Monday, May. 08, 2006

Orhan Pamuk

Under the auspices of fiction, dead men speak, and trees tell tales — feats displayed in the Ottoman otherworldliness of Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red. Magic realism, as all writers know, is a way of subverting the harder-edged world we all share in order to reach essential truths. But what happens when rock-solid political realities bump up against the paper-borne creations of a writer? Which vision wins out?

Pamuk, already the most famous author in contemporary Turkey (Snow; The Black Book), became a global cause celebre early last year after he pointedly criticized his country's all-too-willful historical blind spots: the genocide of Armenians in 1915 by the Turkish military and a similar suppression of the country's Kurdish minority. Criticism from nationalist groups forced Pamuk, 53, to flee Turkey for a while, and then, after he returned, the government prepared to put him on trial for "insulting" Turkey and Turkishness. Human-rights organizations and writers' unions around the world lined up in Pamuk's support even as Turkish patriots lobbied for punishing him to the full extent of Turkish law—up to three years in prison. The charges against Pamuk were dropped,officially because of a technicality but perhaps because of Ankara's impending talks on Turkey's admission to the European Union, an impossibly sensitive discussion that touches on money, ethnicity, history, modernity, Islam and secularism. In the end, Pamuk's name has become even more recognized and his words even more influential. In the confrontation of rock-hard reality and paper-thin artistry, sometimes, as in the children's game, paper overcomes stone.