Friday, October 3, 2014

'Thus the reader becomes like Galip, wandering about Istanbul, searching for clues, chasing after an elusive spouse, or identity, or dream.'

Kara Kitap, daqui, so that I don't forget the link.


ORHAN PAMUK AND HIS "BLACK BOOK"

Bernt Brendemoen

In the history of the Turkish novel it was not until the nineteen — eighties that writers appeared who regarded the novel not primarily as a medium for communicating political or social messages, but as a form of literature with an artistic value of its own, where language, style and narrative techniques played a role no less important than the contents. As had been the case with the development of the Turkish novel in the Tanzimat period, so this new way of regarding the potentials of the novel was closely connected to Western influence: In the nineteen — seventies and eighties, a generation of writers had emerged who knew foreign languages well enough to read European and American writers in their original languages. These writers successfully tried to transfer the characteristics of style and narration techniques they found in authors such as Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Celine, to their own Turkish art of novel writing. The most important Turkish writers who have followed this path are, in my opinion, Adalet Agaoglu, Nazli Eray. and Orhan Pamuk.

Kara Kitap — "The Black Book" — is the fourth novel by Orhan Pamuk, who was born in 1952. The first, Cevdet Bey ve Ogullarý, which appeared in 1982, is a long family novel with a certain conceptual similarity to Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks; the second, Sessiz Ev, which appeared in 1983 and has been translated into French, is a complex novel where perception of time and reality, and also identity, which is of great importance also in his later two novels, are the central motifs. With the third, Beyaz Kale, which appeared in 1985, and has been translated into several languages, Orhan Pamuk acquired international renown. The central theme of this novel, is again identity, illustrated by two men who more or less become doubles. The fourth, "The Black Book", which is the topic for this talk, appeared in Turkey in 1990, but has not appeared in any foreign language yet. It is being translated into English, French, German, and Norwegian, and the first of these translations will appear in 1994. This novel has caused discussions in Turkish literary circles and uproar in Turkish cultural life in general probably unsurpassed since the appearance or Mahmut Makal's novel Bizim Köy in 1950. The most important of the critical discussions and analytical reviews of the book have been collected into an anthology by Nüket Esen... I am quite convinced that "The Black Book" will cause new discussions when it appears in foreign languages.

Although "The Black Book" is generally characterized as a postmodern novel, it also has a place within an Islamic literary tradition dating back to the first centuries of Islam. Except for Orhan Pamuk's adaptation of certain Islamic motifs, this tradition has disappeared completely from modern Turkish literature, owing to the cultural changes in Turkey in this century. I mean that "The Black Book" on a certain level can be read as a sufi tale, as it contains clear parallels both to details and to the plots in such tales. Although the author is at least as influenced by European literature as other contemporary Turkish writers, he has succeeded in incorporating certain important elements from traditional Islamic literature in his plot and thematics.

Islamic mysticism or sufism is the teaching about the different paths or methods human beings should follow in order to get closer to God and eventually unite with Him. The novice — murid — who wished to approach this goal had to go through certain stages. During this process his spiritual leader, that is the shaykh of the order — tarikat — he belonged to, or some other mürsid (spiritual guide), would reveal to him those eternal truths and secrets he had to know in order to reach as far as possible in his quest. In some orders the role of the shaykh was so important that he was compared to the mihrab — the prayer niche of a mosque; this means that the shaykh was not only a person inspiring respect and admiration, but that he possessed an almost holy capacity. In literature, e.g. in such love stories as Leyla and Mecnun, the theme of earthly love was used for sufi purposes, i.e. as an analogy and allegory of divine love, and in these stories, earthly love is turned or sublimated into divine love: The lover searches within himself and finds the beloved there. Thus, the lover and the beloved become one and the same person: You are me, and I you. The secret that reveals itself to the novice is the unification of the novice himself, the beloved one, and love itself; God, too, may participate in this union. (The precise contents of the "Secret" may differ somewhat among the different orders, but essentially it may be characterized as "Man's realization of himself and of his spiritual potential".)

