Book of the Month: Silent House, by Orhan Pamuk
In 2006, when the Swedish Academy awarded Turkish author Orhan Pamuk the Nobel Prize in Literature, the citation read, in part, "In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city, [Pamuk] has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.” That same quest informs and impels his powerful second novel, Silent House, which is being published in English for the first time this month.
Originally published in 1983, Silent House recounts a week in which three siblings make their annual summer visit to their grandmother’s memory-heavy homestead in Cennethisar, a onetime fishing village turned posh vacation resort near Istanbul. The story is set in July 1980, shortly before the military coup of September 12 that transformed the country, and the fictional atmosphere is fraught with the political and spiritual tensions of the times.
Weaving his tale through the accounts of five different characters, Pamuk gives a poignant portrayal of everyday life in a 1980s Turkish seaside resort: a mix of campsites, factories, and vacation villages; indolent families watching TV and footloose youth staging drunken car races; narrow gardens, isolated fig trees, and fast-disappearing olive groves; belly-dancer shows in tourist hotels and housewives cooking meat on charcoal grills; smoky coffeehouses and sunny sands.
Spanning three generations, these characters illuminate the place’s uneasy evolution from, in the grandmother’s words, “a few old houses, a few old chicken coops” to “apartment houses, shops, crowds, and half-naked people on the beach.” They also embody the country’s changing attitudes and escalating conflicts, from communist to nationalist, fervent worshipper of science to historian manqué to capitalist dreamer.
Unfurling the interactions of these characters during a fateful summer interlude, Pamuk transports us to a pivotal moment in his homeland’s history—and maps the emotional geography of modern Turkey.
New Book Roundups:
American Regions: Southwest and Down South
Juniper hopes that her adopted family’s move from California to New Mexico will help her set aside the grief she felt after her sister was kidnapped eight years prior and was never found. But events at a pueblo outside Santa Fe bring the past back to life in Jo-Ann Mapson’s novel, Finding Casey. Back to Blood is Tom Wolfe’s take on the melting pot that is Miami seen through the eyes of officer Nestor Camacho, whose universe contains billionaire porn addicts, crack dealers, conceptual artists, and members of the active adult retirement community among numerous others.
From charting the depths of a cave deep enough to hold a skyscraper (“Conquering an Infinite Cave,” National Geographic) to exploring the Chernobyl exclusion zone (“Chernobyl: My Primeval, Teeming, Irradiated Eden,” Outside) 2012 Best American Travel Writing delivers what its title promises. Literary Washington, D.C. gathers the writings of 35 local and internationally renowned authors—from Emily Dickinson to Gore Vidal—on topics as divergent as the comings and goings of presidential administrations to collisions between “domestic Washington” and “official Washington.”
In The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot Robert MacFarlane sets off from his Cambridge, England, home to follow ancient footpaths and sea routes while offering a meditation on walking and the ways in which we are shaped by the landscapes we encounter. Based on the writer’s experience as a Peace Corps volunteer during the late ’90s, Joanna Luloff’s collection of stories, The Beach at Galle Road, evokes Sri Lanka—using narratives that follow a northern Tamil family, a southern Sinhalese family, and Western aid workers—during its long and bitter civil war.
Out of Africa
Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron is a novel about a Rwandan runner excelling at his sport—through the roads and hills of a beautiful country—but increasingly hobbled by escalating violence between Tutsis and Hutus. The Queen of Katwe is Tim Crothers’s biography of Phiona Mutesi, a girl from the slums of Kampala who became a Ugandan national chess champion.
One Last Thing:
Witness to Tragedy and Renewal
Japan has been interwoven through my life since I first arrived in 1977 on a two-year teaching fellowship. Since then, I’ve married a Japanese woman and traveled widely off that alluring country’s tourist path—which is why I was drawn to a new book by Joseph Honton called There’s a God for That. In the first part of this account, set in the spring of 2011, Honton travels with his Japanese wife to Shimane Prefecture and explores the little-touristed treasures of a region I also love. Then, on March 11, the Great Tohoku Earthquake strikes, unleashing a string of devastations. Honton’s intimate description of the ensuing days—the initial impulse to connect with loved ones, the slow realization of the destruction’s scope, the resilient outpouring of aid and sacrifice—describes the effects of this physical and cultural temblor and presents a moving meditation on the lessons it confers.