This only increased reservations in Europe, where there are those who pounce on every excuse they can get. This rejection, in turn, has given Turkish nationalists a boost. It's a vicious circle.

SPIEGEL: Have you also lost interest in Europe by now?

Pamuk: I am disappointed and frustrated. But I remain convinced that Turkey's acceptance into the European Union would be beneficial for both sides. It would certainly be a gain for our democracy, our culture and our economy.

SPIEGEL: How far has Turkey come on its road to Europe?

Pamuk: Seen from Mars, we're on the verge of joining. And I do believe that we will be part of Europe one day. But perhaps both sides should stew in their own juices for a while, to see how each of them does without the other.

SPIEGEL: With the nomination of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, a politician of the religious AKP (Justice and Development Party) would become president of secular Turkey for the first time. His wife wears a headscarf, the symbol of a religious life. Would Gül's election signify a break with tradition in Turkey?

Pamuk: We have often experienced in the past that the identity of the presidential candidate is not the ultimate issue. What counts is the president's dedication to democracy, human rights and freedom. We have already had a number of presidents who, once elected, have sacrificed these principles for their own convenience.

SPIEGEL: In any event, there has been an alarming surge in Turkish nationalism.

Pamuk: Yes, there is growing nationalism and ugly racism. This has something to do with Turkey's inability to deal with the Kurds ...

SPIEGEL: ... who still feel discriminated against…

Pamuk: ... but also with the humiliating EU negotiation process and the resulting frustration. The worst consequences of this nationalism are the curbs on freedom of opinion and hate campaigns against intellectuals. Pro-European intellectuals are being placed under great pressure.

SPIEGEL: Your murdered Turkish-Armenian friend Hrant Dink received so much hate mail and so many threats that he called it "psychological torture."

Pamuk: Hrant believed that openness is the best way to solve Turkey's problem with the past, even if it meant exposing oneself as a person. Hrant's murder was abominable and will not be forgotten. It was shocking to see how some of the leading media tried to find explanations, even excuses for the murder, and the amount of solidarity some members of the security forces displayed for the killers. Perhaps we were mistaken when we believed that we were already cosmopolitan and liberal. But I still believe that we do not deserve the poor image Turkey acquires as a result of such acts of violence. We have also made some good progress.

SPIEGEL: You have expressed your political views less often since your trial. You used to place stronger emphasis on the writer's political role.

Pamuk: It is one thing to express an opinion about politics, to open your mouth, when you are furious about a development. Censorship should never be allowed. One should be able to say anything. But I refuse to let politics be foisted on me. There has been far too much politics in my life in the last two years. I believe strongly in an author's moral responsibility. But his first obligation is to write good books.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Pamuk, we thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Dieter Bednarz and Annette Grossbongardt.

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