My Turkish Library

Orhan Pamuk, translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely

At the heart of my library is my father’s library. When I was seventeen or eighteen and began to devote most of my time to reading, I devoured the volumes my father kept in our sitting room as well as the ones I found in Istanbul’s bookshops. These were the days when, if I read a book from my father’s library and liked it, I would take it into my room and place it among my own books. My father, who was pleased to see his son reading, was also glad to see some of his books migrating to my library, and whenever he saw one of his old books on my bookshelf, he would tease me by saying, “Aha, I see this volume has been promoted to the upper echelons!”

In 1970, when I was eighteen, I—like all Turkish children with an interest in books—took to writing poetry. I was painting and studying architecture but the pleasure I took from both was fading away; by night I would smoke cigarettes and write poetry, which I hid from everyone. It was at this point that I read the poetry collections that my father (who had wanted to be a poet when he was young) kept on his shelves.

I loved the slender, faded volumes by poets who are known in Turkish letters as belonging to the First Wave (1940s and 1950s) and the Second Wave (1960s and 1970s); having read them, I liked to write poems in the same manner. The poets of the First Wave—Orhan Veli, Melih Cevdet, and Oktay R fat—are remembered by the name of the first poetry collection they published together—Garip, or Strange. They brought to modern Turkish poetry the language of the streets, exulting in its wit and refusing the formal conventions of the official language and the oppressive, authoritarian world they echoed. My father would sometimes open a first edition by one of these poets and entertain us with one or two of their droll and capricious poems, reading them out in a loud voice and adopting an air that led us to understand that literature was one of the wondrous treasures of life.

I was also inspired by the poets of the Second Wave, who took this innovative spirit into the next generation, bringing a narrative, expressionistic voice to poetry, and also bringing to their compositions a mixture of Dadaist, Surrealist, and ornamental motifs from time to time; when I read these now deceased poets (Cemal Süreya, Turgut Uyar, lhan Berk) I would be convinced that I could write as they did, rather in the way that someone viewing an abstract painting might be innocent enough to think he could do such a painting himself. Or rather, I was like an artist who, upon looking at a painting he admires, thinks he has figured out how it was done. In much the same way as that artist might rush back to his studio to prove …

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