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Turkish Nobel Prize-winning novelist and writer Orhan Pamuk was mobbed by fans at the end of his interview with His Excellency Omar Ghobash, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to France. Eager fans quickly surrounded him on stage at the opening evening of the Sharjah International Book Fair demonstrating how much interest there is in a writer whose work looks at the tensions between Islam and the West, secularism and religion, Eastern and Western perceptions of art and the clash between individualism and community.
On individualism he noted that some societies “put it on a pedestal and value the individual more than the communal, while with others it is the reverse”. He seems to like to be the individual observer, standing apart, “and though other people see the same things, they can’t communicate it – that is the role of the writer”.
He thinks statements about the death of the novel are wide of the mark and cites the amount of novels coming out of Asia and China in particular, and an increase in Turkey too. “With digital books and the Net, everyone is writing a novel now. And people are reading more now. In fact, I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the Turkish government. The television has so much propaganda on it now, and most of the newspapers are run by the state, so that people are ignoring both and they are reading more books.”
Asked him if it was always right “to speak truth to power” Pamuk replied: “I’ve had my problems in the past and been taken to court. I think you can’t say everything you want all the time. You can say the truth as much as you can, but there has to be a balance”.
He described writing a novel as like imagining a tree. “You cannot see a whole tree straightaway. You have to say ‘there is the trunk, there are some branches and here are some leaves’. It is like that writing a novel – it takes shape as you go along. Having said that I am not like other writers –I am a great planner. I think this stems from my family background where we had so many engineers”.
Finally, he was asked why he writes. “I write because I feel an innate need,” he said. “I write because I can’t do normal work; I write because I believe in literature; I write because I believe in the art of the novel; I write to understand why I am so angry at all of your; I write to turn life’s beauty into richness and words; and I write because it makes me happy”.