on 31 December 2009
Orhan Pamuk entered the post-modern writing, with The White Castle. He established himself firmly into it with The New Life.
As the title suggests it's a symbolical journey of a nation into the modern era, an era free of religious fanaticism. The narrator, Osman, runs away with the heroine, Janan, after reading a life transforming book, The New Life. Yes! There are a lot of self-references in Pamuk's works!
The book promises a new life which will give voice to the new generation. Naturally the Kemalists, the Communists and most zealously, the Islamists are against them and trying to kill them. That is why Osman and Janan are trying to flee the religious fundamentalists. Janan loved Mehmet who was shot at by the Islamists but escaped. These Islamists are against everything produced by the West, including Coca-Cola. According to them there is a Great Conspiracy which aims to undermine the Islamic culture and destroy it at last. This is the reason the Islamists are against the books and everything printed, as they are the mass producers and carriers of the Great Conspiracy. According to them, watches and guns are the only two useful products ever invented by the West.
They go on a surreal and violent bus journey which at last has a horrible accident. In a surrealistic scene they see headless bodies and severed limbs, but the TV screen is intact and the hero kisses the heroine long. They reach the house of Mehmet's father, who himself is against everything new. The book drifts off into more dreamy scenes and the protagonist tries to find the real writer and the real meaning of the book, The New Life.
This is a post-modern piece and is a hard read. The New Life is a Borges' story extended to a novel, as put by D. M. Thomas. No matter how zealously postmodernists argue in favor of post-modern writing and the inevitability of it, it is not easy to go through it and no matter how confused and disillusioned the modern psyche maybe, most of the readers still love a good story. This is the reason most Hollywood movies are still rooted in the `old fashioned' way of a good story and engaging action. This is the reason that now-a-days, thriller writers like Dan Brown sell far better than `literary' authors. Everyone can enter the world of Khaled Hosseini. It is so accessible and comprehensible, but in order to read a post-modernist story of Borges, you have to be in a certain frame of mind, certain mood, which is very hard to induce and may never be induced by itself. With Borges, however, the reader has to remain in that idiosyncratic world for just a few minutes; while with writers like Pamuk you have to keep the pace for more than three hundred pages. The New Life is a metaphysical thriller which makes it a hard read.
What kept my attention is the struggle of Islam and the West, a topic in which I am immensely interested. Pamuk is a diligent student of history. The New Life, like other of his novels, is littered with cultural, political and religious references which are very relevant to the debate of Islamization vs. Westernization. This is what makes it a compelling read for me. This is what kept my attention to the book. If not for those stray references about, Islam, the Quran, the Prophet, Kemal Ataturk and the West, I would have left this book unread or drifted off to sleep in one of those metaphysical, surreal passages of gore and death.
This is a very unusual book and to be honest quite hard going at certain points. What's it about? Well that's a very good question that I'm not 100% certain I can answer. The main theme of the story is how the main character Osman reads a book which is so profound it completely changes his ideas and indeed life. It changes his life by making him walk away from the one he has and go in search, in search of what I can't say. The only analogy I can come up with is that of a cult, how, the members are so enthralled by the concept that they submit themselves totally to it and reject their family and previous life. Osman rejects his life and goes in search of the book, the ideas and other people who have read the book. In this search he falls in love with a girl (who has also read the book) and with her searches for her boyfriend (who of course has also read the book) and was lost in strange circumstances (last seen being shot at in the street). The bulk of the novel covers the travels of Osman around Turkey on an endless stream of bus rides where he meets other people who have read the book or fragments of people who have read the book. How he struggles to understand life, and, to be more like the long lost boyfriend of the girl he yearns for but never possesses in a physical sense. All of this is enough to drive someone mad, and, I think in a way for a time he is beyond the normal reasoning of the common world. In the end the novel becomes clearer as Osman finds some answers to the questions he is seeking but what those answers are is not easy to describe - you would have to read the book :-) I have read other novels by the author and this is typical of his style, so be warned, if you have never something by him before he is very slow paced, however, his ideas and imagery are excellent if you persevere. At the beginning I must say I found this book hard going, but, at the end the story took over from the ideas and looking back I thoroughly enjoyed it. Confused, well, at some points so was I.
