The New Life – A Metaphysical thriller from Orhan Pamuk
Orhan Pamuk entered the post-modern writing, with The White Castle. He established himself firmly into it with The New Life.
As the title suggests it’s a symbolical journey of a nation into the modern era, an era free of religious fanaticism. The narrator, Osman, runs away with the heroine, Janan, after reading a life transforming book, The New Life. Yes! There are a lot of self-references in Pamuk’s works!
The book promises a new life which will give voice to the new generation. Naturally the Kemalists, the Communists and most zealously, the Islamists are against them and trying to kill them. That is why Osman and Janan are trying to flee the religious fundamentalists. Janan loved Mehmet who was shot at by the Islamists but escaped. These Islamists are against everything produced by the West, including Coca-Cola. According to them there is a Great Conspiracy which aims to undermine the Islamic culture and destroy it at last. This is the reason the Islamists are against the books and everything printed, as they are the mass producers and carriers of the Great Conspiracy. According to them, watches and guns are the only two useful products ever invented by the West.
They go on a surreal and violent bus journey which at last has a horrible accident. In a surrealistic scene they see headless bodies and severed limbs, but the TV screen is intact and the hero kisses the heroine long. They reach the house of Mehmet’s father, who himself is against everything new. The book drifts off into more dreamy scenes and the protagonist tries to find the real writer and the real meaning of the book, The New Life.
This is a post-modern piece and is a hard read. The New Life is a Borges’ story extended to a novel, as put by D. M. Thomas. No matter how zealously postmodernists argue in favor of post-modern writing and the inevitability of it, it is not easy to go through it and no matter how confused and disillusioned the modern psyche maybe, most of the readers still love a good story. This is the reason most Hollywood movies are still rooted in the ‘old fashioned’ way of a good story and engaging action. This is the reason that now-a-days, thriller writers like Dan Brown sell far better than ‘literary’ authors. Everyone can enter the world of Khaled Hosseini. It is so accessible and comprehensible, but in order to read a post-modernist story of Borges, you have to be in a certain frame of mind, certain mood, which is very hard to induce and may never be induced by itself. With Borges, however, the reader has to remain in that idiosyncratic world for just a few minutes; while with writers like Pamuk you have to keep the pace for more than three hundred pages. The New Life is a metaphysical thriller which makes it a hard read.
What kept my attention is the struggle of Islam and the West, a topic in which I am immensely interested. Pamuk is a diligent student of history. The New Life, like other of his novels, is littered with cultural, political and religious references which are very relevant to the debate of Islamization vs. Westernization. This is what makes it a compelling read for me. This is what kept my attention to the book. If not for those stray references about, Islam, the Quran, the Prophet, Kemal Ataturk and the West, I would have left this book unread or drifted off to sleep in one of those metaphysical, surreal passages of gore and death.