0019 | The White Castle – Orhan Pamuk


A Turkish friend and her husband gave me this book when I was in hospital recovering from an appendectomy. It’s my first experience of a Turkish writer.

I have to say I have a hard time with a lot of modern fiction. This is partly because I’m fairly traditional at heart. I like stories with a strong plot, minimal metaphor and a nice twist at the end. Pamuk’s White Castle contains none of these. But I must be learning something because I did enjoy it.

It’s a short book and I think Pamuk’s powers of description, honed through his lengthier earlier books, clearly add to this story by creating a rich backdrop for it from the courts of the sultan in Istanbul to the rich, dense forests of eastern Europe. And then he creates two (?) characters whose lives are thrown together you think initially by chance but then realise more and more that it’s probably by design. Whose design you can but wonder because this is a tale of a quest for identity.

As someone who has spent a great deal of my life in other cultures and losing a sense of my origin, I could really relate to the protagonists. I was also able to relate to the outcome of their identity crises at the end although I hope it never happens that I so forget my origins that I question whether they ever existed in the first place.

Pamuk’s book is an exploration of both identity and culture and what these are grounded in. These are fundamental questions for the world today, especially in a country with ethnic conflict as long-standing and bitter as in Turkey where Pamuk is an outspoken supporter of the rights of the Kurds. Because of the importance of these issues then, I was expecting more resolution to the questions that Pamuk’s book raised. It almost seemed irresponsible to have such an opportunity to speak out and not do so clearly. But then again, maybe it’s just that I have to continue to learn how to read the modern novel. Either way, Pamuk’s book is worth a read and well worth a reread I’d think.

I found this manuscript in 1982 in that forgotten ‘archive’ attached to the governor’s office in Gebze that I used to rummage through for a week each summer, at the bottom of dusty chest stuffed to overflowing with imperial decrees, title deeds, court registers and tax rolls.

caique: The small skiff used at Constantinople
janissary: The Janissaries (or janizaries; in Turkish: Yeniçeri, meaning New Troops) comprised infantry units that formed the Ottoman sultan’s household troops and bodyguard. The force originated in the 14th century; it was abolished (and massacred) by Sultan Mahmud II in 1826.
troche: cough drop: a medicated lozenge used to soothe the throat

A swing tied with long ropes to a high branch of a walnut tree swayed slightly in a barely perceptible breeze.

terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good > excellent > superb

2007 – Apr

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