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Book Review: Silent House by Orhan Pamuk

Title: Silent House
Author: Orhan Pamuk
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin
ISBN: 978-0-670-08559-0
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages: 334
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Not everyone I have met who like reading, like Orhan Pamuk. They say they cannot get into his books. Of course. It is true. One needs a lot of patience and time on hand to be able to read and appreciate a Pamuk. The first time I started on was with, “My Name is Red” and it took me two rereads to be able to understand the intricacies and his style. After that, most of his books seemed to be a breeze, with a lot of substance at heart. Grand issues, families, morals and emotions are at the core of his books. Not to forget the Turkish culture.

“Silent House” by Orhan Pamuk might be new for the English reading population, but definitely not for the Turkish one. It is Pamuk’s second novel and well better late than never that the English readers get to read it.

The plot revolves around an old widow Fatma, living in an old mansion in Cennethisar, a former fishing village in Istanbul, awaiting the annual summer visit of her grandchildren. She has been a part of the village for decades now, where her husband, a doctor, first arrived to serve the village folk. Fatma is now almost bedridden, attended on by her faithful servant, Recep, a dwarf and the doctor’s illegitimate son.

The dwarf and the matron share everything – life, memories, food, happiness and grievances of the early years, before Cennethisar became a resort and of the present – the changes that are pushing Istanbul to modernity.

The grandchildren arrive bringing with them their burdens, lives and hopes. Faruk, the failed historian, his sensitive leftist sister, Nilgun; Metin, the high-school student who is drawn to the so-called life of nouveaux riches and dreams of America and the possibilities. Amidst them there is Hassan, Recep’s nephew, a school drop-out and a right-wing Nationalist, whose views are radical and in touch with the Istanbul that he envisions.

The story has way too many layers to it. I felt at times that maybe three hundred and thirty four pages weren’t enough to tell this story, but maybe had it extended beyond, it would probably get boring.

Recep shone throughout the book. The dwarf’s character has been etched to the hilt and is definitely not underplayed at any given point. His interaction with the others is sometimes what propels the book. Fatma mulls over life and longing, as the action unfolds in the mansion and lives are played out. Hassan is the angry young man in so many ways and restrained in so many others.

Orhan Pamuk’s genius can never be doubted. Maybe he just knows how to deliver, even if the book has just been translated recently. The writing takes you by the throat in some places and makes you wonder and contemplate in others. Robert Finn’s translation is even and I am thankful that it was done for this book.

“Silent House” is a treat for all literary lovers. One that needs to be savoured and read maybe once again. I will in time for sure. It deserves a reread.

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