Galip is an Istanbul lawyer, and his wife (as well as first cousin), Ruya, has vanished. Could she be hiding out with her half brother (who also happens to be Galip's first cousin), Jelal, a newspaper columnist whose fame Galip envies? And if so, why isn't anyone in Jelal's flat? As Galip plays the part of private investigator, he assumes the ...
Galip is an Istanbul lawyer, and his wife (as well as first cousin), Ruya, has vanished. Could she be hiding out with her half brother (who also happens to be Galip's first cousin), Jelal, a newspaper columnist whose fame Galip envies? And if so, why isn't anyone in Jelal's flat? As Galip plays the part of private investigator, he assumes the identity of Jelal himself, wearing his clothes, answering his phone calls, even faking his wry columns, which he passes off as the work of the missing journalist. But the amateur sleuth bungles his undercover operation, and with dire consequences.
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What am I to do, oh readers, for I do not recognize myself. I have read the Black Book and am transformed. I am not a nihilist who absorbing the dark fruit of the Black Book's heart-rending conclusion nor an anarchist; for the Black Book shows the foil of living under half-lit regimes I am not a modernist, the Black Book details the past's ragged urging to be recalled, nor traditionalist, for the author Orhan Pamuk clearly illustrates the folly of doctrinaire beliefs, be they secular, political, religious or even, (God help us) romantic. In a magazine article, Mr. Pamuk described Istanbul, the setting of this novel as having "no symmetry, no sense of geometry, no two lines in parallel." The same can be said of the Black Book's plot. Though I am no hedonist, feminist, satirist, cynic, nor even lotus-eater, I AM wistfully numinous. The Black Book is filled with Sufi ("Hurufi") references to Islamic numerology and mystical sensibilities. The delicate threads of the plot inspire me with the same maniacal passion for the Orahn Pamuk, that Jelal, elusive essayist and one of the book's central characters enjoys among the Istabullis . Make no mistake, The Black Book is marvelous fiction. Jelal's weary dance with the absurd realities of Turkish life compels him to capture that grand madness in daily columns depicted throughout the book. The essays rightfully become the stuff of national obsession. The chapter entitled, "The Day the Bosphorus Dries Up," is alone worth the price of the book. Ruya (meaning "dream") is the book's missing link. Her disappearance is the central mystery of the story and a great ordeal to her husband Galip, the book's sweet, bemused protagonist. Once again, Mr. Pamuk gives us brilliant play on the nature of identity. Galip mimics Jelal's personae while searching for Ruya, his missing wife. When Jelal's newspaper column is threatened by his disappearance, Galip substitutes his own writing for Jelal's. Thusly, Galip fulfills a long-held desire to meet Jelal's creative skill. Something essential is given continuity by Galip's absorption of Jelal's art. And much of the Baclk Book's subtext is about continuity or the lack thereof. While Galip searches for Ruya and Jelal (his cousin), he sleuths through the unlit corners of Jelal's obsessively private life. In one of my favorite passages, Galip discovers Jelal's hidden apartment furbished with garrulous fixtures from thier shared and lost childhood. Sufi themes abound in the Black Book which call to mind further notions of identity and the sense of historical estrangement. "Modern" Turkish life is lived with blunted access to a colorful, if interrupted, past. Sufi symbols from Ottoman times in the storyline exist alongside reminders that these Orders were eradicated a single decree of Ataturk, Turkey's great modernizer. Mystical references are clue to an important theme of the author: the right to know what the inheritances of the past are in relation to the present. Ruya, gone without explanation, is presumed by Galip to be with Jelal, who is her half-brother. While the reader doesn't observe her directly, neither it seems, does Galip, her husband, even when she is fully present. What we do observe of her is the awe and wonderment she inspires. She manages to signify both feminine spirit and palpable disillusionment with the role. Galip never questions why she leavesor what she does (and doesn't do). He is compelled by love to find her in what becomes a contemporary twist on the classical (Sufi) theme of "search". In the Black Book we see a land we may come to inhabit as the new millenium injects stranger and stranger ciphers into our lives. Mr. Pamuk appears to being saying that all the willfulness of our times cannot interpret these "signs" if they are read out of context. Though dense, the Black Book is brilliantly written for those who prefer a mystery that remains . . . mysterious. It suggests powerfully, that love is the best reason we have to plod on. It also suggests we are more "alive" when tending our enigmas. Bravo, Orhan Pamuk, I am so drunken with your prose: though of revelry and Istanbul, I have no tale to tell.
Mar 16, 2007
A Rich, Dark Dream
This many layered book is intensly visual, creating images that linger long after the plot line fades. The narrative has a dream-like quality, moving through time and memory, space and imagination. I cared deeply not only about the narrator (Galip) but also about Celal Bey, the central character known only through his writing.
Publishers Weekly, 1994-11-14 Turkish novelist Pamuk's inventive, digressive new novel is a dazzling arabesque stuffed with fantastic tales, metaphysical thought experiments, dreams, symbolic fables, absurdist humor, childhood memories, social and political satire and excursions into history. Galip, an Istanbul lawyer, is alarmed when his wife, R?ya, and her half-brother, newspaper columnist Jelal Bey, vanish. To ferret out leads, Galip assumes Jelal's identity and pseudonymously takes over his popular columns. A former classmate of Galip's turns up, confessing that for years she obsessively fantasized that she was R?ya. A mysterious caller phones, threatening to kill Jelal, who had tried to instigate a military coup in the early 1960s but allegedy betrayed the revolutionary cause. Galip's feverish research, which climaxes in two assassinations, is strewn with red herrings, allusions to Turkish and American films and digressions on the Messiah, Sufi mysticism, human faces and the art of making mannequins. As Pamuk (The White Castle) erects a dazzling hall-of-mirrors meditation on identity, memory and reality, he elliptically condemns a society that uses informers and secret police to enforce obedience. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Publishers Weekly, 1996-05-13 Set in Istanbul, Turkish novelist Pamuk's latest is an elaborate and darkly comic meditation on identity. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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