In order that his reader should understand the allusions he makes to sufi literature in the course of his novel, Orhan Pamuk has incorporated the necessary information on this subject in the relevant chapters — the Turkish readers today, at least the kind of readers that would be capable of and interested in reading "The Black Book", are so secularized and devoid of knowledge about sufi literature that

most of them would not be able to appreciate the sufi aspects of the novel without

such references.

One of the sufi poets Orhan Pamuk frequently refers to is Farid ud-Din 'Attar from Khorasan, who lived at the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century. In his mesnevi Mantik-ut-tayr, or "The Conference of the Birds", he describes how the birds from all over the world come together in order to choose a king. The hoopoe — who is known in Islamic tradition as the messenger of King Salomon - tells the other birds that they already have a king, a bird named Simurgh, but that he lives far away, behind the mountain of Kaf. Most of the birds give various excuses for not participating in the dangerous journey to their king, but in the end thirty birds set off. After having passed through seven valleys which symbolize the seven stages a novice must traverse on his sufi path, they reach the castle of the Simurgh, but what meets them there is nothing but a mirror. In Persian si means "thirty", and murgh means "bird". The Simurgh is "thirty birds" it is themselves. What they have been searching for is themselves, or. rather, it is within themselves.

Let us now briefly go through the plot of "The Black Book".

The real hero of the novel is perhaps Istanbul, perhaps literature as an essential part of life, but if we only look at the exterior plot, the "hero" is a 33 -year — old lawyer by the name of Galip. Galip is married to his paternal cousin Ruya, whom he has known since childhood. The name Ruya means "dream" in Turkish. They have spent their childhood together in the apartment building Sehrikalp in the main street of Nisantasi one of the upper class neighborhoods of Istanbul, but because of some unspecified economic disaster their families have been forced to sell their apartment building and to move to other, more modest flats in back streets in the same neighborhood. The reader never meets Ruya. Another person the reader does not meet is the person Galip admires most of all in his life, his paternal cousin Celal. who is Ruya's stepbrother and twenty years older than himself. Celal is a famous columnist in the newspaper Milliyet. Every other chapter of "The Black Book" consists of articles by Celal which have appeared in his column. All these articles contain more or less hidden clues that may help the reader — and Galip — to understand and interpret the action in the other chapters. The plot that develops in the main chapters, where Galip is the protagonist, begins with Ruya s disappearance - she leaves behind just a small note for Galip - and continues with Galip's search for her in Istanbul through eight snowy winter days. Galip's quest takes him to the strangest quarters of the

city, brings him into contact with the weirdest individuals, and plunges him into the most original ideas. He reviews his relation with Ruya and wonders why she has never opened herself completely to him, but always has acted as if she wanted to escape into another world. On this level the novel is the story about unhappy love between two human beings. Galip tries to find Celal in order to get his advice, but it then turns out that Celal has disappeared too. Nevertheless the newspaper appears with his column every day. but the articles printed are old ones originally published 20 or 30 years earlier. First Galip searches for his wife at her ex-husband's place; she has previously been married to a militant leftist. Pamuk's description of this kind of activist, who after a certain age adopts the opposite political view and becomes more and more bourgeois, is quite expert: in this character the dream of socialism has now been taken over by nationalistic fervor, and his great idea is that the West has started a. conspiracy to brainwash the Turks by the means of the movies — movies that present a reality to the viewers quite different from their own. This notion, which is presented in different shapes and versions throughout the novel, is closely related to the identity motif: Because of the movies we (or the Turks) get accustomed to a reality that is not our own; we are not ourselves, but have become other persons. As we shall see, motifs such as "lost identity, lost memory, and lost secrets" are again closely related to this theme.

