THE NEW LIFE by Orhan Pamuk
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A quirky and fascinating exercise in postmodernist metaphysics from the acclaimed Turkish author of The White Castle (1991) and The Black Book (1995). Its protagonist and narrator, Osman, is a young university student in Istanbul who, having seen a beautiful girl carrying a book one day, comes upon another copy, and discovers as he reads it that his life is instantly changed ("the world where I lived ceased to be mine, making me feel I have no domicile") and that he is compelled to follow wherever the book's spell leads him. He finds the girl (Janan, also a student) and joins her search for her missing lover Mehmet--another student, as it turns out, who has abandoned his studies and spends his days endlessly re-reading and hand-copying that very book, for "enthusiasts" who support his labors in order to possess the book themselves. Osman loses Janan, finds her, then loses her again for good following their failure to rescue Mehmet from his obsession. And Osman/Pamuk opens up level beyond level of meaning and implication, as he travels to various locales that seem to promise a solution to the mystery of the book (whose contents are never fully revealed) and its readers--most notably, the mansion of Mehmet's father Doctor Fine, a wealthy merchant, who believes his countrymen's infatuation with the book represents a denial of traditional Turkish culture resulting from a "Great Conspiracy" involving "agents of the CIA and Coca-Cola." Years later, having married and fathered a child, Osman learns more about the book's author and the disturbingly mundane sources of its inspiration--and, in a clever surprise delayed until the novel's last page, understands what the promised "new life" is and why he and others have sought it so eagerly. Intricate and teasing, this Borgesian chiaroscuro urbanely surveys the intermingling of East and West and adds a brilliant new chapter to Pamuk's ongoing investigation of the enigmas of individual and national identity.
Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-374-22129-4
Page count: 275pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1997


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