Tale from Nobel laureate Pamuk takes on Turkish coup

Mon Oct 15, 2012 6:18pm EDT
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By Andrea Burzynski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The seaside town where Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk's novel "Silent House" is set during the late 1970s has since been swallowed by the sprawl of Istanbul, but according to the author, the story's themes remain.

First published in Turkish in 1983, last week marks the first time "Silent House" has been made available in English. The English version (translated by Robert Finn) was released in the United States by Knopf.

"There's one side of me saying that ... so much has happened, but then when you read this novel you realize that the essential conflicts are still staying the same," Pamuk, currently a humanities professor in Columbia University's writing department, told Reuters in an interview.

Pamuk now divides his time between New York and Istanbul, but "Silent House," set on the eve of Turkey's 1980 military coup, was his second novel.

It centers on three grandchildren who visit their widowed grandmother in a resort town outside Istanbul, and details how the family's dynamics are affected by the country's political tensions. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character.

Pamuk, 60, said that Turkey's long struggle to find balance between its cultural and religious traditions and modern ideals shaped by the West can result in personal conflicts as well as political ones.

The book's characters include a young bikini-wearing leftist, a high school student who simultaneously resents and tries to fit in with his wealthy schoolmates while dreaming of a future in the United States, and a disaffected misfit who joins a nationalist gang. Despite their family ties, the characters' differences cause irreparable conflicts as they fall victim to their own ideals.

According to Pamuk, traditions and ideals can sometimes be impossible to reconcile, and can create deep contradictions within individuals as well as within societies.   Continued...