on 1 January 2016
I found this very compelling at first, but my enthusiasm waned towards the end. I read it whilst travelling around Turkey, which helped, but I'm not sure it would have been as rewarding sat at home in the UK. It comes very close to saying something very meaningful about life and how we experience it, but ultimately I was a bit disappointed.
on 11 April 2016
This starts off heaving with promise and intrigue. I thought I was in for a right treat along the lines of Auster or De Lillo at his best, but as I got further into this story I soon realised that I was very much mistaken. If I had any idea that this had anything to do with surreal post modernism I wouldn’t have went near it, as it is I picked it up on a whim from my local library and rolled with it.
I understand Pamuk’s point about the question of Islam v Westernisation in modern day Turkey and the clear problems and tensions that can bring with it, but I’m also very suspicious when people try to intellectualise mediocrity. There are plenty of people out there writing great and dare I say fun literary fiction, who don’t feel the need to get lost in metaphors and meta-fiction, they regard themselves as intellectual believing they are above having to resort to anything resembling a conventional approach. Challenging conventional norms is a healthy thing and can be refreshing and rewarding when done well but it loses potency if you don't have a decent story as well. I am all for making political and religious statements but not at the expense of a good read or accessible story line, just because something is original and cannot be deciphered easily doesn’t mean it has value.
I’m a huge fan of literary fiction and I have loved my fair share of experimental fiction over the years, but I am also an equally big fan of great writing and I didn’t see enough of that here. I saw clear signs of someone who can write well and build tension but it was just too messy. On the up side the font in my particular edition was lovely and I am more than happy to pick up another Pamuk novel, though I’ll probably give it a few weeks.
on 18 January 2013
When Osman reads the book, his life irreversibly changes. He gives up his studies to travel. He begins a search for meaning, identity and experience. He falls in love. He finds solace in the plots of popular films he watches while travelling on overnight buses across Turkey. He suffers trauma and injury in road accidents and meets people who give him useful things, such as guns. He also examines his own imagination from the inside while responding freely to the stimuli and images that experience decides to present.
Precisely which book Osman is reading is never quite revealed. Sometimes it might be any book. Perhaps it was the Koran, perhaps not. Maybe it was a murder mystery, a page tuner of the type that this particular book most certainly is not. Or perhaps Osman's book was not a single volume at all, but more of a literary tradition. Who knows? Perhaps Osman does. Perhaps not. Hence the search.
Janan might know. She has also read the book, or at least passages from it. Osman meets her on a bus and falls in love with her. Until the crash, that is, when their lives change for ever... But then, `ever' might be a long time.
The New Life by Orhan Pamuk is a novel. It is a quite novel novel. It tells Osman's story, if story it be, as he pursues the truth that the book may allow him to recognise, once he finds it. But Osman's story happens inside his head, is driven by his obsessive pursuit of the secrets of his secret book alongside the joys, both imagined and real, he finds in Janan, his new girlfriend.
Osman willingly gives up college to pursue his book. His will may be free, but we may all debate whether any human being is capable of free association. Osman certainly tries to achieve it, as he responds to East and West, to Coca Cola and yogurt, to burgers and borek. Is his experience real, or does he travel only in his head? Is his journey a life, merely a life, incompletely a life, or an imagined life?
Any reader will find The New Life a challenge. For those in search of the linear, the worked-out, even the intelligible, this book will prove impossible. It presents an impression of experience which may or may not have been experienced, impressions that might not even have been felt. There are bus crashes and casualties, but the dead may even have come back to life. There are murders, but we never really know if anyone did anything.
We are almost convinced that Osman does eventually marry, and that he has a daughter. But that is some years into a future he might even have imagined. Our daily lives are like Osman's New Life. The human experience presents experience as a cascade of half perceived, little understood but definitely registered impressions. Consciousness is not a stream, for a stream flows and has direction. Only the lucky amongst us has a life like that. Osman does not, but that is where the book and its message come in. Which book? Now there is a question...
