A few months ago I was excited to see what I thought was Orhan Pamuk‘s new book, Silent House. I later learned that Silent House wasn’t a new book. It’s actually the second book Pamuk ever wrote, but was just recently translated to English.
In Silent House, the story of a Turkish family slowly unfold, told from the perspectives of 5 different characters. The story starts when Nilgun, Faruk, and Metin Darvinoglu drive from Istanbul to their grandmother Fatma’s house in Cennethisar, a small seaside village outside Istanbul, one summer in the 1980’s.
Every chapter is told from the point of view of a different character, and from their narration, which is mostly stream of consciousness, readers get a glimpse of the lives of 3 generations of the Darvinoglu family, as well as historical, political, and cultural changes in the country.
Chapters of the novel are told from the point of view of Fatma, or Grandmother, the matriarch of the Darvinoglu family who lives in the stone house with her servant, Recep, who is also one of the narrators; Faruk, Fatma’s eldest grandchild, a university teacher and historian; Metin, Faruk’s younger brother, a high school student who shuns capitalism, yet secretly yearns to be among the moneyed families; and Hasan, Receps nephew who is a fervent member of the rising Nationalist gangs.
Fatma’s narration focuses mostly on her life before and after she marries her husband, Selahattin, a doctor obsessed with scientific discoveries and its power to move Turkey forward and away from its superstitious cultural beliefs. Fatma’s narration jumps from past to present and back to the past as she remembers the wrongs done to her by her late “insane” husband, her useless son, and her sneaky servant who she thinks is always plotting against her.
Hasan’s, Faruk’s, and Metin’s narration are all set in the present and during their week-long visit to Cennethisar. Faruk spends his days researching the government archives for interesting stories throughout history which he can use to write a book and make a name for himself as a serious historian; Metin spends his days hanging out with his wealthy friends, pretending to hate their shallow, meaningless lives; while Hasan rebels against his father’s wishes to get an education, and goes around instead with Nationalist gangs terrorizing and vandalizing the community. Recep’s narration, aside from short trips back to the past and of his childhood, focuses mostly on the present and his responsibilities in the Darvinoglu household.
Apart from the events that take place while the 3 Darvinoglu grandchildren visit their grandmother, Silent House does not have much of a plot, and focuses more on the internal thoughts of the different characters. And because it is mostly stream of consciousness, which imitate the unstructured flow of a person’s mind, it is at times confusing and hard to follow. Through each character’s thoughts, family secrets, hidden desires, wishes, and dreams are revealed – and though their thoughts and desires are not always reflected by their actions, some, have terrible, shocking consequences.
Silent House (2012 in English) – Orhan Pamuk
Faber and Faber; 402 pages
Personal rating: 2.5/5