I wish I could have spent an entire evening with Orhan Pamuk! He is magnificent! But I did go to a presentation at the Aratani Theater last night in Los Angeles to hear him talk about his latest novel, The Museum of Innocence. I hate to namedrop but I must say I met Orhan briefly in Venice this summer while I was having coffee with Salman Rushdie. As it tends to happen when one meets a writer one admires, there was not much that I thought of saying after we were introduced, especially because at that point we were all standing and I was about to say good bye to Salman. Last night, while I looked up at the lectern where Pamuk stood reading, I was mad at myself for having allowed such an opportunity to pass, but anyhow, I won’t next time.
Orhan is a good looking man in a sort of elegant, intellectual way. He was dressed in a well cut suit and I was impressed by the way his soul seems to fit so well into his body. You know how some people’s souls end up in lesser bodies or bodies that do not match the lightness of being of their souls? That is not Pamuk’s case. Even his hands seem to have been designed to accompany his gestures. He began reading fragments from his novel, after a short introduction of its theme: LOVE. Love in its many manifestations. The first of these that he chose to read was pain, and the description he read was quite funny and poignant…nothing sentimental: it was more like a description of acid reflux or heartburn of the stomach. Anyone who has been in love can attest that this is true. Love and the stomach are intricately connected, it seems.
Pamuk speaks English with a very strong accent. I, who get so self-conscious about my accent, thanks in part to my husband’s unforgiving remarks about my public speaking missteps, realized how little a thick accent matters if what is being said is worth the effort of our concentration. Orhan read for about half an hour, interjecting vivacious or downright funny comments throughout. Then, he took a seat next to the interviewer designated for the evening, a young Iranian professor who teaches at Riverside, and who was very anxious to demonstrate he was no less smart than the writer.
It was during this period that Pamuk’s personality, wit, and assertiveness engaged and charmed the entire audience. I have rarely seen a writer who seemed as comfortable saying exactly what he thought. One could tell he was not trying to please anybody but simply being himself, which was very refreshing. Irony is a weapon he handles well but it is a kind of irony that is not mean or showoff, but exact, sharp and used in a wise and self-deprecatory way. He kept diffusing the prim Iranian professor’s attempts to bring out his erudition and involve him in an academic type of discussion. He stuck to his clear notion that being a writer does not make one neither a sage, nor a judge of people, but rather a compassionate observer of human nature.
Without any qualms, he answered questions from the public in a straightforward manner, dismissing the temptation to respond to those that attempted to place him as a political arbiter. He got obviously impatient with the notion that he could separate fact from fiction in his novels or that he could represent the “oppressed” as a statesman would pretend to do.
It was quite fantastic to watch, a sort of lesson on how to be fearlessly coherent and have the public persona and the verbal manifestation agree with what one writes.
Read more about Pamuk at: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-et-rutten21-2009oct21,0,5083231.story