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Book Review: Other Colors: Essays and a Story by Orhan Pamuk

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Other Colors: Essays and a Story, provides a generous look into the life of a writer, from  Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk.

The book's compelling narrative offers "images and fragments of life that still have not found their way into one of my novels," says Pamuk, proving how close his fiction is to truth, and how much good storytelling is based on reality.

In Other Colors, Pamuk opens his heart to his fond readers in such a remarkable way. How can this be? One of the best thing I've ever read was his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, yet he wouldn't have won that prize for literature on the basis of the speech he was about to give. No, it is fiction that is his love. It is the thing, he says that "binds him to life." His gentle essays provide much comfort to fellow writers as he speaks with longing of his beloved second world – that of a writer in pre-dawn hours, alone in the quiet.

The autobiographical writings in Other Colors are stirring and honest. It provides an interior monologue of his career as a writer, a father, a son. Many of these lyrical essays offer a portrait of life in Turkey in the late 1990s, the political strife and difficulties experienced by most of Istanbul's ten million inhabitants. Pamuk's late-night ruminations reveal the sacrifices made by dedicated writers, even in a troubled country. "Because, as you can see, writing — if you are happy with it — undoes all sorrows."

The book includes some of the most thoughtful commentary and interpretation of great writers' work. Reviews of familiar names, such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Victor Hugo, Albert Camus, and Mario Vargas Llosa, read as easily as Pamuk's more playful essay "Nine Notes on Book Covers."

In this diverse collection of writings Pamuk contemplates both writer and reader. "There is no such thing as an ideal reader unencumbered by social prohibitions and national myths," he says, "just as there is no such thing as an ideal novelist. But — be he national or international — it is the ideal reader for whom all novelists write, first by imagining him into being, and then by writing books with him in mind."

For fiction writers, reading these essays, observing the great care and passion Pamuk puts into his story-telling, helps us understand what it means to be a writer.

    As I sit at my table, for days, months, years, slowly adding words to empty pages, I feel as if I were bringing into being that other person inside me, in the same way that one might build a bridge or a dome, stone by stone. As we hold words in our hands, like stones, sensing the ways in which each is connected to the others, looking at them sometimes from afar, sometimes from very close, caressing them with our fingers and the tips of our pens, weighing them, moving them around, year in and year out, patiently and hopefully, we create new worlds.

When this 400 page book of essays reaches the end, we are not disappointed. Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and Other Colors concludes with the text of his Nobel Lecture delivered in Stockholm. How fitting to mark the end of this collection with his speech, entitled: "My Father's Suitcase." In it, Pamuk reflects on what it means to be a writer and he works his craft to an impeccable level of skill, captivating us with the mysteries encased in his father's lifetime of notebooks left at his feet.

"I am now going to speak of the meaning of that weight: that weight is what a person creates when he shuts himself up in a room and sits down at a table or retires to a corner to express his thoughts – that is, the weight of literature."

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