The Red-Haired Woman

The last book I read is The Read-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk is the first Turkish writer to receive a Nobel Prize in literature. So far, I have read four of his works: The Black Book, Istanbul: Memoirs of a City, Snow and his latest work The Red-Haired Woman. He captures the Turkish spirit with his unique writing style, which is very intricate, sophisticated and mysterious like an oriental rug, handwoven with an abundance of delicate words and sentences that come together to create an overwhelming and beautiful whole.

I found The Red-Haired Woman distinctly different in style than The Black Book and Istanbul. The language is much less intricate and the symbolism more straightforward. In the typical Pamukian manner, there is a smorgasbord of different universal themes to choose from.  Inspired by the Greek tragedy Oedipus and the Iranian legend Shahname by Firdevsi, the main themes of the novel are: Are we predestined to our fate or do we create it ourselves? Father-son relationships, mother-son relationships, is it possible to escape one’s past? Pursuit of happiness, faith, hope…..

My favorite part of the novel is where the protagonist Cem becomes an apprentice of Master Mahmut Usta and spends his summer holiday digging wells in the imaginary town of Öngören. I absolutely love the simple but powerful symbolism of well-digging, where the pursuit of water becomes the pursuit of our dreams and happiness. Mahmut Usta’s faith is amazing. Pamuk’s depictions of the well-digging and his portrayal of Cem, Ali and Mahmut Usta are masterly. Personally, I found themes of pursuit of happiness and hope more interesting and original than the Oedipus comparison, which I think seem a little forced.

For me the strength of the novel is also its weakness. The richness of themes and the cleverness with which they are interwoven in the story has become a pitfall, where the reader is left to figure out what the story is really about.

The last chapter that is narrated by the red-haired woman herself is a brilliant piece of prose. It brings perspective and clarity to the multiple events and themes introduced to the reader.

If you have never read Pamuk before and are curious, this novel would be a good start. Though, if you really want to get under the skin of Pamuk, you must read his masterpieces The Black Book and Istanbul, which are both translated into several languages.