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Four questions for… Orhan Pamuk

Turkey's most famous novelist, Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk comes to Berlin for a reading of his latest novel "The Red-Haired Woman" on October 16. We grabbed the busy author for quick chat about the book, myths and daddy issues.

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Photo courtesy of The Museum of Innocence (CC BY 2.5)

Lauded Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk brings his latest novel The Red-Haired Woman to Berlin for a reading live on RBB on October 16, 8pm. And the best part? You can actually be there to hear the Nobel Prize-winning author speak (in Turkish with German simultaneous translation) at RBB’s studios in Charlottenburg. We caught up with the busy author for a quick chat about popular myths and how father-son relationships shape his writing.

You keep coming back to the stories of Oedipus and the Shahnameh in your novels, including this one. What fascinates you about these stories?

These old myths are sort of reoccurring stories that form our lives. Many people get them, even if we forget the texts of the classics. In movies, in popular culture, these old stories like Rostam and Sohrab or Oedipus Rex are remembered. And there are so many popular adaptations of the Rostam and Sohrab story, not necessarily alluding to the original. It is an important text for me and I have seen so many popular versions in Turkish daily life. In this book, I am comparing two classical, essential, foundational myths from around the 15th, 17th, 18th century: a text by Ferdowsi, Rostam and Sohrab, and also Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.

When your protagonist Cem is told the story of Joseph being thrown into the well by his brothers, he says there are some elements which make him feel uncomfortable and irritate him but which he cannot name. Is there something similar in this myth which you wanted to name, to come clean about?

Even if I had known this discomforting, disturbing element in the story, I wouldn’t tell you that of course. In fact, the beauty of the story is that it disturbs us and we don’t know why, but of course we have elementary thinking about it – that it is killing the father or the father killing the son that is the most disturbing thing – and my book is addressing this sentiment. The self-conscious thing that I did with this book was not only using Oedipus Rex and Rostam and Sohrab, but also openly discussing them like a professor in the second part of the book. There is a professor tone in this book which I sometimes feel a bit shy about, but then this is actually what I wanted to do.

In the opening line, Cem states that he wanted to become a writer but due to the events he became something else, but his son Enver becomes a writer. This mirrors your relationship to your father about whom you spoke so insightfully in your acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize. He also wanted to become a poet, but he never had his breakthrough. In what way is this novel imprinted by your relationship to your father?

There is a lot of my relationship with my father in this book. Feelings of guilt, missing him, so forth and so on. I was raised by an absent father. I wrote this story because I saw this well-digger and his disciple in a land next to me in 1988 when I was writing another book, and then I had a conversation with them and the relationship between them stayed with me – that of the scolding, angry father, sometimes teaching, sometimes scolding, shouting, or this very same father very friendly, very tender, very attentive to the problems of today. These details stayed with me and I talked about their relationship, a totalitarian father and the disciple son, for almost 25 years before I decided to connect the father-son relationship with these old myths.