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Silent Houseby Orhan Pamuk
Synopses & Reviews
Never before published in English, Orhan Pamuk’s second novel is the story of a Turkish family gathering in the shadow of the impending military coup of 1980.
In an old mansion in Cennethisar, a former fishing village near Istanbul, a widow, Fatma, awaits the annual summer visit of her grandchildren. She has lived in the village for decades, ever since her husband, an idealistic young doctor, ran afoul of the sultan’s grand vizier and arrived to serve the poor fishermen. Now mostly bedridden, she is attended by her constant servant Recep, a dwarf — and the doctor’s illegitimate son. Despite mutual dependency, there is no love lost between mistress and servant, who have very different recollections — and grievances — from the early years, before Cennethisar grew into a high-class resort surrounding the family house, now in shambles.
Though eagerly anticipated, Fatma’s grandchildren bring little consolation. The eldest, Faruk, a dissipated historian, wallows in alcohol as he laments his inability to tell the story of the past from the kaleidoscopic pieces he finds in the local archive; his sensitive leftist sister, Nilgün, has yet to discover the real-life consequences of highminded politics; and Metin, a high school nerd, tries to keep up with the lifestyle of his spoiled society schoolmates while he fantasizes about going to America — an unaffordable dream unless he can persuade his grandmother to tear down her house.
But it is Recep’s nephew Hasan, a high school dropout, lately fallen in with right-wing nationalists, who will draw the visiting family into the growing political cataclysm issuing from Turkey’s tumultuous century-long struggle for modernity.
By turns deeply moving, hilarious, and terrifying, Silent House pulses with the special energy of a great writer’s early work even as it offers beguiling evidence of the mature genius for which Orhan Pamuk would later be celebrated the world over.
"In this first English publication of an early novel by the Nobel laureate, nonagenarian widow Fatma Darvinoglu lives in the eponymous house, a derelict villa in a seaside village near Istanbul. Bitter, sharp-tongued, and irritable, she arrived there as a teenage bride and endured the ensuing decades while her husband, Selahattin, sold off her jewelry to support his writing of a 48-volume encyclopedia intended to prove to his superstitious countrymen that God does not exist and that only by worshipping science could Turkey hope to achieve Westernized civilization. Their son, Dogan, an alcoholic like his father, died at 52, leaving three now adult children who have come to Cennethisar for their annual visit with grandmother. Faruk, the eldest, is a failed historian; Nilgun, his sister, is drawn to the Communist Party; adolescent Metin is jealous of his wealthy peers who drink immoderately and do drugs. The siblings are aware that the dwarf Recep, their grandmother's servant, is also their uncle. Recep and his crippled brother, Ismail, were the product of Selahattin's liaison with a servant. Ismail's son, Hasan, a high school delinquent, has joined with nationalist thugs who frighten villagers. While Pamuk deftly suggests the political strife that roiled Turkish society before the 1980 coup, this narrative never achieves the richness and depth of his later work. All but one of the eight major characters are neurotic, self-pitying, resentful, contemptuous of others — even while they yearn to assuage their loneliness — and filled with grandiose dreams of what they'll never achieve. Pamuk uses stream-of-consciousness to convey their inchoate thoughts, and he's most effective when chronicling Hasan's increasing mental instability. Pamuk's belief that 'istory's nothing but a story' adds substance to what is otherwise a dispiriting tale. Agent: Andrew Wylie." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Inspired and impassioned....A microcosm of a country on the verge of a coup…Pamuk has a flattering faith in his reader' intelligence....The book [is] threaded through with ideas of history, religion, memory class and politics. But it never seems didactic because the reader comes to realize that these reflections are aspects of the inner life: plausible components of the characters' psyches. I was glad to be transported to a seaside town in Turkey, to meet this odd family and their neighbors, all of whom seem to be living in several places at once: in the present and the past, in history, in everyday reality and in the simultaneously limitless and constricted worlds of their own minds....The reading experience is so very pleasurable." Francine Prose, New York Times Book Review
"Propulsive...in this quiet unassuming way does a wrenching story unfold, until an unexpected and hair-raising turn...the author’s most accessible novel to date...the work of a great engineer." Marie Arana, Washington Post
"Impressive....It proves once and for all that Pamuk is truly one of the world’s most versatile fiction writers, no matter the language in which he is read....Despite the specificity of the novel’s setting, the characters’ respective struggles are universal; they could be any family, anywhere, at any time." Jason Diamond, New York Observer
"Pamuk builds a multi-faceted panorama distinguished by his customary intellectual richness and breadth." Kirkus Reviews
Never before published in English, Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk's second novel is the moving story of a family gathering the summer before the Turkish military coup of 1980.
In a crumbling mansion in Cennethisar (formerly a fishing village, now a posh resort near Istanbul) the old widow Fatma awaits the annual summer visit of her grandchildren: Faruk, a dissipated failed historian; his sensitive leftist sister, Nilgun; and the younger grandson, Metin, a high school student drawn to the fast life of the nouveaux riches, who dreams of going to America. The widow has lived in the village for decades, ever since her husband, an idealistic young doctor, first arrived to serve the poor fishermen. Now mostly bedridden, she is attended by her faithful servant Recep, a dwarf — and the doctor's illegitimate son. Mistress and servant share memories, and grievances, of those early years. But it is Recep's cousin Hassan, a high school dropout and fervent right-wing nationalist, who will draw the visiting family into the growing political cataclysm, in this spellbinding novel depicting Turkey's tumultuous century-long struggle for modernity.
About the Author
Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. His novel My Name Is Red won the 2003 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His work has been translated into more than sixty languages.
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