When I posted my partial review of Orhan Pamuk’s The New Life, I gave it a mediocre rating at best – the first 80 pages or so were difficult, dreamlike and vague. Pamuk pulled me through a tempest of his protagonist’s agonizing crisis of identity, entanglements with love, and on endless bus rides through the Turkish country side that were at once self-examining and self-destructive. Up until this point, the main character’s meditations and journeys seemed aimless and overwrought – but then details and meaning began to slowly weave their way into the plot, like paper fibers connecting fiction with reality.
The New Life‘s narrator is a young man of college age (his name a mystery until the very end), whose entire life is changed by simple act of reading a book – the world inside the book consumes the reality that our protagonist once knew, melting away his idenity and the direction of his life, leaving him frustrated and lost. Our man’s troubles are only compounded as he falls hopelessly in love with a girl who has also read the book, but who is already involved with someone else – the last shreds of a familiar world are torn away from Pamuk’s desolate hero when his love disappears, and he sets out into a bleary, strange world to find her.
But Pamuk’s character faces more than just his own existential suffering; as he travels to decaying towns he begins to see the slow invasion of Western goods, and perhaps Western thought. Pamuk shows the dark underside of globalisation, and the dilemma that manifests as its unstoppable force trickles into every last corner of the earth – is there a balance between fundamentalism and losing one’s cultural identity?
Pamuk’s novel, though it begins roughly, is a reckless, dangerous journey of introspection that is beautiful and sad. It paints a complex new perspective of youth in the Middle-East, and poses questions of our own personal meaning. Guaranteed to keep you up past midnight, reading in the dark.
A good book is something that reminds us of the whole world – Perhaps that’s how every book is, or what each and every book ought to be. – “Mehmet,” The New Life