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Silent House


Silent House

SILENT HOUSE vividly portrays the turmoil in Turkey during the time immediately prior to the government coup d’état of 1980. The author, then a brilliant young writer who will go on to win a Nobel Prize in literature in another 20 years, creates a troubled snapshot-in-time of an emerging nation grappling with the effects of westernization on an ancient culture.

His cast of characters features a 90-year old matriarch, Fatma, whose blurred and romantic memories date back to the caliphs and courts at the turn of the 20th century. She is attended by Recep, a middle-aged dwarf who is the bastard son of her late husband, a doctor, who was an historical scholar long since dead. Her husband and their late son spent their lives attempting to create an encyclopedia of knowledge of civilization in the new westernized Turkish language created when Ataturk overthrew the caliphs after World War I. Their grandchildren, both legitimate and illegitimate, will become reacquainted as the young people come to stay during the summer of 1979 at the crumbling house by a seaside resort city outside Istanbul.

"SILENT HOUSE vividly portrays the turmoil in Turkey during the time immediately prior to the government coup d’état of 1980."

The eldest grandson, Faruk, appears to be headed along the same self-destructive path of trying to make sense of Turkey’s complicated history. The younger grandchildren, in their teens and early 20s, seem bored yet entertained by the sybaritic lifestyles that separate them from their more traditional elders. Some have dreams of traveling to America for an education, while others are biding their time in school and living only in the present. The news of growing urban riots trickles down via newspapers but seems to have little effect on the bored young Turks partying in the resort town.

There are some --- like Hasan, Recep's nephew --- who have grown up in squalor, relegated by a caste system that determines at an early age whether a young person will go on to college or end up in a trade. Hasan struggles with his studies, prodded by his uncle to study for his upcoming tests so he can break out of a pre-determined dead-end future. He watches his more affluent cousins with growing resentment and envy, and begins to stalk the privileged and beautiful visiting cousin with whom he played as a child in the servant’s quarters. The seeds of rebellion swelling in the nation begin to take root as Hasan lurks on the outside looking in and is gradually drawn toward a nationalist gang bent on overthrowing the government.

Orhan Pamuk breaks the standard rules of novel construction, not an unusual approach in Turkish film and literature. Each of his characters (and there are many) narrates their point of view in the first person, so that the confusion and struggle each experiences serves to portray the turbulence of a culture in revolution against itself. The stream-of-consciousness narration of the grandmother living in two centuries in her slowly deteriorating mind contrasts sharply with the focused dutiful thoughts of her servant, Recep, who has accepted his lot in life. Faruk, who inherited the searching scientific mind of his father and grandfather, is so confused in his compulsion to try to meld ancient history and current events that he is driven to lassitude through alcohol and desperation.

SILENT HOUSE stands as a harbinger of current events as more Middle Eastern countries engage in uprisings to change their ancient cultures. The story coincides with the Iranian uprising in 1979. It shines a dazzling light on a turbulent time on the cusp of civil war during the complicated history of the Middle East early in the throes of blending East and West. It also reflects the brilliance of an emerging important writer. SILENT HOUSE was first published in 1983, but has been translated into English for the first time. Pamuk has since published several novels that have been translated into more than 60 languages and has earned many prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize for literature in 2006.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on October 26, 2012

Silent House
by Orhan Pamuk

  • Publication Date: July 2, 2013
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0307744833
  • ISBN-13: 9780307744838