“The things you hear in old myths and folktales always end up happening in real life” (Orhan Pamuk “The Red-Haired Woman”)
“The Red-Haired Woman” is the 10th novel of Orhan Pamuk, which is focused on relationships between fathers and sons. It’s a wonderful craft which include quotes from three myths: one from Nietzsche on the myth of Oedipus, one from Sophocles’ play “Oedipus Rex”, then one from the Persian poet Ferdowsi, whose epic “Shahnameh” contains within it a kind of mirror of “Oedipus Rex” in which a father mistakenly kills his son. The novel consist of three parts, is set in Istanbul and just the last chapter is not told by Cem.
“I had wanted to became a writer” is the first sentence of the novel (Pamuk, 2017). Cem Celic is a “little gentlemen” a son of a leftist pharmacist, to whom his political life is more important than his son and wife. Father had often disappeared and Cem and his mother had nothing to live for. Firstly he helped out in a bookstore. Later, Cem and his mother moved to Gebze and stayed in his maternal aunt and her husband, who gave Cem a job – to guard cherry and peach. But “little gentlemen” decided to became a welldigger’s apprentice, who could earn four times as much as an orchard watchman. That was a good opportunity to get money in a short period of time, and to pay for university. So, his master Mahmud took him to the town Ongoren, where they and another apprentice set about digging a well. Cem is 17 years old boy, who never had a good father. During their work with Mahmud, he often compare welldigger to his father, who abandoned him when he was young.
“The first time I saw him, he was on his lunch break having a cigarette. He was tall, slender, and handsome, like my father. But unlike my naturally calm and cheerful father, the welldigger was irascible.” (Pamuk, 2017) Cem also noticed, that he is nobody for Mahmud, but the boy “saw in him a father”.
They pass the time by telling stories: Cem horrifies the welldigger with Oedipus, and the well digger fascinates Cem with the Iranian tale of Rostram and Sohrab. Sometimes, Mahmud and Cem were going to the town, where the boy met her – the red-haired woman – the actress of traveling theatre. He noticed, that for a moment, she looked at him “as if she already knew [him], as if to ask what [he] was doing there” (Pamuk, 2017)
“Little gentlemen” fall in love with that adorable woman. The actress was all he thinking about. Apprentice was trying to hide his thoughts from Ali and master.
After the night he spent with the red-haired woman the accident had a place and the boy decided to run from the town and left his master on the bottom without help.
“Having set out trying to disprove a story and a prophecy, Oedipus ended up killing his own father . . . So it was that I had come to understand that if I wanted to live a ‘normal,’ ordinary life like everyone else, I had to do the opposite of what Oedipus did and act as if nothing bad had happened.” (Pamuk, 2017)
The second chapter of the novel tell us about the Cem’s life after the accident. The boy did not became a writer, but he had his own construction company, get married with the girl from the college and became wealth. The company was named after the falling son from “Shahnameh” – Sohrab. The man and his wife did not have children, but they became obsessed in that myth and traveled around the world to find portraits and manuscript.
Once, Cem received a strange letter from a man called Enver, who claims to be his son, but did not answer on it. Later he decided to go to the town of his past, to see what has changed and to look on the place where he and his master worked. That trip has ended with his death.
That is why, the third part of the novel is told by Red-Haired Woman. The woman try to shine all the brighter against such a dull background.
The subject of this story author thought about 30 years. In the 1988, an old man and a teenager were digging a well near Pamuk’s summer house.
“The old master was both teaching and shouting at the boy and, very tenderly, protecting and caring about him. This I saw every day as I went at night downtown. Their relationship moved me, perhaps because I was raised by a father who was not around too much and who never tried to control me. In fact, that’s how my father was—did not know much about me.” (Chotiner, 2017)
Orhan Pamuk is the recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature and Turkish author of numerous of novels such as “My Name Is Red” and “Snow”. The author was studying architecture, but after three years dropped out and enrolled in journalistic course. At the age of 22 Pamuk started writing his first novel “Cevdet Bey and Sons”, and years later wrote “Istanbul”. A good day for author is when one page is written well (Pamuk, 2020). In his autobiography Orhan Pamuk wrote:
“Those who know me well understand how dependent I am on writing, tables, pens, and white paper, but they still urge me to ‘take a bit of time off, do some travelling, enjoy life!’ Those who know me even better understand that my greatest happiness is writing, so they tell me that nothing that keeps me far from writing, paper, and ink will ever do me any good” (Pamuk, 2020).
The books of Orhan Pamuk has been translated for 55 languages, nevertheless in Turkey his books are not so popular. Orhan wrote that the hardest thing was to find a Turkish publisher for his first novel, what took a four year for him (Pamuk, 2020). This is because of Muslim fundamentalism, which is not liked by the author. However, the writer also does not want his work were described as bridging East and West. Because he do not write his books to explain his country to others, but for more deeper reasons. The same the writer says about “being an Istanbul writer” (Chotiner, 2017). In his interview Pamuk states:
“No, I was writing about people I know, like all the authors, but then yes, I was writing about humanity, but yes I came across humanity in Istanbul and indirectly I’m an Istanbul writer” (Chotiner, 2017).
To sum up, Orhan Pamuk is one of the best writer in 20th century. When he started writing, he was not a politic person, but later he became known with people outside the Turkey, and started ask political questions and acted for humans rights. Pamuk has been criticized and even prosecuted by the Turkish government for speaking out in favor of freedom of expression and calling attention to the Armenian genocide and the Turkish treatment of the Kurds (Chotiner, 2017). What about “The Red-Haired Woman”, it is a marvelous piece of craft I had a pleasure to read. Reading one story I received several short tales more. This novel will not left people indifferent. The motif runs through the story and reader understand that “nobody can escape their fate” (Pamuk, 2017). This work include metaphysics and philosophy in it, shows the clash between past and nowadays and keeps in tense all the time. I would like to finish with author’s words about his novel:
“This new one, a short novel, but again about a change, a poetic change and also about generations, fathers and sons. In fact, this book, in 200 pages, comes to terms with three generations.” (Chotiner, 2017)