“…and the wrought iron on the downstairs window was completely rusted. I had s strange feeling: it was as if there were terrible things in this house that I had never apprehended before owing to familiarity but that I was now recognizing with surprise and anxiety.” (Ch.4, 45)
A family reunion is taking place in a village near Istanbul, where Fatima, a 90-year-old widow of a doctor, embittered and trapped in the past, is awaiting the arrival of her grandchildren in a decaying mansion. The ill-tempered woman is attended by Recap, the 55-year-old dwarf who is her late husband’s illegitimate son. He patiently tries to safeguard his dignity from the demands of his tyrannical employer and the casual cruelty of his neighbors. Over time he proves to be the glue of this estranged family and that he helps assuage the inter-generational tension.
“Do you ever feel that way: sometimes I think I’m two people. But I’ve made up my mind, I’m not going to do it anymore. I’m going to be one person, one whole, completely healthy person. (Ch.24, 283）
It’s becoming obvious that the dilapidated house is metaphoric of Turkey, which is on the verge of a military coup in 1980. Fatima’s son quit as his job in the government in protest of its injustice. Like the occupants of the ancient house where memories entrap Fatima, the Turks also are no longer in control of their own destiny. The dwarf’s nephew, Hasan, a high-school dropout, realizes that no school work will enable him to escape his society’s rigid class hierarchy. He turns to a gang of right-wing nationalists to find his place on the world. This is how one knows that violence looms in the prospect. He becomes the story’s driving and destructive force, as he and his pack collide with two of Fatima’s grandchildren. Nilgun, who is object of Hasan’s fixation, is a pretty and good-hundred leftist. Metin is the young kid with an American dream. He, too, is a lovelorn, finding love unattainable and difficult to fit into the circle of rich kids in his school.
Laden with tension, Pamuk’s way of reverting consciousness shows a nuanced society across generations. The narrative contains chapters each told from the perspective of one of the characters. Each is constrained in the individual universes. Whatever constraint from the past—be it a divorce, a disastrous marriage, unfulfilled dream, social acceptance—entraps everyone who is also caught in a time of political instability. All desire to escape from their own awareness to wander freely in a world outside true mind.
Richly layered and character-driven, this book shows the political and social strains in Turkey in the run-up to the military coup in the 1980s, with rival philosophies uncompromisingly heading to national conflicts and personal tragedies. This is Pamuk’s second novel, written 30 years years, well before he received the Nobel Prize. It’s a novel that addresses and satirized national issues of Turkey.
402 pp. Faber & Faber. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]