I wanted to like this book because of the reams of good things I'd read about Pamuk's writing, and because I respect his integrity and courage as a person. How many are willing to be thrown into a Turkish jail in defense of free speech? That said, I found the novel hard going. Margaret Atwood in her review
of this book for the Times coined a term for a genre she calls the Male Labyrinth Novel (which I think could also include Ishiguro's "When We Were Orphans") in which an exiled, rootless, wandering protagonist prowls bleak city streets having encounters with various untrustworthy characters. The novel takes place in an uneasy climate of political instability; no one can state anything without prevarication for fear of spies (whether they be for the state, or for Islamicists), and the prevarications seem to extend even to the emotional states of the main characters. Every feeling is qualified by an undercurrent of its opposite. The interpretation and sincerity of every action is suspect. I found the indeterminacy exhausting. The slow pace of the novel was also a problem for me. For a while, I acclimated to it, and it was lulling to take my time, but eventually, I was restless to finish the book and leave it behind. The last criticism is of the writing. I just don't understand how everyone loves it. I found it very clunky. Could it be a translation issue? But I find it hard to believe all these encomiums are coming from people who read it in the original Turkish.
On the upside, the novel explores a lot of interesting issues about identity in a diaspora, about the struggle for the Middle East, and Turks in particular, to reach a working relationship with modernity, and I particularly enjoyed the doubling of many of the characters (Ka and Pamuk, Ipek and Kadife, Necip and Fazil), but then I always like those kinds of explorations. The novel could grow on me now that I've finished the actual struggle of reading it, but I dread to approach the other Pamuk on my bookshelf.