Beauty of language, subtlety and... 1) Jumbled impressions of confused life, 2) Consequences of crisis in life culture and identity and 3) Partially digested sweets. All of these appear, and much more. And all of them are bound by a thickening sauce of Orhan Pamuk's highly digestible prose style. Do not pre-judge. Do not part judge and, perhaps, do not judge at all. Just read. It's a book. It goes where it takes you. It's life.
on 8 February 2008
I read Pamuk's 'Istanbul' and was utterly absorbed. I couldn't wait to read one of his novels but I am finding 'The New Life' very hard going. Where 'Istanbul' was warm, tender and reflective, real and yet spiritual, 'The New Life' seems to be disturbing, repetitive and abstract beyond meaning. I am not yet at the hundredth page but it is hard to see where else this book can go. The protaganist, Osman, is unsympathetic, brutal and cold. His female sidekick feels like a cardboard cutout.
The callous descriptions of traffic accidents, and the protagonists' obsession with them, are hard to stomach. And is Turkey really the traffic accident capital of the world, as seems to be suggested? Magical realism it may be, but for this the reader should be able to believe in it, and I couldn't.
To savour, however, are the descriptions of the hinterland towns and villages, as well as Istanbul itself. Pamuk truly gets to into the soul of a place and its people. I wish there was more of this in 'The New Life'.
A book of two halves.
The first part was rather slow and confusing but with - something indefinable, a lyric quality, the sense of something unfolding, a promise of better things - that urged me to carry on and I'm glad I did because the second half, in which Osman, the protagonist, searches for the meaning of life, thinks he may have found it, kills the man who seems to have found it, loses it again, finds it again, loses it again, and finally... *
Is quite astonishing.
There is no big reveal, no explosive finish, it's a slow burn but a beautiful one. I intend to read it again, in six months time or so, I think it's a book that will improve a great deal on a repeat run.
The writing is poetic, romantic, colourful, delicious. The story - it's not a page turner, but it's very well worth the effort of reading.
*I'm not going to spoil the ending, I want you to read it and see for yourself.
on 1 April 2009
If you have an 'odd books' list, "The New Life" is definitely one to put on it. It's one of the most painfully slow 'thrillers' I've ever read, despite getting off to a thunderous start in which the central character, Osman, narrates how he comes across the book that would change his life and, after witnessing the boyfriend of the love of his life (both of whom have read the book) get gunned down, how he sets off on a search for the meaning of the book, of others who have read it and of the 'new life'.
But original as it is, "The New Life" does not turn out to be the thriller that it promises to be. What follows once Osman sets out on this life-changing journey is a series of descriptions of bus rides, accidents and encounters with others who have read the book or have had their lives changed by it in some way. And in spite of all the events that take place in "The New Life", the story becomes as aimless as Osman's journey itself, with none of them really seeming to carry events forward.
There are some nice lines, pleasant descriptions and moments of humour in the book, but ultimately the mood is sombre and depresses the reader. I was glad to get to the end of it, and my first thought when I did and had read Osman's conclusions was 'So what was the point then?'
I'd read "Istanbul" before "The New Life" and loved it. The bleak tone of "The New Life" was a sharp and unpleasant contrast to the warmth and tenderness of these memoirs and made the book a real disappointment for me. Pamuk seems a tremendously talented writer, but if the rest of his books are like "The New Life" then I'm afraid I'll be spending my money on something else.
on 11 November 2008
Where to start? I read The Black Book and loved it - an utterly absorbing and inspiring novel tackling big important ideas.
The New Life, however, is either badly written or badly translated, or both. Sentences are lumpen and lifeless, repeating words and images over and over in the same passage until you just get fed up. I know that the narrator is a young engineering student and can't be expected to be a fantastic writer, but Pamuk is.
I had to put this down, I just got fed up with what reads like a quasi-mystical sixth-form essay.
If you like Pamuk, don't read this one. Try My Name is Red or The Black Book - both hard-going sometimes too, but very much worth it.
on 15 February 2002
i doubt many people will be able to appreciate the feelings expressed and how well written this book is. this is pamuk's first book that i have read, and his writing reminds me of herman hesse's books, particularly steppenwolf. anyone that does like hesse, camus, coelho, or even dostoevsky should also like this.