Room with a view: Orhan Pamuk explores Istanbul’s double soul

September 30, 2010

pamuk

(Photo: Orhan Pamuk at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara, November 28, 2009/Alejandro Acosta)

From his Istanbul window, the Nobel-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk sees a city in flux.

Gleaming steel towers that signify Istanbul’s new economic power rise in the distance, rivalling more familiar views of old mosques and palaces, home to the former Ottoman dynasty. Teeming suburbs spread across hills.

Pamuk, Turkey’s most celebrated artist, has explored his country’s struggle with tradition and modernity and its identity as a land that straddles East and West in novels infused with “huzun”, a Turkish word that refers to melancholy or spiritual loss.

A power shift led by a new class of observant Muslims from the heartland is redrawing the notions in place since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established Turkey as a secular republic in 1923 on the ruins of the defeated Ottoman Empire.

Is Turkey’s secularism on the retreat? Is Islam’s influence and power growing? Is Turkey drifting away from the West?

“For 200 years, Turks tried to change their civilisation by making Turkey more Westernised. This conflict continues today and has formed the modern Turkish soul,” Pamuk said.

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