Galip understands that Ruya and Celal are hiding somewhere together: They have disappeared on the same day; and besides. Celal needs somebody to help him re-establish his memory: Celal suffers from memory loss, and has discovered that the best remedy against this disease is to tell stories. As his stepsister Ruya is the person closest to him, it is most probable that they are together. The loss of memory symbolizes decay, analogous to the cinema theme. The decay of Istanbul is a third theme which frequently is taken up parallel to this; and a fourth is the general decay in Turkey: Thanks to imitation of the West, which has been going on since the last century, but which reached its peak with Ataturk's reforms, the Turks have been forced to adopt a brand new identity and have consequently forgotten their original one. The fact that books written before 1930 have been rendered incomprehensible to the modern generation through the language reform, is not a topic taken up directly by Orhan Pamuk; nevertheless, the cultural vacuum this reform has resulted in, which later has been filled up with borrowed western goods, is no doubt what he refers to by this "identity crisis".

The various individuals whom Galip meets during his search through Istanbul in the first half of the novel illustrate different aspects of this identity problem. Just as the cinema has turned the Turks into other people, all of us live with a secret dream of becoming someone else: Galip admires his cousin Celal so much that he would like to resemble him, to become him, to take his place; and Celal's articles are full of stories about people who are not able to be themselves but are somebody else all the time. Slowly this identity theme takes a turn in the sufi direction: During the different stages of self-reflection and search in his own mind Galip, thanks to his great love for Celal and Ruya, perceives both of them within himself, and eventually he becomes Celal. In the first half of the novel, however, Galip has not yet reached very far on the sufi path, and his thoughts are generally occupied with different aspects of identity. One of the episodes illustrating identity problematics is the chapter entitled "Guess who's here", where Galip, in the course of his peregrinations in the city, suddenly finds himself in a brothel. The woman he meets there is playing the role of the famous Turkish actress Türkan Soray playing a prostitute in the film Vesikali Yarim — " Whore or Madonna" — as we see, an extremely complex identy shift.

The human desire either to be oneself or to become somebody else is also the subject of the chapter where Galip visits a nightclub where everyone around the table tells a story. The subject of all the stories is a love relation where the woman disappears for some reason or another; at the same time, the identity theme is also indirectly illustrated in these stories. After the nightclub, Galip goes together with several of the guests to a workshop near by the Galata Tower where shop-window dummies are manufactured, but the dummies that have been produced there for a century are not of the kind seen in shop windows today; they are dummies made in a style from a period before the admiration of the West became predominant: These dummies represent "real Turks". But the manufacturer has not been able to sell any of them, for, as one of the shop-owners told him: "No customer wants a coat worn by one of those bowlegged, swarthy, mustached countrymen of ours whom he sees in ten thousands in the streets every day; no. the customer wants a jacket worn by a new and "beautiful" person from a distant, unknown world, so he can believe that he, too, can change and become someone else with this jacket." (p. 60.)

One of the dummies portrays Celal. The son of the manufacturer of the dummies, who guides the party through the underground passages of the workshop, speaks of Celal with contempt. Both the reader and Galip get the

impression that Celal has betrayed some cause or revealed a hidden secret, but we do not learn more about this issue at this stage. After the tour of the dummies in the underground corridors, Galip is taken to the Süleymaniye mosque by a woman he does not know but who claims that she knows him: She claims that she was in the same class at school as Galip and Riiya, but Galip cannot remember her. She tells him that she has been living all the years since then with the desire of taking Rüya's place and become the woman by Galip's side, and that this desire has almost driven her mad. If the descent into the corridors of the dummies was a descent into the Inferno, the ascent to the top of one of the minarets of the Süleymaniye mosque is like a visit to Paradise, and the woman who claims that she knows Galip, and who shows him the way up the minaret, takes the place of Beatrice guiding Dante around Paradise.

