Other Colors (a re-reading)
“𝘕𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘱𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘳𝘢𝘤𝘬𝘴, 𝘩𝘰𝘭𝘦𝘴, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘪𝘯𝘷𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘣𝘭𝘦 𝘨𝘢𝘱𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘭𝘪𝘧𝘦 𝘢𝘴 𝘧𝘢𝘴𝘵 𝘰𝘳 𝘢𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩𝘭𝘺 𝘢𝘴 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘥𝘴 𝘤𝘢𝘯. 𝘐𝘵 𝘪𝘴 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘴𝘦 𝘤𝘳𝘢𝘤𝘬𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘦𝘴𝘴𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘴 — 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘮𝘢𝘬𝘦 𝘶𝘴 𝘤𝘶𝘳𝘪𝘰𝘶𝘴 𝘢𝘣𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘭𝘪𝘧𝘦, 𝘢𝘣𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘭𝘥 — 𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘧𝘪𝘳𝘴𝘵 𝘣𝘦 𝘢𝘴𝘤𝘦𝘳𝘵𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘦𝘥, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘪𝘵 𝘪𝘴 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥 𝘭𝘪𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘧𝘪𝘳𝘴𝘵 𝘳𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘢𝘭𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘮.”
It is no secret that reading My Name is Red fifteen years ago drove a scimitar across my consciousness and opened up a whole new world of literature to me with its bursts of color and contemplations on art and style.
While I cannot say that every single work by Pamuk appeals to me, he bottles the sounds, the smells, the sights, the tastes, the textures, and the melancholies of Turkey and allows me to be, as he would say, “In possession of another world”; and he has in some measure shaped my mindscape.
On the way back home from Turkey in 2016 and while inside a cafe waiting for someone, I attempted to finish reading Istanbul in Manila. I soon found out that the book would not exactly become a favorite — the consolation is that the person I waited for would be.
Re-reading Other Colors: Essays and a Story in my thirties, I have noticed that so much of it makes more sense to me now and I have realized that, by some stroke of serendipity, Pamuk’s books have been present in life’s significant moments to vivify specific memories.
“𝘈𝘴 𝘵𝘪𝘮𝘦 𝘨𝘰𝘦𝘴 𝘰𝘯, 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘦, 𝘸𝘦 𝘤𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘳𝘦𝘮𝘦𝘮𝘣𝘦𝘳 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘸𝘳𝘪𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘴 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘢𝘭𝘴𝘰 𝘳𝘦𝘷𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘭𝘥 𝘢𝘴 𝘸𝘦 𝘬𝘯𝘦𝘸 𝘪𝘵 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘯 𝘸𝘦 𝘧𝘪𝘳𝘴𝘵 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘮 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘳𝘦𝘤𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘪𝘯𝘤𝘩𝘰𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘭𝘰𝘯𝘨𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘢𝘸𝘰𝘬𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘶𝘴. 𝘞𝘩𝘦𝘯 𝘸𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘢𝘤𝘩𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘢 𝘸𝘳𝘪𝘵𝘦𝘳, 𝘪𝘵 𝘪𝘴 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘫𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘣𝘦𝘤𝘢𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘩𝘦 𝘶𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘥 𝘶𝘴 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘰 𝘢 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘭𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘶𝘦𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘩𝘢𝘶𝘯𝘵 𝘶𝘴, 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘣𝘦𝘤𝘢𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘩𝘦 𝘩𝘢𝘴 𝘪𝘯 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘮𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘶𝘳𝘦 𝘮𝘢𝘥𝘦 𝘶𝘴 𝘸𝘩𝘰 𝘸𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦.”
Other Colors also happens to be my first signed copy by a Nobel laureate.
The White Castle (a re-reading)
Fifteen years ago The White Castle meant nothing more to me than a tale set in the 17th century about an Italian intellectual who sets sail from Venice to Naples only to be captured by Turks and brought to Constantinople where his master would turn out to be his doppelgänger. I knew it was a novel about identity, but it did not leave a lasting impression back then.
I had even forgotten that this was set during a pandemic wherein people lived in fear of the plague! “Janissaries guarded the entrances to the market-places, the avenues, the boat landings, halting passers-by, interrogating them: ‘Who are you? Where are you going? Where are you coming from?’”
The same questions that each doppelgänger would often ask the other and himself — the same questions that confront the reader.
Through my re-reading, I discovered nuances that were lost to my younger mind; and passages that I previously failed to mark with a pencil leapt up from the pages with intensity.
Over the course of time, the two characters’ lives would become inextricably entwined, they would embark on engineering projects, study astronomy, work on other branches of science, write books and and share a life together. As soon as Pamuk tricks us into thinking that one is inferior to the other, and into making us think we have a good grasp of who is truly master or slave, their roles would be reversed until it becomes difficult to tell them apart. And yet, their likeness is something that they do not acknowledge openly.
By and by, the question of who is superior? fades into oblivion and metamorphoses into who is who?
On one occasion, the Sultan asks them, “Have you two never looked at yourselves in the mirror together?”
And there it was, the very point that I missed hiding in plain sight — East and West personified!
And who else more qualified to write about their tumultuous but inevitable relationship? But of course! A man from that city perched on both East and West!
A Strangeness in My Mind
The first page of this book quotes a passage from William Wordsworth’s The Prelude:
“I had melancholy thoughts…
A strangeness in my mind,
A feeling that I was not for that hour,
Nor for that place.”
For someone who has felt like an anachronism all her life, I felt like I owned these lines. It was as if I was meant to read the book just for this, and having come across it right at the start, the rest of the book was an additional literary present.
Ever since I read My Name is Red, I have been looking for the Orhan Pamuk I encountered there in each of his books. (I even looked for the actual Pamuk in Istanbul, persuading the whole family to visit his Museum of Innocence on the European side of the city in the hope of bumping into him.) I never seemed to find that Pamuk again.
But there is something in common with this book and My Name is Red. It is the way he allows different characters to gain control over the narration, thereby lending the reader a fuller grasp.
There are things Pamuk writes that make me uncomfortable, but these simultaneously compel me to admire a straightforwardness about life that only the most courageous writers can execute.
It is only through this book that I have seen for myself what all his works have in common — aside from providing details that escape the average consciousness, perhaps a result of having gone to architecture school — every book is a love story, no matter the plot or the characters: A love story between a writer and a place; between a writer and Istanbul, or Kars; between a writer and Turkey; a love story about the effects of the bittersweet passing of time on a place; about someone who recognizes a nation profoundly inside out, from its complicated politics to its inner conflicts and issues, its customs and traditions, from its spectacular buildings to its impoverished slums, from its most magnificent cities to its humble villages, from its splendid past to what it is now; a love story with a viewpoint only a lasting lover can deliver who, after having seen its glories and deepest flaws and undesirable secrets, remains and continues to love.