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Orhan Pamuk meets with fans in Tbilisi

By Salome Modebadze
Tuesday, March 18
“I am very happy to be in Tbilisi,” said famous Turkish novelist and Nobel Prize laureate in literature Orhan Pamuk, as he addressed his fans, stressing that although he found it hard to publish his first novel in Turkey years ago, he is now happy because he knew that forty years later in Tbilisi there would be an enthusiastic reading public who would receive him well.

Pamuk paid a visit to the Georgian capital Tbilisi on March 12-14. His novels My Name is Red, Snow, The Museum of Innocence, The Black Book, Silent House and others are equally popular in Georgia.

Pamuk arrived in Georgia upon the invitation of Bakur Sulakauri Publishing and Free University/Agrarian University of Georgia. After the lectures delivered by popular Georgian writers like Lasha Bughadze, Ana Kordzaia-Samadashvili and Zaal Chkheidze, Pamuk was the special guest of the modern literature week.

Before meeting with his Georgian fans at Rustaveli Theatre on March 13, Pamuk answered the question of why his books are so popular even in Georgia. Pamuk said that he not only write books for his own enjoyment, but also to please the readers.

The Turkish novelist said his books might be popular in the Caucasus, Middle East or Balkans because the lives of these nations are perhaps similar.

“We marry in the same way, we have bigger families - mothers, fathers, all interested in what we are doing, our prohibitions, the things we do not do and things we do, the way we worry about our identities, the way we combine tradition with modernity,” Pamuk said, adding that “all these fragile feelings” about the past, what it is to be Turkish or a Georgian and being the part of the global community are the “hard questions” on which his characters are trying to find their way…

“For quite a long time the history of literature was the history of European literature, or western literature. Now the world is getting bigger and richer and the voices of the millions of people who were never heard, are now heard in the world,” Pamuk said, stressing that when the other parts of the world get rich, and when you have developed self-confidence about your life, you also develop literature, which after a while becomes interesting.

Happy that his stories are heard powerfully, Pamuk expressed his confidence that there will be more global authors from this part of the world – from Georgia, too.

Bakur Sulakauri Publishing was the first to start translating Pamuk’s novels in Georgian. Sharing his memories to the audience of Rustaveli Theatre, Pamuk recollected his childhood, family traditions and his decision to become a writer after studying architecture. It was in the middle of studying this subject when he suddenly realized that he did not like painting and architecture anymore. “Why not write a novel?” he then wondered. Pamuk who is a Professor of Humanities at Columbia University, where he teaches comparative literature and writing, said painting has made him “a visual writer.”

It was in 2002 when Pamuk decided to put together his articles about his hometown of Istanbul and later he realized that his memories of Istanbul were also his autobiography.

“As I was writing my memoirs I realized how much we experience, how much we remember… all sorts of human feelings we have associated with our memories,” he said.

Asked how he prepares himself for writing, Pamuk said he always keeps a paper and a pencil in his pocket so that the only thing he needs is a room in a comparatively quiet atmosphere without a computer and internet. “These are the essential things and the rest is your imagination,” he said, stressing that he makes an outline of his future story before starting to write so that he always has ideas for the next novels and even takes notes for them.

Pamuk said there is one political novel he has started writing years ago in the 1980s. It was a book about his friends and their families with political ambition, but after the military coup, his friends asked him not to publish the novel. Thus he did not finish writing.

“But now I have the ambition to finish this novel,” Pamuk said, stressing that he will indicate in the novel which parts have been written 35 years ago, and the new entries, to make the distinction between the two different periods of time.

Pamuk is now working on a new book, which will illustrate life in Istanbul through the eyes of a very poor person and will be published this fall in Turkey. “My new novel is about the life of a street vendor – someone who sells yogurt in the streets of Istanbul in 1960s, 70s and 80s,” he said.

After walking in the streets of the old part of Tbilisi Pamuk said what he has seen “resembles quite a lot” to the town he has described in his novel Snow with its architecture, melancholy streets, atmosphere and the restaurants, or wine houses that [famous Georgian painter] Pirosmani frequented. “But Tbilisi is a much richer culture, layers of old history, which is expressed very well,” Pamuk said, happy to see that this part of the world is now culturally strong, self-confident and has a prominent cultural future.