Islamic Studies Orhan Pamuk
Erdağ Göknar
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0301


Orhan Pamuk, one of the foremost practitioners of the global novel today, writes with a focus on Turkish culture, history, and politics while engaging techniques of world literature. Most of his work is set in Istanbul, Turkey, the former capital of the Ottoman Empire, and the city of his birth (1952). After graduating high school (the American Robert College, Istanbul), he studied architecture before receiving a degree in journalism from Istanbul University. Pamuk devoted himself to painting until the age of twenty-two before he decided to become a novelist. He published his first novel, Cevdet Bey and Sons (1982 Turkish; 2023 English), a three-generation saga ranging from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic, when he was thirty. Pamuk is a faithful practitioner of what is termed the “East-West novel” genre in Turkish literature, which addresses fraught encounters of modernity between Ottoman or Turkish Muslim and European cultures. Pamuk’s first three novels recapitulate techniques of literary form from realism to modernism and to postmodernism. His fourth novel The Black Book (1990 Turkish; 1994 English), is an urban palimpsest of 1970s Istanbul that holds cult status in Turkey. Mixing and melding multiple genres from the historical novel to romance and the detective story to the political novel and autobiography, common tropes in Pamuk’s work include the double, identity, coups, obsessive love, Sufism/Islam, conspiracy, and murder mystery. With the publication of My Name is Red (1998 Turkish; 2001 English), a historical mystery about Islamic book arts, and Snow (2002 Turkish; 2004 English), a novel of coups and conspiracies with contemporary relevance, he became an author of global stature. Pamuk writes with a strong tone of loss and lament, which he describes as a form of collective melancholy that he identifies as hüzün. A public intellectual, he at times struggled with being a secular liberal author writing in a nationalistic Sunni Muslim majority country. In 2005 he was put on trial in Turkey for “insulting Turkishness” for comments he made in a Swiss interview about the Armenian genocide and Kurdish massacres in the late Ottoman and Turkish republican eras, respectively. The case was later dismissed. At the age of fifty-four, in 2006, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Pamuk’s subsequent work reflects the idea of the novelist as archivist and curator, perhaps best exemplified in the Museum of Innocence project that began with a novel in 2009, then an actual brick-and-mortar museum that opened in Istanbul in 2012, as well as a museum catalog and later a documentary film in 2015. His work, informed by intertextual allusions to the classics of Turkish and world literature, has been translated into over sixty languages and has sold over fifteen million copies globally. In recent years, Pamuk has expanded his aesthetic focus into photography and painting.

Critical Overviews and Edited Volumes

A number of works analyze Pamuk as a practitioner of world literature and a representative author of the Turkish literary tradition. Critical overviews of his oeuvre include McGaha 2008, with an autobiographical approach; Göknar 2013, focusing on Turkish national literature in global contexts; Fisk 2017, within a framework of world literature; and Parla 2018, with a critical theory approach. Narayan 2022 analyzes the intersection of the authorial self and the city of Istanbul. Representative surveys and explanatory overviews include Ecevit 2004, Farred 2007, and Kılıç 2006 as well as Kılıç and Esen 2008. Edited volumes in English, which tend to be more interdisciplinary, comparative, and theoreretical, include Türkkan and Damrosch 2017, with a focus on pedagogical approaches, and Afridi and Buyze 2012, which situates Pamuk into a constellation of global authors.

  • Afridi, Mehnaz, and David Buyze, eds. Global Perspectives on Orhan Pamuk: Existentialism and Politics. Literatures and Cultures of the Islamic World. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

    An interdisciplinary collection of essays on Pamuk’s work with a focus on comparative world literature.

  • Ecevit, Yıldız. Orhan Pamuk’u Okumak: Kafası Karışmış Okur ve Modern Roman Cağaloğlu, Istanbul: İletişim, 2004.

    (Reading Orhan Pamuk: The modern novel and perplexed readers). Guide to understanding the metafictional and deconstructive narrative techniques used by Pamuk. First published in 1996, and later expanded.

  • Farred, Grant. “‘To Dig a Well with a Needle’: Orhan Pamuk’s Poem of Comparative Globalization.” The Global South 1.1–2 (2007): 81–99.

    DOI: 10.2979/GSO.2007.1.2.81

    Close reading and overview of Pamuk’s ouevre after he was awarded the Nobel Prize.

  • Fisk, Gloria. Orhan Pamuk and the Good of World Literature. New York: Columbia, 2017.

    An analysis of the reception of Pamuk’s work from a world literature perspective based on English-language sources.

  • Göknar, Erdağ. Orhan Pamuk, Secularism and Blasphemy: The Politics of the Turkish Novel. London: Routledge, 2013.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203080108

    Interdisciplinary analysis of Pamuk’s development of tropes of secularism and Ottoman/Turkish Islam in his first eight novels. Explains Pamuk’s engagements with Turkish national and world literature canons. Particular focus on the Ottoman legacy, the Kemalist cultural revolution, Islamic themes, Sufism and secular subject-formation.

  • Kılıç, Engin, ed. Orhan Pamuk’u Anlamak. Istanbul: İletişim, 2006.

    (Understanding Orhan Pamuk). Turkish collection of essays explaining the challenges of his work and analyzing aspects Pamuk’s first five novels through The New Life. First published in 1995, and later expanded.

  • Kılıç, Engin, and Nüket Esen, eds. Orhan Pamuk’un Edebi Dünyası. Istanbul: İletişim, 2008.

    (Orhan Pamuk’s literary world). Turkish collection of essays focusing on Pamuk’s contribution to literature after the Nobel award.

  • McGaha, Michael. Orhan Pamuk: The Author in His Novels. Salt Lake City: Utah University Press, 2008.

    Analysis that traces the life of the author and autobiographical themes as reflected in his novels.

  • Narayan, Pallavi. Pamuk’s Istanbul: The Self and the City. New Delhi: Routledge India, 2022.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781003172314

    Examines Istanbul through Pamuk’s fiction with a focus on everyday objects and architecture. Narayan shows how Pamuk transforms the city into a living museum where different objects speak along with the characters themselves.

  • Parla, Jale. Orhan Pamuk’ta Yazıyla Kefaret. Istanbul: Yapı Kredi, 2018.

    (Redemption through writing in Orhan Pamuk). Analysis in Turkish of Pamuk’s novels through a series of essays based on close readings and comparative literature methods.

  • Türkkan, Sevinç, and David Damrosch. Approaches to Teaching the Work of Orhan Pamuk. New York: MLA, 2017.

    An interdisciplinary collection of essays on Pamuk’s work with a focus on pedagogical approaches and world literature comparison.

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