After this point in the novel, Galip's search for the Secret develops into an important theme. Only gradually the reader understands that the Secret is identical with the Sufi mystery. In some chapters the secret seems to be a projection of Rüya. but in others it appears to be the way to become oneself or someone else; in still other parts of the novel, it is suggested that the Secret is a metaphysical truth hidden in a world within the world we inhabit, a truth which human beings previously have been in command of, and which has given meaning to their lives, but which now has been forgotten for such a long time that the present generations even have forgotten that they have forgotten it. If we interpret the novel as a sufi tale, the Secret may have several meanings, not mutually exclusive. However, the essence of all these aspects is probably, as mentioned above, "the way to finding oneself, the way to realizing one's own potential".

Slowly Galip begins to feel that the objects in his surroundings are trying to tell him something, and that they are the signs of another reality. He starts to imagine that letters have a hidden meaning. This idea, already touched upon in several stories told in the first chapters of the book, develops into an obsession in Galip's mind. In Islamic terms, he approaches Hurufism, the science of the secret meaning of the Arabic letters, which is to play an especially important part in the second half of the book. This Islamic cabbalistic philosophy, which was founded and propagated by Fazlallah of Astarabad in Khorasan in the 14th century, was within a short time condemned by the ulema as heresy. According to the Hurufis, sound and language are the most obvious proofs of existence, and the Arabic letters with which the Koran has been written, are manifestations of God. And because human beings are extensions of the godhead, it is possible to read these

letters in their faces. However — at least in Orhan Pamuk's version of Hurufism — it is easier to read the letters in the faces of some people than of others. From the great number of drawings found in Turkey, depicting human faces and animals consisting of Arabic letters, it is clear that Hurufism was especially prominent in Anatolian Islam. It has played an especially important part in the Bektasi order.

In "The Black Book", the letters that can be read in some persons' faces represent or symbolize special powers or capacities that those persons possess. When Galip in the second half of the book succeeds in seeing and reading the letters in his own face, this corresponds to his taking over Celal's identity and his own emergence as a writer.

Toward the end of the first half of the book, Galip, interpreting the signs he observes around the city, is convinced that Ruya and Celal are hiding in the apartment building Sehrikalp, where Galip and Ruya spent their childhood and where Celal used to live as a young journalist. From the wife of the janitor he learns that Celal has bought back the apartment years ago, but does not want anyone to know that he is living there. Galip steals the key to the apartment, and the first half of the novel concludes with his opening the door of the apartment, and thus, in a way, going through the looking-glass. The days he spends in Celal's apartment correspond to the stage when a sufi novice completes the path into the world within this world, or rather, within himself, and concentrates on the unio mystica. To put it another way, we may say that the first half of "The Black Book" is devoted to Galip's understanding that there exists a secret and the second half with his penetration into it.

Galip finds neither Ruya nor Celal in the apartment, but he does find an enormous cupboard where Celal has filed everything he has written during his life as a journalist, and also an important part of what he has read. In order to find clues to where Celal and Ruya may have hidden, he starts to go through and read the contents of the cupboard. Thus he gradually takes over Celal's memory, without, however, being aware of it. He settles down in the apartment flat, and starts using Celal's pajamas and sleeping in Celal's bed. Gradually assuming Celal's identity, he eventually starts to write articles for the newspaper in Celal's name. In this way he at the same time realizes his own potential as a writer. The reader now understands more clearly that the Secret has to do with a person's finding his own identity, but at the same time that one cannot be oneself without being someone else: The only way a person can become himself is by becoming

someone else. Although this paradox is not explained fully in the novel, it should perhaps be interpreted in the following way: By losing oneself in the love for another person one becomes that person, but because of the intensity of this feeling and the synthesis "you — I — love" one also realizes one's own potential. The interpretation "self realization through love" is supported by the sentence "The key is love", which appears somewhat unmotivatedly in another chapter in the book. But there is another theme, parallel to this, which is the notion that one can become oneself by telling stories. When Galip finally feels that he is himself, this occurs while he is telling the story about a prince "who had discovered that the most important question in life is whether a person can be himself or not". The interpretation of these two themes as general "messages" from the author implies certain logical difficulties I shall not go into here. On the whole, the "message" "one cannot become oneself unless one becomes somebody else" is perhaps so contradictory that it should be interpreted to the effect that searching for oneself is actually futile because the "pure self" liberated from all exterior influence simply cannot be found.

