Orhan Pamuk, the 2006 Nobel laureate for literature, spoke Thursday night at Claremont McKenna College, and it was yet another count-your-lucky-stars moments, to get to hear a world-class thinker and writer expound so close to home, and free of charge.
Pamuk read excerpts from two of his essays, one describing Istanbul, the other constituting a monologue from his daughter’s point of view on all the reasons she didn’t want to go to school. (Among them: “The teacher gives me a nasty look, and she doesn’t look too good to begin with.”) He talked about why he writes, listing a series of explanations: he “can’t do normal work,” he likes to be alone, he likes the attention, he likes the smell of paper and ink and he wants to read books like his. He also spoke of representing Turkey to the world through his work.
Pamuk, as you may know, faced prison for speaking openly about the Armenian genocide, which his government refuses to acknowledge. After an international outcry, he was instead accused of “insulting Turkishness,” a charge that was quietly dropped. He didn’t talk about that directly on Thursday, nor did he say anything about the faltering move in Congress to press Turkey on the genocide issue.
“If your country is troubled, as mine is, those troubles find their way back to me in journalists’ questions, and then I cannot shut up my mouth,” Pamuk said. Other than that remark, he did a good job of shutting up his mouth.
Afterward he signed books. “Snow,” his most popular novel, sold out right before I got to the sales table. Instead, I picked up “The Black Book,” a novel whose back cover notes that one of the characters is “a popular newspaper columnist.” Maybe I can pick up some pointers.