‘Snow’ is my most popular book in the United States. But in Turkey, it was not as popular as ‘My Name is Red,’ or even ‘The Museum of Innocence,’ because the secular leaders didn’t want this bourgeois Orhan trying to understand these head-scarf girls.
‘The Museum of Innocence’ is not about politics; it’s a love story, but I think it’s political in the sense that it wants to capture how a man suppresses a woman.
A museum should not just be a place for fancy paintings but should be a place where we can communicate our lives through our everyday objects.
At first my publisher had reservations about publishing it in the form you are familiar with.
At the age of 60, I am less experimental and more mature. I want most of all to convey my understanding of life.
Authoritarianism, an unrealistic occidental imagination – these issues will never be settled. Turkey will continue to take Europe as a model; it will continue to pursue its search for democracy.
Being a fiction writer makes you someone who works with irresponsibility.
Culture is mix. Culture means a mix of things from other sources. And my town, Istanbul, was this kind of mix. Istanbul, in fact, and my work, is a testimony to the fact that East and West combine cultural gracefully, or sometimes in an anarchic way, came together, and that is what we should search for.
First, I would find an object which I would think is suitable for my characters and stories, then write about it, and in the end, I ended up with a house full of thousands of objects.
For me, Westernization is not about consuming fanciful goods; it’s about a system of free speech, democracy, egalitarianism and respect for the people’s rights and dignity.
From a very young age, I suspected there was more to my world than I could see: somewhere in the streets of Istanbul, in a house resembling ours, there lived another Orhan so much like me he could pass for my twin, even my double.
Generally, I get bad reviews in Turkey.
Good fiction is about asserting the beauties of the world, inventing a new, positive thing. Where am I going to get that? And it should be original; it should not be cliched. So the way I looked at history was not to accuse it of failure.
I always enjoy impersonating my characters in the first-person singular.
I believe in a world where there are no heroes, and I’ve read and know humanity a lot. There are moments that I admire in a person courage, intellect, hard work. These are the qualities I admire in an intellectual, in a writer, and there are so many people who have these things.
I came across humanity in Istanbul, and all I know about life comes from Istanbul, and definitely, I am writing about Istanbul. I also love the city because I live there, it has formed me, and it’s me. Of course it is natural. If somebody lived all his life in Delhi, he will write about Delhi.
I consider myself Istanbul’s storyteller. My subject matter is my town. I consider it my job to explore the hidden patterns of my city’s clandestine corners, its shady, mysterious places, the things I love.
I don’t judge my characters.
I don’t like to make strong statements. I want to write strong novels… I keep my deep, radical things for my novels.
I don’t look at emails, Internet or newspapers before 1 P.M. I wake at 7 A.M., eat fruit, drink tea or coffee, and read what I’ve achieved, or not achieved, the previous day. Then I take a shower and work on my next sentence until 1 P.M. After I’ve done emails and so on, I write again from 3 P.M. until 8 P.M.; then I socialise.
I don’t much care whether rural Anatolians or Istanbul secularists take power. I’m not close to any of them. What I care about is respect for the individual.
I get used to my fountain pens and my clothes, and I can never throw them away. I replace them only when I see that they are broken or embarrassing to wear.
I had the feeling that focusing on objects and telling a story through them would make my protagonists different from those in Western novels – more real, more quintessentially of Istanbul.
I have always thought that the place where you sleep or the place you share with your partner should be separate from the place where you write. The domestic rituals and details somehow kill the imagination. They kill the demon in me.
I have been attacked in Turkey more for my interviews than for my books. Political polemicists and columnists do not read novels there.
I have the legacy of my father and his nocturnal automatic waking up. But I like those periods. I immediately have a different vision of humanity and my life.
I really don’t want to portray the Islamists as simply evil, the way it’s often done in the west.
I see Turkey’s future as being in Europe, as one of many prosperous, tolerant, democratic countries.
I sometimes feel nervous because I give stupid answers to certain pointless questions. It happens in Turkish as much as in English. I speak bad Turkish and utter stupid sentences.
I strongly believe that the art of the novel works best when the writer identifies with whoever he or she is writing about. Novels in the end are based on the human capacity, compassion, and I can show more compassion to my characters if I write in a first person singular.
I think less than people think I do about politics. I care about writing.
I think novelists should be disciplined and self-imposed working hours. I work a lot, but I don’t feel that I’m working. I always feel that there is a child in me, healthy, and I’m playing.
I want to describe the psychological state of the people in a certain city.
I wanted to tell a romantic and dark side of Ottoman history that was also slightly political, saying to the previous generation of writers, ‘Look, I’m interested in Ottoman things, and I’m not afraid of it, and I’m doing something creative.’
I would be pleased if someone would invent a pill to remove my impatience, moodiness, and occasional bursts of anger. But if they did, I wouldn’t be able to write my novels or paint.
I write a world where everyone is partly right.
I write because I have an innate need to. I write because I can’t do normal work. I write because I want to read books like the ones I write. I write because I am angry at everyone. I write because I love sitting in a room all day writing. I write because I can partake of real life only by changing it.
I wrote ‘My Name is Red’ just to remember painting, where the hand does it before the intellect. When I’m captive to it, I’m a happier person. Kierkegaard tells us that a happy person is someone who lives in the present; the unhappy person, someone who lives either in the past or the future.
I’m a relatively disciplined writer who composes the whole book before beginning to execute and write it. Of course, you can’t hold – you cannot imagine a whole novel before you write it; there are limits to human memory and imagination. Lots of things come to your mind as you write a book, but again, I make a plan, chapter, know the plot.
