Friday, October 24, 2014

Silent House, by Orhan Pamuk

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Orhan Pamuk's Silent House interweaves complex family dramas with nationalistic political tensions, creating an aesthetically and emotionally rewarding novel.

Orhan Pamuk is a Turkish novelist who won the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. Silent House was first published in 1983 and was translated into English fairly recently, in 2012. The novel is told from five different perspectives.

Fatma is the family matriarch, a 90-year-old who lives in an old mansion in Cennethisar, a former fishing village near Istanbul. Her three grandchildren visit her regularly: Faruk, a failed historian; Nilgun, sensitive and politically left-wing; and Metin, a school student who dreams of making money and travelling to America.

Fatma is looked after by Recep, her servant. Recep, a dwarf, is the illegitimate son of Fatma's long deceased husband, Selahattin Bey. Recep also has a nephew, Hasan, who has fallen in with a group of right-wing nationalists. The novel is alternately narrated by Fatma, Recep, Faruk, Metin and Hasan. This makes it sound complex and unwieldy, but the narrative runs along very smoothly and is easy to follow.

The story interweaves complex family dramas with turbulent nationalistic politics. Turkey is going through a period of painful modernisation, or perhaps Westernisation is the more apt word. The communists are at war with the nationalists. Within Fatma’s extended family, there are members aligning themselves on both sides of politics, which ultimately leads to tragic events.

Silent House expertly delineates these fissures and fractures within a family. It shows how political turmoil, when it uproots traditional ways of life, can create great confusion and uncertainty in the minds of those living under such changes. While Fatma is staid in her ways and rather ungenerous in her opinions of others, the younger generation are confused as to what they actually want. In the characters of Metin and Hasan, we see how the young, when they have no strong traditions to moor them, can quickly unravel. In many ways Silent House has not dated at all; its themes find expression today in countries that experience a tension between an old, traditional culture that has historically provided great cohesion and the encroachment of Western culture and ideas.

Silent House, by Orhan Pamuk. Published by Penguin. ISBN: 9781926428529  RRP: $19.99

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