Sunday, 9 March 2014

The White Castle by Orhan Pamukh



After reading this thin novel of 145 pages , I can say with certitude that Orhan Pamukh is a great author .It is not because he is the first Turkish citizen to have been awarded with Nobel Prize for literature in 2006. Also,not  because in January , 2010 , he publicly acknowledged that he was in a relationship with Man Booker Prize winning novelist author Kiran Desai.It is because it is a Kafkaesque parable , which tries to answer the question:"Why I am what I am?", in a calm , slow and an intriguing way .I don't claim that I have understood this book  fully .That will require a few more readings .But reading this novel is  walking and being  with a great mind .   The White Castle is the third novel by Orhan Pamukh and the first to be translated into English by Victoria Holbrook.

A young Italian is captured by an Italian fleet in the sea  and brought to Instanbul , where he becomes a slave to a man called Hoja.Hoja is his look alike(Doppelganger effect?) .The master,Hoja is convinced that the young slave's European education is superior to his own , and he becomes his disci
ple.The master promises that when he has learnt everything from the slave  , the slave will be freed.The relationship of master and servant keeps changing over the years in terms of one dominating the other .To help the Sultan of Turkey in his war with the Poles, the two develop a war machine .Its failure in the battle proves their undoing .Hoja escapes from the battle into the fog rather than risk being beheaded by the angry Sultan.Hoja goes to Venice to resume there the life of his Italian double and his slave takes over Hoja's life as a Turkish sage.The ultimate fate of Hoja and the slave is left unclear .
                             In the final chapter that was written many years after the main events of the book ,the identity of the narrator is called into question.Who has written this book .. . .Hoja or his slave?Perhaps they were always one person. . .one mind separated into two persons for the sake of narrating a story?The more we try to get into this question , the less certain we become.
                The basic question which Pamuk raises and tries to answer is:Why we are what we are ?What shapes the myriad facts that make up this world?We are what we are because of the way the imagination plays with and shapes our reality .Pamuk successfully demonstrates , through this novel , the power of imagination , the power of fiction to shape the reality of this world .And there lies the greatness of Pamukh and this novel.

         If you like  intellectual and philosophical challenges while  reading a novel , this one is for you .