cover image Nights of Plague

Nights of Plague

Orhan Pamuk, trans. from the Turkish by Ekin Olap. Knopf, $34 (694p) ISBN 978-0-525-65689-0

In the ambitious latest from Nobel Prize winner Pamuk (My Name Is Red), a plague has swept through Mingheria, a fictional island in the Ottoman Empire. The 1901 calamity was chronicled by Princess Pakize, whose letters historian Mina Mingher is preparing for publication in 2017. But struck by the princess’s “descriptive flair” and weary of writing another “dreary” history book, Mina decides to turn the letters into a novel. Indeed, there’s flair to Mina’s text, which forms the bulk of a narrative that includes the murder of Istanbul’s royal chemist, sent to the island to implement quarantine protocol; political upheaval that results in Mingheria declaring its independence; and romances among a slew of characters. Via Mina, a descendent of Mingherians, Pamuk ascribes importance to players from all social strata: politicians, religious leaders, and ordinary citizens alike. Though Mina’s romanticizing of her ancestors and her nation’s history can sometimes be overwrought, the story she shapes is consistently captivating. As a result, the grandiose statements—“emotions and decisions of individuals could often change the course of history”—wind up ringing true. Though it doesn’t stand with the author’s best work, the cracking narrative will keep readers in for the long haul. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, Wylie Agency. (Oct.)