It’s not easy to describe the demeanour of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk as he earnestly speaks about how books have shaped his spirit, jokes about how he wanted to be a painter, cleverly dodges a question on his love life and even shares his idea of the “ideal reader”.
The Nobel laureate is certainly not your flamboyant self-celebratory author types, neither is he those silent, intense types. He is a balance of spontaneity and well-measured intensity, just the kind of balance he feels he has achieved as a writer in his new book “The Naive and the Sentimentalist”.
In the capital to promote the book published by Penguin-India, Pamuk addressed a packed auditorium at the India Habitat Centre Thursday evening.
A good 15 minutes before the session was to begin, all the seats were occupied and people were spilling out of every corner. Clad in a black suit, striped yellow tie, sky-blue shirt and sporting his typical thick-rimmed glasses, Pamuk presented an image of literary intellect that Nobel prize winners are made of.
Asked about his ideal reader, Pamuk said it would be someone “who makes his soul through my book. But that’s asking for too much”.
“I keep changing my reader through the process. I start with someone, then move to someone else. It’s impossible to find one reader who will exhaust everything you try to explain,” the 58-year-old said.
In the over one-hour session with journalist Sunil Sethi, Pamuk was graciously humble, rarely drifted away from the subject, spoke at length about each of his books except for “Snow” as he “could never found a passage” he could “just pick and read” from the book.
With a thick Turkish accent, Pamuk went back to his years from 17 to 30 when he voraciously consumed books to “make myself, to shape my spirit, to educate myself, to address the ideas of mind”.
He has used his rich reading experience in his new book to tell, “What happens to us when we read”.
“The book is my little theory of the novel,” said Pamuk, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006.
About his much-talked-about naive and sentimentalist classification, he said: “There are two kinds of attitudes when you write a novel. You are either naive – that is you are writing unconsciously, or you’re a sentimentalist – you’re consciously aware of the artificiality of things. A good novelist is both naive and sentimentalist.”
Pamuk, who teaches humanities at Columbia University, said he found his voice with the novel “The Black Book”.
He jokingly reveals how he wanted to be a painter but then, “In my head, a screw got loose and I stopped painting”.
He fondly talks about his autobiographical “Istanbul: The Memories of a City” and says “it’s a mix of my experiences with the city and history of the city”.
“Of all the things I had wanted to express about my life, only a few had found their way into the book. I could have written another 15-20 volumes describing my experiences. It was then I realised that autobiographies served not to preserve our pasts, but to help us forget them,” he said.
He began reading a passage from the book but had to cut it short because of a terrible throat.
To a question on his book “The Museum of Innocence”, the celebrated author revealed he is “actually creating such a museum in Istanbul”.
On Sethi’s subtle attempt at finding more about the author’s love life, Pamuk effortlessly dodged the question: “Hmm…very provocative journalistic question…my love life is a secret everyone knows about.”
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