The writer Orhan Pamuk turns 70. Almost all of his work is characterized by transformation and change. Something fundamental could also change for the Nobel Prize winner.

When the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk turns 70 this Tuesday, he will probably be certain that nothing will stay the way it is.

In an interview with a US museum, he once said: “Don’t hope for continuity. In the end, everything will be washed away anyway.” Almost all of Pamuk’s works («Snow», «Museum of Innocence», «Nights of the Plague») deal with change and transformation. One of them often plays a major role: his hometown of Istanbul.

He is the chronicler of Istanbul

Orhan Pamuk was born in 1952 in the city on the Bosphorus. He grew up in the Republic of Turkey, which was only 30 years old at the time of his birth. In the same year, Turkey joins NATO, strengthening its ties with the West. He himself grew up in a westernized family, with a liberal father who always wanted to be a poet and a conservative mother.

He spent his summers on the islands off the city. From there he must have been able to observe how the then comparatively tranquil city ate into the landscape with an unbelievable amount of building activity. According to official figures, 16 million people now live in Istanbul – and the number is growing.

He once described Istanbul as his own body. He observes the development of the city like a chronicler. He always uses new forms and methods of description. That’s natural, after all he doesn’t know a better place, Pamuk said in an interview with the museum. “My books are spreading more and more, swallowing up more and more parts of the city.”

According to Pamuk, he owes the fact that he became a writer and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006 to “a screw that was loose in his head”. In his early 20s, he broke off his architecture studies and gave up his dream of becoming a painter in favor of writing.

Pamuk explains the melancholy in his lyrics, which are also popular in Turkey, as a natural result of his surroundings. Growing up in a city whose buildings bear witness to the splendor of old times, but where the people are significantly poorer than those in Europe, with which they are trying to catch up, had an emotional impact on him.

The city has not only shaped Pamuk by the fact that numerous readers would like to travel to the city, which is characterized by such strong controversies. It contains the Museum of Innocence for his novel of the same name, published in 2008. Pamuk himself has lived in a house in Cihangir, which has meanwhile become a trendy district, for more than 50 years. Pamuk overlooks the Bosphorus Strait from the balcony of this house. The writer has made a collection of his photos of this view for the exhibition.

Open criticism of the government

He may soon have to leave his apartment and look for a new place to live for himself and his 20,000-book library. Pamuk is said to have subjected the house to an earthquake safety test of its own volition, with the result that it had to be demolished. This was reported by several Turkish media, including the newspaper “Hürriyet”, last week.

Pamuk has rarely been silent about the fact that Turkey and Istanbul have changed significantly under the 20 years of AKP government. He openly criticized restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of the press and art, protested against the flooding of one of the oldest settlement areas in the world to build a dam and denounced Turkish YouTube and Twitter blockades. Not least with his open plea for the recognition of the massacres of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide, he drew a lot of criticism from his fellow countrymen.

His novel Nights of the Pest, which was published in German this year, brought him a complaint for allegedly insulting the founder of the state, Atatürk, and the Turkish flag. Pamuk has denied the allegations. Rather, his story is an expression of admiration for Atatürk’s historical personality. But he doesn’t feel in danger, as he explained at a literature fair in Cologne. His lawyer assured him that this too would pass.