While Galip is going through Celal's cupboard, a certain individual, who naturally takes him for Celal, repeatedly calls him up and tells him that he wants to see him. In order to explain to Celal how much he loves him and appreciates his column, this individual constantly refers to articles Celal has written. It turns out that this person, who presents himself as Mahir Ikinci — ikinci means "second" — knows all Celal's articles just as well as Galip does; the reason why he calls himself Ikinci is probably related to this, as he is some kind of a second Galip. In spite of his persistence, Galip refuses to give him his address. In a later chapter, Mahir Ikinci's wife calls Galip (also, of course, believing that he is Celal). She, as it turns out, was Celal's mistress many years ago. She now tells him how one specific sentence in one of Celal's latest articles made her believe that Celal was summoning her, so she ran away from home, leaving her husband a short note — just as Ruya has done to Galip; and now she absolutely must see Celal. Just when Galip is about to give her his address, she reveals that her husband actually has found her and brought her back home, and that he has forced her to call Celal in order to get his address. Now the reader also learns why Mahir ikinci insists on meeting Celal: He wants to kill him. Not because Celal was his wife's lover many years ago, but because he has come to realize that Celal has been deceiving his readers through all his years as a columnist, and that the literary tricks he has been using and the stories he has been telling have nothing to

do with reality, but are just stories told for their own sake. He has discovered that all Celal's promises through the years have just been literary nonsense he has made up in order to make himself interesting, and that he has abused the confidence of his readers in this way. This, as it turns out, is the meaning of Celal's "betrayal", which is vaguely referred to in several places in the first half of the novel. At the end of their talk on the telephone Galip succeeds in making Mahir Ikinci give up his plan to kill him (that is, Celal). and they make an appointment to meet on a certain corner at nine o'clock the same evening. When the novel ends with Celal found murdered on that corner, the major suspect in the reader's eyes is of course Mahir Ikinci.

As mentioned above, Galip's adoption of Celal's identity as a writer is one of the main themes of the second half of the novel. There are other important elements as well: Several allusions to Islamic literature that are only vaguely hinted at in the first half of the book, are here unfolded and elaborated: In one of the files in the cupboard Galip finds Celal's articles about Mevlana, i.e. Mevlana Celaleddin [Calal-ud-din] Rumi — the great Sufi who lived in Konya in Western Anatolia in the 13th century. It is a well-known fact that Mevlana was very close to, or perhaps in love with, a dervish by the name of Sems from Tabriz, and that the novices, as they saw that their shaykh was giving all his attention to this individual, threatened Sems so that he fled to Damascus. Sometime later he returned to Konya, and shortly thereafter his body was found in a well near Mevlana's house. Celal deals with these historical events in one of his columns, and offers an extremely original interpretation: that it was Mevlana himself who killed Sems: Since Mevlana had now written his major work, the Divan ofSems-i Tabrizi, and thus had reached the zenith of his literary fame, he no longer needed the inspiration for his literary success, i.e. Sems, and so disposed of him. Here the reader seems to be provided with a clue to interpret the murder of Celal when that takes place at the end of the novel; the whole novel is, by the way, full of such clues - some of which are indeed relevant for our interpretation, while others are just red herrings. It should also be mentioned that the parallelism between Mevlana and Celal is already established in the mind of the Turkish reader by Celal's name, which corresponds to Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi.

