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Silent House Hardcover – 4 Oct 2012
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'Confirms Orhan Pamuk as one of the greatest and most prophetic of political novelists.' --Mark Lawson, Guardian Books of the Year
'An eerily prescient work of fiction.' --George Pendle, Financial Times Books of the Year
Praise for Orhan Pamuk:
'Essential reading for our times.... In Turkey, Pamuk is the equivalent of a rock star, guru, diagnostic specialist, and political pundit: the Turkish public reads his novels as if taking its own pulse.'
--Margaret Atwood, "The New York Times Book Review"
Never before published in English, Silent House, Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk's second novel is the moving story of a family gathering in the political shadow of the impending revolution of 1980.See all Product description
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For me this powerful book encourages reflection.
It is possible that some of the key context relating to Turkey is lost on me. None the less, the political and religious tensions are a treat. The characters are fascinating and in many ways, this book sets out the way we have arrived at the situation we are now in.
The tensions between east and west. The insecurity that drives nationalism and the dangers inherit in any religious orthodoxy that engender a climate of intolerance.
Amongst all this, we have the hopes and aspirations of young people and we have the shadow of social class hanging over people’s life chances and resulting bitterness this creates in some people.
We have guilt, secrets and shame. We have regret and sorrow and we have love and obsession.
An excellent book with much to discuss.
This book is Pamuk's second published work and is markedly different from his latter masterpieces - the works that we are more familiar with like Snow, My Name is Red or The White Castle. It is not as mysterious, magnificent or witty in comparison but definitely shows the writer's strength in keeping his audience entrapped with his story telling.
The backdrop of the story is a coastal tourist spot. Three young people arrive here from Istanbul to pay a visit to their octogenarian, invalid grandmother who lives alone in a big, decaying house in the care of a devoted but oppressed dwarf servant called Recep. And to visit the graves of their deceased parents.
The decaying house is symbolic of all that happens in the story. The grandmother Fatma is an embittered matriarch. A Turkish version of Miss Havisham, Fatma is still reeling from the bitterness of her disastrous marriage to an idealistic doctor Selahattin who brought her away from those she knew and loved into an obscure small place, chasing dreams that never materialised. His extremely modern religious and political views and alcoholism in later life still manage to enrage her so many years after his death.
Here arrives Faruk, Nilgun, and Metin. Faruk is an alcoholic like his father and grandfather. He is a divorced professor disillusioned with life. Nilgun is a young woman with leftist views while the youngest Metin is a young student desperately looking for love - and sex - and money which he believes will all be his when he is able to go to America. Other characters with a stake in the story are Recep's brother Ismail, Ismail's right-wing nationalist son Hassan who is in love with Nilgun. The deceased doctor Selahattin also makes his presence felt.
Pamuk uses the narrative in the first person in each of the thirty-two chapters of this book, giving us a peek into the mind of each character and the story proceeds from everyone's perspective. This allows a stream of consciousness to sip into the story telling.
We learn that Fatma is not only engulfed in the shaky present of health issues and loneliness but that the dark fear of an impending death haunts her like a nemesis. She resents being at the mercy of Recep, who also happens to be one of her deceased husband's two illegitimate sons.
Her own son died early along with his wife and now every year when her young grandchildren come to visit her from Istanbul, she dreads their presence on top of everything else that deludes her. However, this visit also gives her a chance to shift her focus from being nasty towards Recep to being mean to the surviving members of her clan.
Fatma doesn't like anything. The silence of the empty house translates to endless noise for her - the sound from the beach resorts, the sound of her own loneliness, imaginary creaking floors and the constant fear that Recep will tell her grandchildren that he and his brother are actually their grandfather's illegitimate sons.
Fatma's delusive and deriding fear, Nilgun's quiet loneliness, Faruk's frustration and Metin's desperation, Hassan's misplaced devotion to right-wing politics - all evoke a sense of impending times. It is 1980 - just months before a military coup takes place. Times, needs and values are changing rather rapidly. The perceptive writer that he is, Pamuk gently but distinctively weaves these and other existing cultural tensions in Turkey at the time into his story. The book is a good portrayal of the political and social structure in Turkey at the time, especially the growing frustration among its young people in their long struggle for modernity.
As the story progresses it starts to feel a bit draining, slightly suffocating, almost like a prelude to something terrible that is waiting to happen. The right leaning Hassan is in love with a left leaning Nilgun, Metin chases a girl from the local jet set that is quite beyond his actual reach - such clashing situations all set the tone for disasters that could follow.
Orhan Pamuk uses a melancholy tone in building up to the end. The format is straight and the narration from page to page builds up expectations that keep the reader rightly hooked through to the last page to see what happens next.
Silent House is definitely about a family saga, but symbolic of life in Turkey in early 1980 before the military set its tentacles into the fabric of its society, changing the country's destination.
The book is definitely not the first example one would point out to someone to explore the works of the master storyteller Orhan Pamuk. But as an earlier work of a writer who has lived on to give us some of the best literature of our times, it is not disappointing at all.
The original book in Turkish won the 1984 Madaralı Roman Ödülü in Turkey and the translated book was short listed for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize. It was translated by Robert Finn.
There is the same mastery of the here and now, but always with a foreboding of dark days that are to come as a consequence of present misdeeds and misunderstandings. Perhaps Pamuk's characters are not so tempestuous and mercurial as Dostoyevsky's characters, but there is the same sense that they are locked into and lost in history's labyrinth.
In the "Silent House" the young protagonists are caught up not only in Turkey's turbulent history, but also in the tangled mess that their grandfather has made of attempting to take Turkey towards the light of Western Enlightenment. The ramifications are sad, almost tragic in this excellent novel, but there is a never a sense that all is lost!
I found myself wandering through the narrative until an uneasy suspicion that there was a tragedy about to ensue.
As with all my favourite Pamuk books, I put this down when I finished it and felt. I felt devastated and experienced a rolling wave of catharsis. The only other author that makes me feel this way when I finish reading is Beryl Bainbridge.
I finished the book a week ago, but my mind keeps picking at it when I least expect it.
To discuss plot and characters within the work would almost unpick the pleasure of discovering both.
I love to visit Turkey (particularly Istanbul) and Pamuk helps me be there when I have work the next morning. A great author of our age. I am overjoyed that this has been translated so that English readers may experience more of his work.
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