Silent House

Orhan Pamuk, trans. from the Turkish by Robert Finn. Knopf, $26.95 (302p) ISBN 978-0-307-70028-5
In this first English publication of an early novel by the Nobel laureate, nonagenarian widow Fatma Darvinoglu lives in the eponymous house, a derelict villa in a seaside village near Istanbul. Bitter, sharp-tongued, and irritable, she arrived there as a teenage bride and endured the ensuing decades while her husband, Selahattin, sold off her jewelry to support his writing of a 48-volume encyclopedia intended to prove to his superstitious countrymen that God does not exist and that only by worshipping science could Turkey hope to achieve Westernized civilization. Their son, Dogan, an alcoholic like his father, died at 52, leaving three now adult children who have come to Cennethisar for their annual visit with grandmother. Faruk, the eldest, is a failed historian; Nilgun, his sister, is drawn to the Communist Party; adolescent Metin is jealous of his wealthy peers who drink immoderately and do drugs. The siblings are aware that the dwarf Recep, their grandmother’s servant, is also their uncle. Recep and his crippled brother, Ismail, were the product of Selahattin’s liaison with a servant. Ismail’s son, Hasan, a high school delinquent, has joined with nationalist thugs who frighten villagers. While Pamuk deftly suggests the political strife that roiled Turkish society before the 1980 coup, this narrative never achieves the richness and depth of his later work. All but one of the eight major characters are neurotic, self-pitying, resentful, contemptuous of others—even while they yearn to assuage their loneliness—and filled with grandiose dreams of what they’ll never achieve. Pamuk uses stream-of-consciousness to convey their inchoate thoughts, and he’s most effective when chronicling Hasan’s increasing mental instability. Pamuk’s belief that “[h]istory’s nothing but a story” adds substance to what is otherwise a dispiriting tale. Agent: Andrew Wylie. (Oct. 12)
Reviewed on: 08/13/2012
Release date: 10/09/2012
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