As already mentioned, the novel ends with Celal being found dead on the corner where Galip and Mahir ikinci have made an appointment to meet the same evening. Ruya's body is found among some dolls in a shop nearby. Even if Mahir ikinci is the major suspect in the eyes of the reader, the police are not interested in

Galip's account of the mysterious telephone calls from that individual. So the one who is eventually hanged for Celal's murder is a quite different person, not involved in the plot at all. But we, the readers, may still ask who it actually was who killed Celal and Ruya. If we return to the story about Mevlana and Sems and identify Galip with Mevlana and Celal with Sems we arrive at a new solution which is a bit more sophisticated than the obvious one: Until the moment when Galip reads the letters in his own face and becomes a writer, Celal is the shaykh, that is, Mevlana; but after this point Galip becomes the star columnist, the outstanding writer, in other words Mevlana (and because his memory is intact, he becomes an even more brilliant writer than Celal). And since he no longer needs the person to whom he owes his success, i.e. Celal. he kills him. Furthermore, if we let Ruya — the Dream — symbolize creative power, now Galip has found this power, namely within himself, and so he does away with Ruya as well, because he no longer needs her. But Galip has an alibi for the time when the murder took place, so he cannot be the murderer. Could it have been not murder at all, but suicide ? Could Celal, aware that his memory was dying and that he would soon be unable to write any more, be looking for a successor, someone he could turn his profession over to ? Has he made Galip fall into a trap which he. Celal, has planned down to the tiniest detail ? When the bewildered Galip wanders around Istanbul in the first part of the book, he speaks of a "hand" directing him; this could be — as is hinted at several times — the hand of Celal, who has planned everything. But with this interpretation, too, it is impossible to say how the actual murder (or suicide) took place. Whatever solution we choose there remain a lot of obscure details. If we interpret Mahir Ikinci as a second Galip, the question who the killer is, of course loses its importance. As a detective story, "The Black Book" fits the following description which occurs in one of the early chapters: "Galip had once told Ruya that if a detective story were written where not even the author knew who the murderer was, [he might be interested in reading it].... Ruya, who was a better reader of novels than Galip, wondered how the number of clues could be limited in such a novel. For in detective stories, all the clues point to a single solution." (p. 51.)

Indeed, the enormous variety of hints and clues that play themselves out in the plot is one of the most entertaining aspects of The Black Book". In one of the early chapters, for example, the idea is floated that Celal may one day maybe found dead on a dark street because he deceives his readers. Celal's articles especially are full of such subtle hints and anticipations. When e.g. Celal ends one

of his articles with the sentence "One day I can perhaps write an article about those dolls and our dreams", this turns out to be a macabre foreshadowing of Rüya's being found dead among the dolls.

Another fascinating aspect of the book is the impression, created by all the hints and literary allusions, that the different levels of the plot fit into one another like "Chinese boxes" — this image actually occurs in one of the early chapters, where they are described as part of an act performed by a magician in a nightclub. This structural principle becomes especially clear in the chapter entitled "The story entered the mirror" towards the end of the book, where Celal, or rather, Galip, tells about a boy and a girl who have grown up in the same apartment building. They fell in love with one another when they were reading a certain book together in their childhood, (p. 341): "What was, then, the story that was told in the book they had been reading together? In this story, which took place a long time ago, a boy and a girl were born into the same clan. The girl and the boy, Hüsn and Ask — Beauty and Love — who lived at the edge of a desert, were born on the same night, got instruction from the same teacher, strolled along the same pools and fell in love. Many years later, when the boy wanted to marry the girl, the chieftains of the clan laid down the condition that he should go to the Realm of Hearts and bring backthe Elixir (or the Philosopher's stone). The boy sets out, but is met by severe trials: He falls into a well and becomes the prisoner of the painted witch; in another well that he falls into, he becomes intoxicated by the thousands of forms and faces he sees there; he falls in love with the daughter of the King of China because she resembles his loved one; he gets out of the wells, but is imprisoned in fortresses; he is followed, he follows, he struggles against winter, he travels long distances, he pursues tracks and signs; he buries himself in the secret of letters and tells and listens to stories. In the end, Suhan — " Word' or "Reason" — who has been following him the whole time in different disguises and has rescued him from the difficulties, tells him: "You are your beloved, and your beloved is you; have you still not understood that?" Then the boy remembers how he fell in love with the girl when they were reading a book together while getting instruction from the same teacher." (p. 341.)

