The Black Book is a stunning tapestry of Middle Eastern and Islamic culture which confirms Orhan Pamuk s reputation s a writer of international stature, comparable to Borges and Calvino Galip is an Istanbul lawyer, and his wife, Ruya, has vanished Could she be hiding out with her half brother, Jelal, a newspaper columnist whose fame Galip envies And if so, why isn t anyone in Jelal s flat As Galip plays the part of private investigator, he assumes the identity of Jelal himself, wearing his clothes, answering his phone calls, even faking his wry columns, which he passes off as the work of the missing journalist But the amateur sleuth bungles his undercover operation, and with dire consequencesRichly atmospheric and Rabelaisian in scope, The Black Book is a labyrinthine novel suffused with the sights, sounds, and scents of Istanbul An unforgettable evocation of the city where East meets West, The Black Book is a boldly unconventional mystery that plumbs the elusive nature of identity, fiction, interpretation, and reality I get it Not all authors write in the same style, the same proficiency, the same genre, nor the same level of whatever readers want in each of their books That is why there are novels that aresuccessful than others within their work Perhaps, therefore, there should be no real sympathy for me here, but Orhan Pamuk s The Museum of Innocence was by far one of my all time favorites, a definite 5 Star Sadly, I have read theif guys works, increasingly desperately trying to find one tha I get it Not all authors write in the same style, the same proficiency, the same genre, nor the same level of whatever readers want in each of their books That is why there are novels that aresuccessful than others within their work Perhaps, therefore, there should be no real sympathy for me here, but Orhan Pamuk s The Museum of Innocence was by far one of my all time favorites, a definite 5 Star Sadly, I have read theif guys works, increasingly desperately trying to find one that is even clear to such greatness the closest has been a pathetic 3.5 Stars Le sigh Although I hate to admit it, finding another work from Pamuk very similar in personal preference to The Museum of Innocence will be difficult, since I have noticed that it is the least politically centered It is there if choose, asking with his Turkish background, cultural notes, etceteras, that has become guys trademark, but starkly less so More so, it focuses faron psychological and physiological ideas, romance and true love Which I obviously have a weakness for Accepting but not quite accepting this, we shall move on to The Black Book Honestly, my least favorite from Oamuk so far Almost completely revolving around politics, which were honestly confusing for me to fully comprehend The main characters Galip, the narrator Ruya, his wife whom disappears early on in the story, never outweighing the reader with her voice Celal, her brother, a famous political newspaper columnist, who secretly suffers from an undefined memory disorder Other notable characters include thorities trying to find Celal, as well as a devoted reader, stalkerishly knowledgeable regarding the intimate miniature and nuances in Celal s life possibly violent and trying to locate Celal whom had disappeared asking with Ruya This this man is actually speaking to Galip, whom becomes an extremely unreliable narrator as he puts himself into Celal s shoes Literally He soon send to even forget which is the real him, what is real and what is a dream or his imagination Along with the reader The focus of this novel ends up being identity For example, everything we do is essentially an imitation of someone else, something else whether a fictional character, sometime we know, someone we do not Who is, of course, imitating someone else or something else And so on A barber asked Celal a couple questions that changed his life and therefore play an important part in the story Do you have trouble being yourself Is there a way a man can be only himself The answer at least according to The Black Book is No The chapters in this book alternate between Celal s columns and the story presently taking place with Galip searching for him and his wife Ruya I far preferred the columns, as they were beautifully and lyrically written, straightforward with none of the mystical confusion found in the other chapters, with farinteresting content My favorite was the one titled, Alaaddin s Shop , which tells the shopkeeper s story his older than time store that sells everything from rare toys to old comics, chocolate bars to pink backgammon dice, pencil sharpeners shaped like Dutch Windwills to archived newspapers, sexology annuals to prayer books Being the only fully stocked marketplace in his town for so many years, Alaaddin certainly has much to tell My second favorite column was that which told the story of a young Prince Enfendi He was so enad with the idea of staying true to oneself that he dedicated his entire life to it Alas, this is a very difficult thing to do Impossible if you were to take it literally The Prince hope to live without any influence from anyone He threw away all the books he had so as to not be influenced by greater minds He no longer meet with