Silent House is the third novel I’ve read by Orhan Pamuk and only now do I feel I can write a review on a literary genius. Snow and My Name is Red were ineffable. I could not find the words to describe truly how beautiful and insightful those novels were. Silent House however falls short of five stars and now I feel I can welcome Pamuk to the blog!
Like his other novels, Silent House is set in Turkey, near Istanbul. There is a clear tension between the East and the influence of Western values typical of his novels. With an array of different narrators, you get a perspective from the nationalists, communists, older generations and historians. Pamuk gives you everyone’s perspective and tries not to invalidate any — even if they are wrong.
By far the most compelling narrative was that of Fatima, or often named in the chapter as Grandma. Fatima often recalls the past. Her young marriage to a doctor who was exiled from Istanbul for his political views and consequently starts his task by writing an encyclopedia. Unlike Fatima who remained religious, her husband welcomed science and Western views. And suddenly he discovers the athiest concept of nothingness. You die and that is all — no afterlife. Fatima believes it is all absurd and often blocks him out.
Present-day, her husband is dead, she is tired and her grandchildren are visiting. She is paranoid they will find her husbands encyclopedia that she had hidden. Her narrative runs line after line without any stop. A stream of consciousness. You can see how overwhelming all of these new ideas and changes are.
This book is another insightful look in Turkey but it falls short of the power his other novels held. I was looking forward to the complex and perfectly woven descriptions Pamuk previously blessed me with but they never really came. The novel was also missing the political edge his others had. The set-up was there, but the punch never came. Even when one of the characters died (which I did see coming but still shook me) the message didn’t prevail.
I did however like and wished there was more of, the discussion about history. What history is and how it can be abused. Pamuk is evidently a very clever person and he always embeds the most interesting notions about art, literature, history etc.
And finally, the part that always makes me smile, the easter egg Pamuk throws in — including himself in the novel. Pure genius. When his name pops us and fits in perfectly I shake my head at his brilliance.
So what is the message from this review: read Pamuk. Translated fiction is an essential way to grasp different cultures, especially during a pandemic. While Snow is definitely his best work, Silent House might be a good place to start. To prepare you for his artistry