Biography of Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk is a Turkish author and academic born on June 7, 1952 in Istanbul.

The grandson of a civil engineer and entrepreneur who found great success in the railroad and manufacturing sectors, Pamuk spent much of his young life with aspirations of becoming an artist. Growing up in the wealthy and Westernised area of Nisantasi, Pamuk attended the prestigious American school Robert College, then went on to study architecture at Istanbul Technical University. After three years, at the age of 22, he gave up painting and architecture and yet, still fascinated by art, decided to turn to writing full-time. Later, in 1977, Pamuk graduated with a degree in journalism from University of Istanbul, though he never actually worked as a journalist. Eight years after his turn to writing full-time, Pamuk published his first novel, Cevdet Bey and His Sons (1982), a sweeping and panoramic chronicle of a large family's life in Istanbul over 3 generations. The following year, Pamuk stayed on the theme of Turkish family life and published The Silent House (1983), which uses multiple narrators to relate the details of the 1980 Turkish military coup.

As Pamuk's early writing career blossomed, he also had several developments in his personal life. For example, in 1982, around the same time that his first novel was published, he married Aylin Türegün, to whom he remained wed until 2002. Pamuk's first international success then came shortly after with the publication of The White Castle (1985), a novel which explores the theme of identity through the relationship between an educated Venetian slave and an Ottoman scholar in 17th-century Istanbul. Additionally, from 1985 to 1988, Pamuk was a visiting scholar at Columbia University while his wife worked on her doctorate at the same institution. There, Pamuk recalls that he was wowed by the wealth and diversity of America's historical and cultural institutions—libraries, museums, and bookstores, for example. It was in New York that Pamuk also began work on his novel The Black Book (1990), at once an experimental and conventional narrative that broadened Pamuk's fame and, he claims, cemented his mature writer's voice. The novel, which discusses the relationship between memory, history, and reality, sees an Istanbul lawyer look for his wife as he recalls the changing textures and landscapes in the city. Moreover, it is from this novel that Pamuk got the name for his daughter Rüya, who was born in 1991. That same year, Pamuk also made his foray into screenwriting with the production of Hidden Face, a film based on a story from The Black Book.

Pamuk's mature writing career has been marked by continued critical and popular acclaim. In the late 1990s, his novels The New Life (1994)—a lyrical mystery following university students influenced by a strange book—and My Name is Red (1998)—a mystery and love story about Ottoman and Persian artists, as well as the difference between their ways of seeing the Eastern and Western worlds—were widely translated and and heavily awarded on the international literary circuit. Importantly, it was also during the 1990s that Orhan Pamuk began to take a critical stance towards the secular Turkish government regarding human rights and freedom of speech, even though he was otherwise relatively distant from politics. This political engagement culminated in what Pamuk himself has called his "first and last political novel"—Snow, published in 2002. This novel, which tells the story of an exiled poet returning to Turkey and observing sectarian violence in a poor rural area, received immense praise and was chosen by the New York Times as one of the 100 best books of 2004.

In 2004, Pamuk published Istanbul, a hybrid memoir and essay collection illustrated with photos from his own collection and art from both Turks and Westerners. Later, in 2006, Pamuk reached a career milestone when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the second youngest author in the award's history to do so. In 2008, he continued his successes with The Museum of Innocence, a novel about a man who is thwarted in his plans to marry his cousin and, as compensation, begins to collect objects that have come into contact with her. Later, in 2012, he opened a real Museum of Innocence in Istanbul to showcase some of the ephemera and materials that were gathered while the novel was being written. Some of Pamuk's other works include The Naive and Sentimental Novelist (2010), which contains his theories on the form of the novel and narratology; A Strangeness in My Mind (2014), an Istanbul love story and family saga; The Red-Haired Woman (2016), a novel about a well-digger and his apprentice; and Balcony (2019), an anthology of photographs that Orhan Pamuk himself took from his home's balcony.

Completely separate from Pamuk's established literary career, he is also known and criticized within Turkey as an intellectual and political progressive. He has advocated for Turkey's entry into the European Union and, broadly, its integration into the European cultural sphere. Moreover, in 2005, Pamuk was the subject of an international controversy when he claimed in a Swiss newspaper interview that Turks had deliberately massacred Armenians as part of a genocide, as well as killed thousands of Kurds in recent history. As a result of his statements, the Turkish government charged him with sedition and "denigrating Turkishness," a crime for which he was put on trial. Though his charges were eventually commuted, he was ordered as recently as 2011 to provide compensation to the ultranationalist plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit.

Pamuk's books have been translated into a total of 63 languages, and he has received awards ranging from Le Prix Médicis étranger (awarded to the best foreign novel in France), The Yasnaya Polyana Literary Award (awarded by the Museum of Leo Tolstoy), and the Prix Méditerranée étranger. He was named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine, and he is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He continues to lecture on an infrequent basis at Columbia University, and he is widely acclaimed for his novels that blend the personal and the historical, while also reckoning with both Turkey's Eastern history and Western intellectual and cultural pretensions.

Study Guides on Works by Orhan Pamuk

My Name is Red is a novel by Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, one of the most popular writers in the homeland, who has received many national awards.

His first novel, which brought the author success outside of Turkey was the novel The White Castle. In...

Snow is a novel by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, originally written in Turkish in 2002. Two years later in 2004, it was translated into English by Maureen Freely and published for an Anglophone audience.

The novel—which follows a Turkish poet named...