A genius in the making

Readers often come to a great writer’s more famous and mature work first, and are then inspired to methodically go through the backlist. This entails reading early, not-so-great work after the great books, and this can be a complicated exercise. At the same time, it can throw up unexpected delights. It can also offer a wonderful glimpse of a great writer’s style being formed, a chance to see how his voice becoming more and more his own, and how he is appropriating certain concerns and themes for himself.

This happened to me with John Updike (I read the Rabbit quartet first and the other books – including the early ones – later), Vladimir Nabokov, and Philip Roth to name merely three. Now this will happen with Orhan Pamuk.

Silent House, the Nobel Laureate’s second novel, written 30 years ago, has just been published in an English translation. Pamuk’s debut novel, Cevdet Bey and His Sons, published in 1982, is still not available in English. “At some point, I shall publish the English translation of this book. But I am in no hurry,” Pamuk had told me in an interview. With the Nobel and the huge success of The Museum of Innocence, publishers are taking a punt on early work that they had so far thought would not travel well into the English-reading world.

In Silent House, three siblings come to their ailing grandmother’s crumbling mansion outside Istanbul for their annual visit. The novel comprises very short chapters and is narrated in five points of view, each distinctively done. It is revealing to see Pamuk almost limbering up to deliver the formally inventive, multilayered masterpieces of his later years. His concerns – politics, the notion of freedom, history, Turkey, modernity – all appear here, and it is insightful to see how those themes will come to define his oeuvre in books such as My Name is Red, Snow, The Black Book, and The Museum of Innocence.

Extremely popular when it was first published in Turkey, Silent House is the work of a genius in the making, and is worth reading to discover early steps that a writer is taking towards achieving greatness.

Here is a review of the novel: ‘Silent House,’ by Orhan Pamuk

And here is an interview with Pamuk, in which he says that The Museum of Innocence is the book he will be remembered by: Orhan Pamuk unplugged

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