anyone he had an affinity for, to avoid influence He hired servants to extinguish all unique scents within his vicinity for fear of eliciting nostalgic memories He began to see woman whom he specifically disliked, so he could not be influenced by his desire to fulfill her desires Unfortunately, he found himself caringthan ever for these women, as they were his only link to the outside world Prince Enfendi was left with nothing but his devoted scribe, who transcribed his dying words One of Pamuk s first novels First a sample of some of the wonderful writing from the very first page Ruya was lying facedown on the bed, lost to the sweet warm darkness beneath the billowing folds of the blue checked quilt The first sounds of a winter morning seeped in from outside the rumble of a passing car, the clatter of an old bus, the rattle of copper kettles that the salep maker shared with the pastry cook, the whistle of the parking attendant at the dolmus stop A cold leaden light f One of Pamuk s first novels First a sample of some of the wonderful writing from the very first page Ruya was lying facedown on the bed, lost to the sweet warm darkness beneath the billowing folds of the blue checked quilt The first sounds of a winter morning seeped in from outside the rumble of a passing car, the clatter of an old bus, the rattle of copper kettles that the salep maker shared with the pastry cook, the whistle of the parking attendant at the dolmus stop A cold leaden light filtered through the dark blue curtains Languid with sleep, Galip gazed at his wife s head Ruya s chin was nestling in the down pillow The wondrous sights playing in her mind gave her an unearthly glow that pulled him toward her even as it suffused him with fear Memory, Celal had once written in a column, is a garden Ruya s gardens, Ruya s gardens Galip thought Don t think, don t think, it will make you jealous But as he gazed at his wife s forehead, he still let himself think The story There s not a lot of plot Galip is a lawyer in Istanbul His wife Ruya has disappeared leaving him a brief note He hides her leaving from his family Did she go back to her first husband whom she was married to for just a few years Or could she have run off with his uncle, Celal, a nationally famous newspaper columnist Celal too has disappeared Very little of the book is about the actual search instead it s the mental process Galip goes through of trying to figure out where she is, often using mystical clues he finds in Celal s old columns While searching for his wife, her ex , and the columnist, Galip starts assuming the columnist s identity, writing his columns, wearing his clothes, living in his secret apartment he has enemies from the ideas he has expressed , imitating his voice when he answers his phone calls One persistent called threatens his life Instead of a lot of plot, we get essays about life in Turkey and Turkish culture from numerous columns written by Celal and from conversations such as when a group of reporters sit around the table and tell stories There ae many themes in the book but I think first it is a love story Galip grew up with Ruya they are cousins and he has loved her since he was a child Another theme is identity and people trying to be themselves There s an extended story about a legendary Turkish prince who was so obsessed with trying to be himself that he would destroy books that had brought the ideas of others into his head There is some talk about Doubles, where people were at once themselves and their own imitations Many people in the story want to be someone else Galip want to be Celal Celal wants to be Rumi, a famous Persian poet Galip runs into an old girlfriend from school days and finds out she is still in love with him and fantasizes that she is Ruya A brothel that Galip visits specializes in women who look, act and speak like American movies stars There are a lot of references to American films and movie stars from the era of Edgar G Robinson, Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor In Turkey s wave of Westernization even mannikins had to look European, not Turkish The columnist writes about how Western films even changed Turkish gestures.Of course, all this about be yourself is related to Turkish identity, Turkey being a country that deliberately tried to Westernize starting in the late 1880 s through Mustafa Kemal Atat rk in the 1920 s Among the mystical clues Galip uses, another theme is about reading letters in peoples faces tied in with the ancient Hurufism sect Kind of like astrology And maps Maps of the city and mystical codes inscribed by someone s journey or by tracing an ant crawling over a map on a page And faces you discern by superimposing maps over each other, such as maps of Istanbul, Cairo and Damascus And what are the odds of this a novel I reviewed two weeks ago, The Tango Singer by Tomas Eloy Martinez, also talked about the main character looking for secret clues on a map of where a singer spontaneously performed in Buenos Aires And it s almost always snowing Is that a theme Perhaps Pamuk got the idea of writing his novel Snow after writing this book It s also a love story to the city of Istanbul it s beauty as well as its seediness.I really enjoyed