A twist to the latest novel by Orhan Pamuk

A few months before in 2006 they gave Orhan Pamuk the Nobel Prize for Literature –he was the sung candidate that year– someone asked a Turkish literary critic passing through Buenos Aires what he thought of novels like my name is red (1998) or Snow (2002). The answer can be considered malevolent, but it has its point. He did not understand well – said the respondent – ​​the interest that Pamuk aroused everywhere; in the Turkish original, and beyond the apparent ambition of his extensive novels, he added, his tongue sounded flat, without much talent. Pamuk, he was saying without saying it, was one of those authors whose shortcomings are hidden by translations, synonymous with an assured international career.

the nights of the plague is a great novel that opposes the brevity stimulated by the times”

If this paradox is fulfilled on a very high average – even prestigious authors seek not to complicate the passage from one language to another with complex sentences – readers who do not know the original can give Pamuk (Istanbul, 1952) the benefit of the doubt and note in his favor his nineteenth-century drive (Stendhalian, he would say) to build great narrative artifacts. the nights of the plague, his latest opus, would already be one of the readings of the year if it weren’t for its more than 700 pages, a length that opposes the brevity stimulated by the time. Language? Pamuk is a meticulous describer and assembler –so was Tolstoy, whom few will have read in Russian– and the translation is impeccably fluent (will that prove the Istanbulite critic right?), almost completely devoid of peninsular harshness.

In a review in Ideas (“Variations on the plagues of yesterday and today”) about the soap opera, I focused on its anticipatory quality. Pamuk, of course, published the novel already in the time of Covid, but he dedicated six laborious years of writing to it. And, because time is a tyrant, but also space, in that note the analysis was dedicated only to the events that occurred in 1901 on the imaginary island of Minguer, “the Ottoman jewel of the Mediterranean”, which, devastated by a plague brought by rats or perhaps by some foreigner, he suffers a double isolation. Western ships block the exit of this modest maritime paradise to prevent the plague from entering Europe while Istanbul has an ambiguous and sluggishly bureaucratic position. The novel, which seeks to recount the forthcoming disappearance of the Ottoman Empire in other ways, not only recounts the epidemic, but also the rapid events in which Major Kâmil becomes commander and then the first, short-lived president of the island. The next nation quickly finds its founding legend. The head of Intelligence will be the one who finally seizes power, not before a religious sheikh (with fundamentalist airs) had previously held it and Pazike, daughter of former emperor Murat V (who lives captive by order of his reigning brother Abdülhamit ). Passing through the island, she and her husband, Dr. Nuri, were forced to stay in place after the murder of the epidemic specialist sent to Minguer.

The Nights of the Plague by the Turkish writer Orhan PamukRandom House

There is, against everything, a final section (“Years later”) that gives this meticulous chronicle of a fictional plague a twist that reveals Pamuk as something more than an old-school narrator. This section, relegated in the previous criticism, works in its own way as nouvelle connected. Although they are paraphrased without citing them, there are indications that the letters that Pakize sends to one of her sisters in Istanbul nurture that “history in the form of a novel” (and not “historical novel”) that is being narrated by a specialist unnamed That procedure with the female narrator finds a twist in that ending. The historian is the granddaughter of one of Pakize’s daughters, who is preparing to publish that correspondence and who maintains a passionate and distant relationship (she was exiled for twenty years) with Minguer. The island is no longer the island of the early 20th century, but a country in which today’s tensions are condensed, such as its candidacy for the European Union in 2008 and a controversial soccer match in which Minguer defeated Turkey. To such an extent the invention embodies in reality that the novelist himself appears named by his narrator near the end as one more informant, as if Pamuk wanted to become independent of his own invention, the one that, language or not, must already be being added to some guide to imaginary places.

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A twist to the latest novel by Orhan Pamuk