“I don’t understand terrorists, but neither do those who don’t get vaccinated”

Orhan Pamuk (Istanbul, 1952) is “a happy writer”. He openly stated it at the press conference held on the occasion of his new novel, the nights of the plague. He enjoys his job, which consists of “constantly taking notes for future novels” and he thanks God for giving him an overflowing imagination. “Finding a topic is never a problem,” says the author, whose career contradicts the idea that the award of the Nobel paralyzes the production (or at least the quality of the texts) of the winner. The Turk is in excellent shape.

Since the Swedish Academy recognized his career in 2006, he has published two essays and four novels highly celebrated by international critics. the author of my name is Red and the museum of innocence come back this time with a plot that takes place in a pandemic contextalthough the current one (the one that we finally left behind?) has not been, precisely, the trigger to write it.

The process of creation dates back five years, during which he pored over the literature on historical outbreaks such as the plague or cholera. The years of the plague drink from references like The coupleby Alessandro Manzoni; death in veniceby Thomas Mann and The fishof Albert Camus, although Plague Year Diaryby Daniel Defoe, “is the most important work” for Pamuk.

Defoe writes this book “from the notes that his uncle takes”, says Pamuk, who underlines the main virtue of human approach what’s wrong with it. The attention he pays to “the psychology of the characters, rather than the criticism of governments” is what definitely influences the Turk for his novel, which explores the common citizen reactions to a pandemic from the moment you assimilate that reality. “Nobody wants to accept that the pleasant life they are used to can suddenly end,” he says to himself in one passage.

A fictional island in the Aegean Sea called Minguer that belongs to the Ottoman Empire, “typically Mediterranean and inspired by Crete”, as the author himself confesses, is the scene of an action that takes place in 1901. The beginning of the troubled century coincides with an outbreak of bubonic plague which surprises the region, subsequently isolated due to confinement measures.

“Humanity always survives, but invents new problems”

Contrary to the usual formula, Pamuk feeds on the present to tell the past. the nights of the plague it is a fiction of great dimensions that, however, has realistic connotations. The mixture of truth and invention is sometimes impossible to calibrate, in line with current narrative discourses. “The art of the novel is based on the ability to write the story of our own experiences as if they were those of others and to write the story of the experiences of others as if they were ours”, it is said in a passage of the novel .

A quarantine unleashes the conflict of the plot, which extends to the differences between east and westwhere the novel grows. The European culture in front of the oriental tradition that they promulgate Muslims, who do not trust medical advice in the novelIt is one of the reminiscences that correspond to the present.

Pamuk was “hit by the virus” when he was busy with his novel. “I didn’t delete anything,” he says, “but I reduced my descriptions of what a quarantine is”. It would have been much more predictable than she expected when it started, of course, and “my world of writing became public”, so “I became a little jealous of reality”. Ultimately, “the book didn’t change much because humanity was behaving in the same way I was describing,” he concludes.

How did Pamuk experience that confinement? A writer of novels for forty years does not accuse situations of this type, because they are not entirely new. The stupor is produced by observing the resistance of society towards sanitary measures. “My obligation as a writer is to understand everyone, it is the Ottoman capacity,” he explains. “On Snow I tried to understand the terrorists, even though I am against them,” he adds, but “I don’t understand people who don’t get vaccinated either.”

“In the Ukraine war, the horror is so close to us that we can’t help but feel guilty”

All in all, Pamuk shows optimistic about the current moment. “All pandemics have been overcome. Even before that, one in three people died,” she recalls. “Humanity always survives, but invents new problems.” And precisely on humanitarian issues, he is even more blunt: “It is a shame that some governments have let older people die.”

As I did in my name is redthe writer chooses one female voice to narrate the story. The historian Mîna Minguerli, who at times declares herself to be the author of fiction, is in charge of transmitting this “allegory of the growth of nations after the end of the Ottoman Empire”, as defined by the author himself, although sometimes the narration slips into through the letters that the protagonist, Pakize Sultan, sends to her sister.

a feminine look

“At my age, I want to see the world through a female gaze,” says Pamuk, whose “ideal” would be “to write a 600-page novel in the first person singular that everyone thinks was written by a woman.” admirer of Jean-Jacques Rousseautransforms one of his quotes with this result: “Any Middle Eastern writer who picks a fight with his female critics is wrong.”

On the nights of the plaguethe independence of the island is based on the real event of the 1908 revolution led by the reformist Young Turks, who restored the constitution. This is a clear allusion to nationalism as a determining factor in European politics and society. Regarding the imperialism of Vladimir Putin, “It is immoral to kill Ukrainians because they do not want Russia to control them”. And he adds: “Invading a country under that pretext is horrendous.”

For Pamuk, “the most shameful thing about this war is that everything is open. We can watch a lot of videos on the internet: I do it myself and I feel guilty”, he confesses, but the fact is that “the horror is so close to us that we can’t help but feel guilty”.

In the line of repression, Pamuk wanted to remember that “Erdogan’s government has ended freedom of expression”. The Turkish prosecutor’s office is investigating whether there have been insults to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The Nobel is blunt: “There is no direct allusion, so I do not think I will go to prison for this.” What Pamuk does regret is that people vote for the current president, “despite the fact that he jails people” for criticizing his administration.

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