In Orhan Pamuk’s New Novel, a Youthful Obsession Yields a Haunted Life

Geraldine Brooks in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_2868 Oct. 24 19.10A sense of place animates many novelists, but few more than Orhan Pamuk, for whom personal geography is artistic destiny. Istanbul, his home and his muse, is the ever-present character in his novels; his city’s often-uneasy equipoise between East and West, secular and sacred, traditional and modern adding tension to whatever story is in the novel’s foreground.

“The Red-Haired Woman” once again explores this duality. Larded throughout the novel are references to two ancient and opposite tragedies of fathers and sons: Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex and the classic Persian tale of Rostam and Sohrab from Ferdowsi’s “Shahnameh,” or Book of Kings. In the former, Oedipus unwittingly murders his father; in the latter, the father, Rostam, unknowingly kills his son, Sohrab. These two classic tales become both the obsession of the novel’s protagonist, Cem Celik, and the determinants — or overdeterminants — of the novel’s action. The Sophocles tale not only comes out of the Western canon but its notion of the headstrong individualist who probes and questions and tempts fate is convenient shorthand for the would-be tradition-killers of Western modernity. In Ferdowsi, meanwhile, the father who kills his son can stand in for an old-against-young, backward-looking extremism, wielding an airless adherence to tradition against any would-be modernizing trends.

Divided into three parts, Pamuk’s novel appears at first to be narrated by Cem, whose Marxist father is more absence than presence in the boy’s life. Even before his father was jailed as a political activist, Cem sensed that his parents didn’t love each other, that his father “was attracted to other women.” So it’s not entirely surprising when, upon his release, he deserts his family.

More here.