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Wednesday, July 06, 2005


My first crosswording of Orhan Pamuk coincided with it being his maiden venture too—so a propitious beginning !
The only other Turk I knew, at a safe distance was Naim Suleymanoglu !

As provenance goes, “The White Castle" is a recounting of a manuscript found by Faruk Darvinoglu in 1982 in archives of the Turkish Minster’s office. It’s the tale of a Venetian yourh, plump on intellect and awareness, who while sailing from Venice to Naples sometime in the seventeenth century is waylaid and captured by Turkish boors, carted to Istanbul where his facial likeness Hoja arrogates him speedily. Hoja, a confidante of the intelligentsia, Pashas and Sultans, is desirous of devouring and digesting all that he can about Western mores; its literature , its technological prowess and progress. His inquizitive and abrasive nature eschews boundaries, inhibition and formality as his avarice for knowledge’s sake takes over.

As times goes by, Hoja and the unnamed narrator realize that they are kindred souls, they feed off one another and though the relationship is officially is one of a master and slave, they soon transgress that and grow intimate. The years wear on as they discover science, logic and art through argument and hypotheses The youthful Sultan harbours the thought that it is the Venetian narrator whose ideas Hoja propounds as his own before finally on the brink of war, they appear to swap identities as Hoja moves away to Italy and the narrator stays on as Hoja, even as the Sultan chides and derides him for inveigling all, hiding that his ideas are actually those of the Venetian.

As with Sealy, the plot is just the even ground on which the superstructure of Pamuk’s literary opulence rests. It plays the synthesis and dichotomy of Western and Eastern schools of thought over and over again; delves into issues of identity, personal nature and character directly and also faintly probes for epistemology. The characters are seen to go through many shades of beliefs, suppositions and demeanours, not all of which originates in their cultural heritage.

I thought the book could have been deeper in its examination of the roots of Western streams of thought and not totally ignored religion. The writing remains picturesque, fluid ,segued and sufficiently obscurantist for this to be called a post-modern work.

A 7.5 on 10 !

Again, a first time crosswording—this time of Italo Calvino.

An interesting mise en scene—Calvino has written three pieces on three of the five senses; taste, hearing and smell. This seemed rather expansive and adventurous till I read what he’d penned—he died before he could complete the other two senses and the world will not know what it missed.

“Under the Jaguar Sun” describes the sensory yearnings of a married couple who visit Oaxaca, Mexico and swim in the cesspools of spice and savoury delights in the form of the fiery local cuisine. This deals with taste as the primordial genesis of human relationships culminating in a form of cannibalism, necessitated to completely comprehend the thoughts, emotions and swings of another. The couple become sensually enmeshed with subtle flavours and sensations even as they merge with the local architecture and motifs.

“A King Listens” is from a lonesome monarch’s viewpoint, as he sits on his throne, silent and alone as a world sets itself and moves around him. The ruler is distanced from a multitude of subjects, who swing from being seditious to gullible and unobtrusive, and his hearing is his sole weapon and defense against all diabolic canards, armed rebellion and mute opponents.

The third story chronicles three disparate beings—a French dilettante, a drug-crazed musician and a hominid just discovering walking on tow limbs, all enamoured of an unknown and unseen woman , attracted by her scent.

While each story makes riveting reading, albeit a tad contrived in the frenetic pursuit of storylines with unusual leitmotifs, I felt that his class was subsumed and diluted, purposefully so, as he strove to weave magic out of material that most writers would devoutly conceal or camouflage amidst hay heaps of verbiage and allusive affectations.

A 7 on 10 !


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