The Black Book

The Black Book                              by Orhan Pamuk


Set in Turkey in 1980, this is seemingly the tale of Galip, a distraught husband whose wife suddenly disappears. As he searches for her, he believes he is being followed and, later, that a numerical code is hidden in his uncle’s newspaper columns. Every other chapter in fact is one of his Uncle Celal’s column’s. Soon he discovers that his uncle is also missing. He believes the answer to the mystery lies in this code.

At one point Galip believes a gigantic eye is watching him. He at first tries to convince himself it is only imagination, but, he tells us, “this imaginary eye kept bearing down on me with ever greater force. I could not escape its stifling and oppressive gaze.”

Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book  won the Nobel prize in 2006, but for me it was hard to decipher, in spite of this new translation by Maureen Freely. Is this book meant to have political undertones? If so, I think I missed the point. Galip’s search for his wife is frenzied and often descends into a fantasy world of real or imagined characters. We do not find out about his wife until the very end so I won’t spoil that part for you. I also purchased another of Pamuk’s book at the same time but now, I must admit, I dread wading through hundreds of pages of incoherence again.

Although Galip loves American movies, he is also very patriotic and desires to protect his country from foreign influence. He talks a lot about Turkish history and Islamic heroes, but loves Western cars and products. Perhaps he is meant to represent the turmoil in a country that is struggling for freedom but periodicly repressed by military coups.

I do not doubt Pamuk’s great storytelling gift, but I just didn’t get this book. I wanted the story to move along more swiftly, and had to make myself read it to the end.


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