Silent House by Orhan Pamuk

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2006 was awarded to the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk  "who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures".

Silent House is his second novel which although first published in 1983 has only just become available in English translation. (What took so long?) It is a fascinating story which uses the device of a family reunion to exemplify the conflict between Western and Eastern values in Turkey and their yearning for a distinctive identity which is also modern. Turkey’s geography places them on the border of Europe and Asia but it is not dynamic Asia which beckons. The political battle for Turkey’s soul is between the Middle East and Europe, between religious tradition and the secularism which modernised Turkey under the dynamic leadership of Kemal Atatürk. (The irony of this novel being nominated for the Man Asia Literary Prize when Turkey is actively campaigning to join the European Union won’t have been lost on anyone who knows Orhan Pamuk’s body of work).

The cover of the Australian edition shows the fate which secular Turks fear: shabby old houses, the ruins of a citadel representing lost glories, a prominent mosque, and a lonely woman in a headscarf plodding along with no apparent purpose. This is what the long-dead Selâhattin rages against in the novel, and it is the life his widow Fatma lives and does not want to change.

There are multiple narrators in Silent House and Selâhattin though long-dead is the most eloquent of them all. We know his voice because Fatma, now in her nineties, is still replaying their arguments in her memory. He was a rude, opinionated man who drank too much and having had to flee Istanbul because of his political ambitions, spent his time writing a derivative encyclopedia designed to replace religion with science and enable Turkey to belatedly join the modern world. His rejection of the existence of God appalls Fatma, and she refuses to be dragged into his sin.

But hide as she might in her room, Fatma cannot escape the intrusions of the modern world.

To read the rest of my review please visit

I read and blogged my review at ANZ LitLovers on December 16, 2012.

1 comment

Marianne said...

Orhan Pamuk is one of the authors I found through reading Nobel prize winners. I really love his novels and his biography, haven't read this one but it's on my wishlist.

© Read the NobelsMaira Gall