This is the fourth book which I have read by Orhan Pamuk. Previously, I read “Snow”, “My Name is Red” and “Istanbul: Memories of a City”. All four have been quite different. My favourite by far has been “Istanbul: Memories and the City” by Orhan Pamuk
The first page of this book opens with lots of quotes comparing Pamuk with other authors. “Comparisons with Kafka and Calvino do not exaggerate;” (The Independent), “He has earned the right to comparisons with Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino” (New York Times), or “…draws comparisons to Salman Rushdie and Don DeLillo” (Publishers Weekly). I don’t find this helpful, I think Pamuk has a unique voice, and whilst I love Kafka, I don’t like DeLillo, Calvino or Rushdie and I’m not yet acquainted with the works of Borges.
The White Castle is the story of a young Venetian scholar, sailing to Naples, who is taken prisoner by the Turks and delivered to Constantinople (Istanbul). The Venetian scholar is our unreliable narrator. In Constantinople he meets with Hoja, who bears an uncanny resemblance to him, “The resemblance between myself and the man who entered the room was incredible! It was me there…”. Together they put on a firework display, which impresses the Pasha. Hoja wants to know all about the Venetian Scholar’s learning. Hoja is continually ranting about the foolishness of his fellow Turks, even the Pasha and the Sultan.
The plot isn’t particularly involving more interesting is how the identities of the two scholars meld together, so it is difficult to distinguish between the two. Together they build a complex weapon for the Sultan, much in the style of Da Vinci’s drawings of complex fighting machines. The weapon is heavy and more dangerous to its operators than their foes and eventually ends up mired in a swamp.
A lot of the action is over their work table as they reveal their intimate secrets to each other and argue at length. The two characters may be representative of the duality of the Turkish nation caught between East and West and of the city of Constantinople (Istanbul) which bridges the two cultures.
My rating 3 out of 5