this book and the depth of thought on a wide variety of topics Pamuk won the Nobel Prize in 2006 It s a long book The edition I read had a tiny font and hardly any margins and went for almost 500 pages other editions in English are 700 or even 800 pages long, so it is an extensive read that can be a bit trying in places but generally I never felt it was getting repetitive or losing focus I give it a 5 and I m adding it to my favorites.Photos of Istanbul top from cloudfront.net middle from wendyperrin.com bottom from gettyimages.com Photo of the author from i.hurimg.com The big issue from Orhan Pamuk s , a Nobel Prize winning writer, novel is identitywho are we The setting Istanbul, Turkey, the largest city in the nation, straddling the bright blue waters of the narrow , and rather shallow , but still even today quite crucial Bosphorus Strait, on both the continents ofAsia and Europe This is the ultimate problem for its divided people, do we become westernized or remain with traditional, old customs They go see ancient Hollywood films, some 20 ye The big issue from Orhan Pamuk s , a Nobel Prize winning writer, novel is identitywho are we The setting Istanbul, Turkey, the largest city in the nation, straddling the bright blue waters of the narrow , and rather shallow , but still even today quite crucial Bosphorus Strait, on both the continents ofAsia and Europe This is the ultimate problem for its divided people, do we become westernized or remain with traditional, old customs They go see ancient Hollywood films, some 20 years old, at the movie theaters, no television then enad by the stars, copy what is shown, clothes, manners, language, everything, the values from the past are noGalip Bey, mid thirty, is an uninspired lawyer not happy in the occupation , in his native, fast growing town, married to the beauty Ruya, a woman of the same age, he has known since childhood Intelligent with a propensity for reading detective books, one after another, not interested in work, lately him too His famous older cousin bythan twenty years Celal Bey, a newspaper writer with a column that all the city reads, in fact the whole nation and beyond the borders, he is the most read in the Middle East..No surprise that Galip is a big admirer of his relative s sophisticated writing, has many enemies, though, dabbles in dangerous politics , he is also Ruya s half brother Turmoil consumes the people s daily lives there, political violence and killings in the streets, many urge a military coup to cleanse the atmosphere, bring unity and calm back circa 1960 Mysteriously Ruya leaves him, later Celal cannot be found either, have they run off together Then begins the long search by the husband to discover where they are hiding A Heart of Darkness voyage on land , as he walks through ominously deserted streets , lights fade in sunless places, shadows fall on filthy , evil smelling slums observing apartments that are ready to collapse, citizens struggling to survive the ever expanding, choatic megalopolis , its rapidly changing environment, the poor begging and stealing, death lurks by, but nobody cares Galip has a feeling, a strange disturbing belief he is not alone , someone is following, an evil eye, yet the threat is dismissed must go on, what occurs good or bad will happen , the dispirited man has to know the truth He continues the seemingly fruitless odyssey..A strange trip into Turkish history and the crisis in that magnificent country, what is its destiny A book that both entertains and causes boredom to the reader, if a person wants to find the real Turkey, this is the book, but be patient, the story will delight and frustrate, the plot is not really important the philosophy is The author s love hate relationship with a city he was born in, is apparent this is a rare example of a reread for me I don t reread books very often, not because I don t want to, blahblahblah My experience of reading this one was a good example of a certain kind of reader s disease The kind where even though you are trying to focus your attention on the story, the language, etc your eyes start to water and you kind of glaze over in your mind, turning pages and sort of dimly registering the story It s not reading ,per se, but it s not skimming either It s not b this is a rare example of a reread for me I don t reread books very often, not because I don t want to, blahblahblah My experience of reading this one was a good example of a certain kind of reader s disease The kind where even though you are trying to focus your attention on the story, the language, etc your eyes start to water and you kind of glaze over in your mind, turning pages and sort of dimly registering the story It s not reading ,per se, but it s not skimming either It s not bullshitting your way through the book it sthat when you read a lot your brain or at least mine kind of gets blurry when the story or the language doesn t exactly burst out at you I think it also makes a difference when the writer s particular style doesn t mesh well with your own individual brain chemistry His way of seeing is somewhat at odds with yours It s not a philosophical difference so much as its aboutinstincts of perception, if you will The pacing of the