Idealism, unrealistic idealism, is always contrasted with the reality of the people, of the man in the street. The details of daily life are always more convincing than the political fantasies of the earlier generations.
If a writer is to tell his own story – tell it slowly, and as if it were a story about other people – if he is to feel the power of the story rise up inside him, if he is to sit down at a table and patiently give himself over to this art – this craft – he must first have been given some hope.
If I think back on the books to which I have devoted my entire life, I am most surprised by those moments when I have felt as if the sentences, dreams, and pages that have made me so ecstatically happy have not come from my own imagination – that another power has found them and generously presented them to me.
Istanbul is a vast place. There are very conservative neighbourhoods, there are places that are upper class, Westernised, consuming Western culture.
Just as good books give me the joys of being alive, bad novels depress me, and as I notice this sentiment coming from the pages, I stop. I also do not hesitate to walk out of a movie house if the film is bad.
Language is me, in a way. Really, I feel it.
Let us say in the pocket of one of my old coats I find a movie ticket from many years ago. Once I see the ticket, not only do I remember that I saw this movie, but also scenes from this movie, which I think I have entirely forgotten, come back to me. Objects have this power, and I like it.
Life is short, and we should respect every moment of it.
Modernity means overabundance. We are living in the age of mass-produced objects, things that come without announcing themselves and end up on our tables, on our walls. We use them – most of us don’t even notice them – and then they vanish without fanfare.
Museums are western inventions where the rich and the powerful or the government and the state tend to exhibit the signs and symbol and images of their culture.
My hero wants to belong too, but he doesn’t want to give up all the things he came to value in the west.
My home is attached to a study – in fact, my home is my study, and I have a little room to sleep in. I need to write looking onto the street or a landscape. Looking at reality from some distance gives me romantic visions.
Nothing can be as astounding as life. Except for writing. Yes, of course, except for writing, the sole consolation.
Novels are political because in them, we try to identify with people who are not like us. And, in that sense, I like the first-person singular because I have to imitate accurately the voice of someone who is not like me. The third-person singular gives me an authority over a character.
One side of me is very busy paying attention to the details of life, the humanity of people, catching the street voices, the middle-class, upper-middle-class secret lives of Turks. The other side is interested in history and class and gender, trying to get all of society in a very realistic way.
Oscar Wilde always makes me smile – with respect and admiration. His short stories prove that it is possible to be both sarcastic, even cynical, but deeply compassionate. Just seeing the cover of one of Wilde’s books in a bookshop makes me smile.
People look at me as sort of a diplomat for Turkey, which by nature, I’m not; I don’t want to be. It’s again about that playfulness. Being Turkey’s voice or representative is not playful, it’s not childlike; it makes me self-conscious, kills the child in me.
Self-hatred is OK. I have self-hatred, too. It’s OK. What’s bad is if you don’t know how to get out of it, don’t know how to manage it. Self-hatred is, in fact, a good thing if you can clearly see the mechanism of it, because it helps you to understand others.
The challenge is to lend conviction even to the voices which advocate views I find personally abhorrent, whether they are political Islamists or officers justifying a coup.
The fictive structure, my work, my imagination, my books are about the details, the huge construction about culture, Islamic culture or modern Turkey. They’re all intertwined.
The fueling of anti-Turkish sentiment in Europe is resulting in an anti-European, indiscriminate nationalism in Turkey.
The habit of collecting, of attachment to things, is an essential human trait. But Western civilization put collecting on a pedestal by inventing museums. Museums are about representing power. It could be the king’s power or, later, people’s power.
The hero of the book does long to experience God. But his conception of God is very western.
The opponents of this process have always tried to vilify westernization as a poor imitation.
The secularists in Turkey haven’t underestimated religion, they just made the mistake of believing they could control it with the power of the army alone.
The truly great books are always novels: ‘Anna Karenina,’ ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’ ‘The Magic Mountain.’ Just as with ‘Shahnameh,’ I browse these books from time to time to remember how a great book works on us or to teach my students at Columbia University.
The writer’s secret is not inspiration – for it is never clear where it comes from – it is his stubbornness, his patience.
There’s been quite a clear upswing in nationalist sentiments. Everyone is talking about it, in Turkey as well.
These political movements flourish on the margins of Turkish society because of poverty and because of the people’s feeling that they are not being represented.
To appropriate an invention, be it artistic or technical, you have to have at least a part of your spirit embracing it so radically that you somehow change.
We fall in love more deeply when we’re unhappy.
We should not judge Islam by terrorists. All civilizations and cultures produce terrorists. Every time there is a flag-burning, killing, or provocative films, I’m worried, not because something radical will happen, and this time, some people are killed. We’re very sorry for that.
Well, on the one hand the Turks have the legitimate need to defend their national dignity – and this includes being recognized as a part of the west and Europe.
When I paint, I definitely live in the present, like someone in a shower whistling or singing.
When I was publishing my first books, the previous generation of authors was fading away, so I was welcomed because I was a new author.
When I write, I feel that I’m writing with my intellect. When I paint, I think it’s some other force making me paint. I – as I wrote in my novel ‘My Name is Red’ – watch with amazement what my hand is doing on the paper, what kind of line, what kind of strange, beautiful thing it’s doing in spite of my will, so to speak.
When people read a novel 600 pages long, six months pass, and all they will remember are five pages. They don’t remember the text – instead, they remember the sensations the text gives them.
When the whole world reads your books, is there any other happiness for a writer? I am happy that my books are read in 57 languages. But I am focused on Istanbul not because of Istanbul but because of humanity. Everyone is the same in the end.