Thursday, October 12, 2006

Young Turk

It is Nobel Prize for Literature-time again. Every year conservative writers whinge that it is only lefties that get honoured, and usually for "politically-correct" reasons. It is true that most of the winners are men or women of the left, and the worthiness of some is dubious, but the reality is that most of the good writers of literature in the world - and I emphasise the word "literature" - are left-wing. There tend to be some exceptions, such as 1999 winner V.S. Naipaul, but the right-wing literati are a poor lot.

This year it is the liberal Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk that has been honoured, and, in my view, a bit prematurely and for overly political reasons. I recall reading in The Observer a couple of years back a gushing piece by Pamuk's friend and translator Maureen Freely, who said that Pamuk was due a Nobel any year now. And now it has happened, soon after his abandoned trial for 'insulting Turkishness', an affair which demonstrated the infantile nature of the modern Turkish republic and which garnered Pamuk much support and publicity in the West. Pamuk born into a wealthy, francophile family has always positioned himself on the border between Turkey and the west, often in a strained tendentious way, such as in his impressively-written but overrated international bestseller My Name Is Red. A Turkish friend of mine, who is no firebrand nationalist nor a strict Muslim, and who reads widely, dismisses Pamuk with the epithet 'asslicker'; and he knows whose ass is being licked. I have yet to read his more recent novel Snow, which treats of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey, but I was impressed by the extract that I read in Granta. But I have been left cold by both My Name Is Red and The New Life, the earlier novel, which was the fastest-selling book in Turkish publishing history. I am sure that Pamuk will become a Nobel-worthy writer at some point. He is still young as world-renowned writers go, only fifty-four, but just yet he is not the match of more recent winners Kenzaburo Oë, José Saramago, nor even his contemporary Elfriede Jelinek.