Published on December 24th, 2007 | by Hans Fruck


Orhan Pamuk Cops a Roasting

A few years back I started reading Orhan Pamuk’s novel, The Black Book. I can’t remember anything specific about The Black Book, except that it was extravagantly praised and it bored me to tears.

I’m not sure how far into the novel I got before I declared defeat. Not far. (In truth, I’m not sure I read enough for it to even constitute a ‘defeat’. So perhaps it’s better described as a tactical retreat.) And in retrospect, it’s a little odd that I bought the book in the first place: I don’t read many novels in translation. Too often, to me, novels that have passed through the extra filter of translation feel like only a facsimile of the original. Think of it this way: can you imagine William Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy (substitute your favourite author) being translated into, say, Polish or Russian by someone who’s a lesser wordsmith than they are? Can you imagine their facility with language, their dialogue, their blazing originality surviving unmarred? I can’t. And that’s why I rarely make the effort.

That said, I do experience an occasional craving for something exotic, something from a different culture and world view than my own — and I think this is, for the most part, a healthy hankering. And when I say ‘different’, I don’t just mean something set in England, America, or Canada. But something really different, like from Turkey, particularly if it’s set in Istanbul, one of the world’s most storied cities, the pivot of so much history, both ancient and modern. I think that craving — and the rapturous reviews excerpted on the back of The Black Book — probably enticed me into making an exception to my normal practice by plunging into Pamuk in translation.

Long story short, I didn’t dig it. Frankly, it gave me a case of sighs and impatient itches. More than that, I can’t say — I don’t remember enough about the experience. I concede the possibility that the failing was mine and not the book’s. I concede also that I was too quick to return it to my bookshelf and pick up something else. Or concede simply that the failing was neither mine nor the book’s, but a case of mismatched sensibilities. (In fact, after all that conceding, I’m feeling quite magnanimous…)

Why am I crapping on about Orhan Pamuk? Well, because in my e-travels, which have traversed many, many (mostly frivolous) pixels, I came across a rather tart take on Mr Pamuk, who has won a Nobel Prize for Literature since I aborted my attempt on The Black Book. I’m not sure if the roasting he receives is merited, but it did make me snigger. So if you have a taste for literary assassination, check it out.

In the meantime, I might read The Black Book, just to confirm if my initial prejudice was justified… although, hold on, I can’t be fucked. Which, I guess, is what prevented me from finishing it the first time.

HS Fruck

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