About the arts and ideas - on my novels and literature, music, and art

A new book about Beethoven gathers together (and completely rewrites and supplements) my blog posts on Beethoven into a short introduction to the composer, Ways of Hearing Beethoven, which I hope to see published. My novel The Fall of the Berlin Wall, completed a year ago, is about musicians and particularly the intense, irrepressible daughter of the legendary pianist featured in my previous novel Hungry Generations, now fifteen years after those events. Five years ago, my 2015 novel, The Ash Tree, was published by West of West Books in conjunction with the April 24, 2015 centenary of the Armenian genocide; it's about an Armenian-American family and the sweep of their history in the twentieth century - particularly from the points of view of two women in the family.
There are three other novels of mine, which I would love to see published. One is Pathological States, about a physician's family in L.A. in 1962. Another is Hungry Generations, about a young composer's friendship in L.A. with the family of a virtuoso pianist, published on demand by iUniverse, which I think would be of value to a conventional publisher. A Burnt Offering - a fable (a full rewriting and expansion of my earlier Acts of Terror and Contrition - a nuclear fable) is my political novella about Israel and its reactions to the possibility of a war with Iran (with the fear that it will be a nuclear war).
[My blog posts are, of course, copyrighted.]

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Comments (restored) on Orhan Pamuk’s "Silent House" by Daniel Melnick

 The voices of our parents and grandparents do not cease haunting us, for their distant singing or remembered cries can continue to fill our inner ear. Coming to terms with that intense chorus is a task taken up in the multi-generational novel, and a brilliant example is Turkish Nobel-prize winner Orhan Pamuk’s Silent House, which wonderfully captures the multiple voices of three generations – turbulent youth, burdened middle-age, and the wizened old.

The voices of six main characters narrate alternate chapters in the beautifully structured counterpoint of this novel (akin to the structure of modern novels by Virginia Woolf or William Faulkner). This work is the second of Pamuk’s ten books but is only now translated. The novel’s characters are members of a fading bourgeois Turkish family. It is the summer of 1980, when deadly clashes between fascist and communist paramilitary groups flared in Turkey; the novel explores the forces in Turkish society which cause such violence and yield  the military coup at the end of 1980.
The youngest of Pamuk’s six narrators is Hasan, a confused, resentful teenaged cousin who rages against society and belongs to a fascist youth group. He acts out in ways which violently affect his well-off cousins and propel him toward a menacing destiny in Istanbul. “All our country’s sorrows,” he ends by saying, “are on account of some bastards who just enjoy playing with us, but one day I’m going to make fun out of their games. I don’t know yet what it is that I’m going to do, but…Watch out for me from now on!” (324-5)
The family which cousin Hasan’s actions tragically affect is made up of a leftist sister – Nilgun, a lovely college student – and her two brothers (one is a teenager, and the other is an alcoholic historian in his thirties, who plays a role at the start of Pamuk’s third novel, The White Hotel). The rest of this enmeshed family consists of the aged grandmother, Fatma, and her perceptive, compassionate housekeeper, a dwarf, who is the illegitimate son of the late grandfather yet “tries to take care of everybody.” (305)  The three grandchildren are visiting their grandmother’s home, which has served them since childhood as an alluring, summer beach house near Istanbul.
Fatma, ninety and frail, is vigilant about behavior in her household yet unable even to know what happens there. Feeling trapped at night in the upstairs bedroom of the silent house, she thinks often of death and especially about her deceased husband, a bitterly disappointed intellectual who never completed his enlightened skeptic’s encyclopedia and whose starkly secular voice haunts her reveries and much of the novel: “we all sink into Nothingness, Fatma;…you decay down to the last strand of hair, with no right even to hope of coming back again.” (297)
At the core of this novel’s power are the moments of existential self-confrontation experienced by the six vivid narrating characters, and particularly by Fatma, who is haunted by her late husband – this cranky, nearly voiceless old woman to whom Pamuk gives a voice. Analyzed almost unto death by her late husband, she feels her interior life spill helplessly out of her, enraged and excoriated: “it’s as though my outside has become my inside and my inside my outside, and in the dark I can’t figure out which one I am.” (331)
The grandchild who most shares Fatma’s alarmed self-awareness is the historian in his thirties, Faruk. And his crisis arises partly from his doubt about writing history. He has come to see the writing of history as pure storytelling, in his time and place in Turkey and not only there (for, of course, corrupting deception and self-deception exist not only in Asia Minor). Faruk’s self-consciousness about what he does is shared by Pamuk himself, and the works of this great novelist – for example, My Name Is Red and Snow – become increasingly ambitious in content and narrative experiment. These wonderful novels are invariably filled with moving characters like Fatma, Faruk, and even dangerous Hasan, who struggle to fabricate their identities in the midst of a collapsing society and, so, to “make sense of the world by means of tales.” (165)

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