Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk pens plague story in new novel
Nobel prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk has published his latest book, “Veba Geceleri” (Nights of Plague), in a timely arrival when the world can resonate with a plague outbreak on a fictional Ottoman island as it scrambles to end the unprecedented plague of the 21st century: The COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had been pondering about this novel for 40 years and have been writing it over the last four years,” Pamuk told daily Hürriyet in an interview.
When asked how he felt about the coincidental time of the coronavirus pandemic overlapping with the publishing of his book, Pamuk said he was “astonished.”
“The story of the novel was a world in which I thought people would not be interested. But all of a sudden, after the COVID-19 pandemic, people started living these first-hand, one that I was thinking in the novel. It was like, something you do secretly had shown up.”
The book, “Nights of Plague,” tells the stories of an Ottoman governor, a doctor and an army major, fighting a plague epidemic on a fictional Ottoman island called Minger.
“When the pandemic began [in 2020], I was in the U.S. for lectures. I flew back to Turkey. When I learnt the first coronavirus stories in Istanbul, I thought that those stories were like my stories in the novel,” he noted.
He, then, penned an article for the New York Times, where he said he had been writing a book about a pandemic for the last four years.
“After they published the article, publishing houses in more than 50 countries called and pressed me to finish the book as soon as possible,” he added.
When asked about the similarities and differences of the novel with the world today, he said, “My novel is scarier than today’s world.”
“In the world of 1901, only 5 percent of the population were literate. In today’s Turkey, that rate is 95. Some 75 percent of the people have access to the internet. So, today, we know things. Whatever happens in a neighborhood or the world, we learn that very quickly. This is a big difference between today’s world and the world in the novel.”
The novelist also stressed that he was inspired by three islands while he created the fictional Minger Island in his mind.
“Mainly Büyükada [the biggest island of Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands]. I always loved the feeling of a world in a void on Büyükada. I was inspired by the houses of Crete [Greece]. Also, the tininess of the Kastellorizo has always influenced me.”
Pamuk, 68, has received both doses of his COVID-19 vaccine.
“Getting the COVID-19 jabs changed my mood. That gave me strength and optimism. I moved away from the idea that I will die due to the pandemic,” he added.
The “Nights of Plague” are now on the shelves of bookshops, and Pamuk is already preparing to write his next book, telling a story close to his heart.
“I will write about an artist. The main character will resemble me and will be an Istanbul resident.”
Pamuk, born in 1952, is a recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is the author of the novels “Silent House,” “The Black Book,” “My Name is Red” and “The Museum of Innocence.” The sales of 13 million books in 63 languages has made him Turkey’s best-selling writer. He teaches writing and comparative literature at the U.S.’s Columbia University.