cover image The Black Book

The Black Book

Orhan Pamuk. Farrar Straus Giroux, $25 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-374-11394-0

Turkish novelist Pamuk's inventive, digressive new novel is a dazzling arabesque stuffed with fantastic tales, metaphysical thought experiments, dreams, symbolic fables, absurdist humor, childhood memories, social and political satire and excursions into history. Galip, an Istanbul lawyer, is alarmed when his wife, Ruya, and her half-brother, newspaper columnist Jelal Bey, vanish. To ferret out leads, Galip assumes Jelal's identity and pseudonymously takes over his popular columns. A former classmate of Galip's turns up, confessing that for years she obsessively fantasized that she was Ruya. A mysterious caller phones, threatening to kill Jelal, who had tried to instigate a military coup in the early 1960s but allegedy betrayed the revolutionary cause. Galip's feverish research, which climaxes in two assassinations, is strewn with red herrings, allusions to Turkish and American films and digressions on the Messiah, Sufi mysticism, human faces and the art of making mannequins. As Pamuk (The White Castle) erects a dazzling hall-of-mirrors meditation on identity, memory and reality, he elliptically condemns a society that uses informers and secret police to enforce obedience. (Jan.)