Sunday, January 13, 2008

On Pamuk's Other Colors

I missed Claire Berlinski's review of Pamuk's Other Colors when it first appeared in The Globe and Mail, which is just as well seeing as I was just then having a tough time of getting through the final pages and, by the sounds of it, this review would've reinforced my sense of its paralyzingly depressing nature, but the ongoing reactions (1, 2, 3) to that review are asking me to reexamine my own response to Pamuk's essays.

I agree with Berlinski's characterization of Pamuk as a "melancholic egomaniac." It did indeed become quite tiresome to be repeatedly told 1. how much he loves books and 2. how depressed he is. But she misses the boat in not acknowledging him as a significant novelist.

This week Keith Gerebian comes to Pamuk's defence.

Pamuk reveals why writing begins for him with disquietude and produces more of the same if it does not go well. [...] His ruminations on disparate things [...] show a major novelist in a minor, lighter key, but one whose sense of enchantment is fuelled by a mordant comic irony (the essay on Istanbul earthquakes) as well as a fascination with phenomenology.

[...] Filled with arabesques, pleasantries and nimble wit, Pamuk's essays on literature, politics, art, architecture and autobiography show us a writer who wisely refuses to have his sense of national identity manipulated by anyone - including Americans and Turks - while he continues to find a different style to suit different subjects.

He is conversational and playful in the essay Meaning, just as he is profoundly aesthetic in Bellini and the East or keenly satiric in My First Encounters with Americans. He is a shrewd, subtle literary critic on Sterne, Gide, Dostoevsky, Rushdie et al., and, despite Berlinski's outrageous misrepresentation of his perspective on Nabokov's Lolita (has she really read this essay?), he reveals himself as a man who can be amazed by his world and the dream of being a storyteller.

The book is depressing, but in my own defense as a reader I can recognize that while I don't like the way the book made me feel, and though it made me roll my eyes more than once, it also made me consider some aspects I hadn't before regarding what goes into the construction of Pamuk's novels (I do have to wonder if Berlinski has read any) — what makes Pamuk a writer.

Suffice it to say: I far prefer Pamuk the novelist to Pamuk the essayist, but Other Colors is not to be dismissed out of hand.

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