While illustrating the special feature of the plot which I mentioned above, this passage is also significant from another point of view. The author draws here a clear parallel between his own work and the sufi work by which he has-been inspired, Seykh Ghalib's Hüsn ü 'Ask. Seykh Ghalib, who lived between 1757 and 1799, was the shaykh of a dervish congregation — a tekke — within the

Mevlevi order, founded by Mevlana. Of course, it is no coincidence that the hero of "The Black Book" has the same name as Seykh Ghalib and that the plot bears a close resemblance to that of Hüsn ü 'Ask. In the same way the apartment building called Sehrikalp — "City of Hearts" — where Ruya and Galip grew up as children, is a clear allusion to Diyar-i Kalb — "Realm of Hearts" — where 'Ask was sent to bring back the elixir. Seykh Ghalib in Hüsn ü 'Ask tells that he got his inspiration from Mevlana's Mesnevi. Likewise, he has become the shaykh of the dervish order thanks to Mevlana's teachings. In similar fashion it is possible for Galip, the hero of Orhan Pamuk's novel, to find his own identity, to take the place of Celal and to write the story about Galip and Ruya, that is "The Black Book", by reading Celal's articles. Thus Galip, who in the story is equivalent to 'Ask. attains his dream (Rüya = Hüsn) and at the same time becomes the author (Celal = Seykh Ghalib) . (It should also be mentioned that Ghalib, which is one of Allah's 99 names, means "victorious".)

The fact that allusions are made to this literary model quite frequently, together with the great number of allusions to other literature both Islamic and European, makes it a sensible question to ask if perhaps "The Black Book" could be interpreted as a book about literature. The efforts Galip makes to penetrate the Hurufi doctrines and to discover the letters in other people's faces and finally in his own, could no doubt be interpreted as an allegory of the efforts made by a would-be writer to become an author and to find his own style. For as soon as Galip sees the letters in his own face, however frightful they may be (we do not know what they say), he sits down and starts writing Celal's articles. Towards the end of the novel we learn indirectly that the reason why Galip was so unhappy in his marriage to Ruya, and all the time wanted to become somebody else, was that he lacked the ability to tell stories. It is already clear in the early chapters that he does not understand literature very well. But as the plot develops he both acquires a taste for literature and the ability to tell stories. From another point of view as well it would be justified to interpret "The Black Book" as a book about literature: The novel contains profound discussions about plagiarism. Celal has taken (or "stolen") the theme of most of his articles from sufi poets, and one of his articles is a travesty of "The Grand Inquisitor" in Dostoyevski's "The Brothers Karamazov". The literary motive "originality vs. plagiarism" is a counterpart of the identity problematics, i. e. that of being oneself or someone else, but at the same time it has a function of its own. On this level "The Black Book" may be characterised as a metanovel.

A final aspect of "The Black Book" which should not go unmentioned is its Joycean character. It resembles Ulysses in its relish for details, in its character as a kind of prose epic, evoking all the colours and sounds and smells of Istanbul, as Joyce evoked Dublin. The Turkish literary critic Enis Batur has said that contrary to earlier Istanbul writers, Orhan Pamuk "penetrates Into the subconsciousness of the city".

The different levels of "The Black Book" are of course not like steps the reader may descend — or ascend — in a certain order. The motifs are all interwoven, and the painting presented by the author is full of details which may have, and may not have a meaning for the reader. This structural characteristic is the main reason why the novel has been called postmodern. With regard to theme, style and language the book is so complex that each reader must decide what is meaningful and what is insignificant. Thus the reader becomes like Galip, wandering about Istanbul, searching for clues, chasing after an elusive spouse, or identity, or dream.

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