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12 October 2022

Orhan Pamuk Q&A: “My frustrations and angers have made my life richer”

The novelist on heroic haircuts, his news addiction, and a transformational train journey.

By New Statesman

Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1952. The author of books including My Name Is Red and The Museum of Innocence, he is Turkey’s bestselling writer. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006.

What’s your earliest memory?

I threw a broken toy into a garden that I could not see because I was not tall enough to see through the window frame. I heard someone say “ah” but never learned what happened.

Who are your heroes?

Piccolo Sceriffo, the young sheriff hero of a Western comic book produced in Italy and translated into Turkish in the 1950s and 1960s. Tommiks (his Turkish name) was always fair, boyish, brave and loved by elders. I wanted to have my hair cut like him. Unlike his friends he never touched alcohol. He is still my hero, though I enjoy a lot of things he never did.

[See also: Sian E Harding Q&A: “I have inherited my grandmother’s gravy gene”]

What book last changed your thinking?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions. In 1975, when I was 33, I read the whole 600-page book on a ten-hour train journey from Istanbul to Ankara. I was a different person when I arrived. What transformed me was the intensity of the writer’s honesty. I realised that if you talk about intimate things with conviction and power you can write about everything. Literature seemed an easy and joyful endeavour.

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Which political figure do you look up to?

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of the Republic of Turkey.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Landscape painting. It is the only kind of painting that does not necessarily suggest a text. As we look at a pure landscape painting we try to invent its meaning, or the dominant feeling it conveys.

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In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

The historical centre of Istanbul in 1650. Not because I am nostalgic, but because I am curious about the reality of it.

What TV show could you not live without?

Prime-time news. I am addicted to being informed about the world via BBC or CNN.

Who would paint your portrait?

I already did it but perhaps I should do it again. I think everybody should be trained to make a self-portrait both by words and by lines, even in colour.

[See also: Simon Woolley Q&A: “I often say I am a disciple of Martin Luther King”]

What’s your theme tune?

“Yumeji’s Theme” by Shigeru Umebayashi, from In the Mood For Love. Every time I listen. I have a feeling that there is some mystery to love beyond our experience of it.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“Trust yourself, be patient and enjoy it!” A friend told me this in my early youth. Unfortunately I could not follow this great advice. I regret this, but my frustrations and angers have made my life richer.

What’s currently bugging you?

Misrepresenting myself as I answer questions about my life.

What single thing would make your life better?

Someone else answering my emails. Of course I would not be happy with this person’s answers but a better life – most of the time – is also an illusion.

When were you happiest?

When I felt that I wrote some good paragraphs and even pages.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I would be a painter who regrets that he is not a writer.

Are we all doomed?

Yes, but some are doomed more than us.

“Nights of Plague” by Orhan Pamuk and translated by Ekin Oklap is published by Faber & Faber

[See also: Kathy Reichs Q&A: “I worry every time my grandkids go out”]

This article appears in the 12 Oct 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Will Putin go Nuclear?