story, the level of and type of detail, the way he describes a room or how much of it, the length and construction of sentences.all that kind of stuff I don t think it s pretentious or posuer ish to continue reading even if the writer s style means you re going to miss most of what s happening Sometimes you can uncover a jewel even in the midst of confusion or mistakes And besides, some people just have to finish a book once they start it I m one of them Also, consider the fact that many of the places where the modern reader reads are not particularly conducive to the intimate, erotic, spiritual practice of reading a book Consider, just for starters, the din of airports, buses, commuter rails, subways, bars, restaurants, living rooms with the tv on, so on and so forth There is usually a trickle of white noise coming in from at least one direction there has got to be some of the magic drained out of the experience I would venture that long, prolonged investments in concentration could be harder to come by now than ever More comprehension gets shaved off while, ironically, the abundance and availability of material is richer than ever And then there s the next hundred and seventy nine pages to go SoI kind of shortchanged the book a little bit I think it s excusable to sort of pass something like this off, as long as you did make a decent effort Hell, not everything can be easy to understand, right This is leisure reading, after all I was not told there would be any math on this exam I will not put my pencil down Anyway, apropos of nothing, I picked this up again recently and it s a whole new experience The scales have fallen from my eyes There are still some stumbling blocks here and there Pamuk is a writer for whom I have great respect, and I absolutely loved The New Life but all in all the tale is beginning to fill in for me and I m really participating in it in a way I hadn t before It s funny, since so much of this very provocative, philosophically savvy, eerily clean novel has to do with preoccupations of identity I deliberately phrased it like this because there s very strong self reflexive aspect to the proceedings The main character is trying to relocate his vanished wife through the medium of the collected newspaper columns of his cousin, her former husband, who has also vanished, who has written a great deal about the identity of Turkey in the post modern world, not to mention his own consciousness and psychic disorientation, and so obviously there s a deeply meta narrative project in place You can imagine how sticky and obfuscating this kind of thing gets when, for whatever reason, the co ordinates of your consciousness aren t really aligned with the text it s a delicate balancing act anyway, so when the author is stepping into some very seductive, Borgesian metaphysical landscapes Now I that, about three years later, I can dip back into it with pleasure and profit I am pleased to say that The Black Book, at maybe about 65% done at least, is a very, very worthwhile tome It has the narrative of a noir meditative, crisp, somewhat chilly and slightly spare It has the political significance of Pamuk s status as a player on the Turkish literary scene if you re actually reading this you should really acquaint yourself with his works and days and especially when you consider the story s being set in 1980, the significance of this is explained rather neatly in Maureen Freeley s translator s afterward a little too neatly, if you ask me And, philosophically, it is very beautifully investigated, well prosed, and that s difficult to do well Philosophy is an incredible thing Sometimes its relationship to literature can be a bit awkward and bumbling Sometimes it adds a moral and existential resonance to a story which is intriguing and enticing on its own merits Pamuk handles this beautifully There s quite a few quotable gems here Many of them go on at length, necessarily Here are a few of the shorter ones He felt happy, on the verge of a revelation the secret of life, the meaning of the world, shimmering just beyond his grasp but when he tried to put this secret into words, all he could see was the face of the woman who was sitting in the corner watching him He surveyed the dome, the columns, the great stone structures above his head, longing to be moved but feeling stuck There was the vaguest of premonitionsbut this great edifice was as impenetrable as stone itself It did not welcome a man in, nor did it transport him to a better place But if nothing signified nothing, than anything could signify anything For a moment he thought he saw the flash of blue light, and then he heard the flutter of what sounded like the wings of a pigeon, but then he returned to his old stagnant silence, waiting for the illumination that never came For what is reading but the animating of a writer s words on the silent film strip in our minds There s some phenomenal set pieces, too Paumk s Istanbul is there in its there ness but it still has a universal quality, albeit a somewhat dour, crystalline, noir ish ambienceIt got three stars for a muddled, uncomprehending first read which was decidedly my fault and now it s getting four stars for coming off the bench and working nicely