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Silent House
Cover of Silent House
Silent House
Borrow Borrow

Never before published in English, Orhan Pamuk's second novel is the story of a Turkish family gathering in the shadow of the impending military coup of 1980.
In an old mansion in Cennethisar, a former fishing village near Istanbul, a widow, Fatma, awaits the annual summer visit of her grandchildren. She has lived in the village for decades, ever since her husband, an idealistic young doctor, ran afoul of the sultan's grand vizier and arrived to serve the poor fishermen. Now mostly bedridden, she is attended by her constant servant Recep, a dwarf—and the doctor's illegitimate son. Despite mutual dependency, there is no love lost between mistress and servant, who have very different recollections—and grievances—from the early years, before Cennethisar grew into a high-class resort surrounding the family house, now in shambles.
Though eagerly anticipated, Fatma's grandchildren bring little consolation. The eldest, Faruk, a dissipated historian, wallows in alcohol as he laments his inability to tell the story of the past from the kaleidoscopic pieces he finds in the local archive; his sensitive leftist sister, Nilgün, has yet to discover the real-life consequences of highminded politics; and Metin, a high school nerd, tries to keep up with the lifestyle of his spoiled society schoolmates while he fantasizes about going to America—an unaffordable dream unless he can persuade his grandmother to tear down her house.
But it is Recep's nephew Hasan, a high school dropout, lately fallen in with right-wing nationalists, who will draw the visiting family into the growing political cataclysm issuing from Turkey's tumultuous century-long struggle for modernity.
By turns deeply moving, hilarious, and terrifying, Silent House pulses with the special energy of a great writer's early work even as it offers beguiling evidence of the mature genius for which Orhan Pamuk would later be celebrated the world over.

Never before published in English, Orhan Pamuk's second novel is the story of a Turkish family gathering in the shadow of the impending military coup of 1980.
In an old mansion in Cennethisar, a former fishing village near Istanbul, a widow, Fatma, awaits the annual summer visit of her grandchildren. She has lived in the village for decades, ever since her husband, an idealistic young doctor, ran afoul of the sultan's grand vizier and arrived to serve the poor fishermen. Now mostly bedridden, she is attended by her constant servant Recep, a dwarf—and the doctor's illegitimate son. Despite mutual dependency, there is no love lost between mistress and servant, who have very different recollections—and grievances—from the early years, before Cennethisar grew into a high-class resort surrounding the family house, now in shambles.
Though eagerly anticipated, Fatma's grandchildren bring little consolation. The eldest, Faruk, a dissipated historian, wallows in alcohol as he laments his inability to tell the story of the past from the kaleidoscopic pieces he finds in the local archive; his sensitive leftist sister, Nilgün, has yet to discover the real-life consequences of highminded politics; and Metin, a high school nerd, tries to keep up with the lifestyle of his spoiled society schoolmates while he fantasizes about going to America—an unaffordable dream unless he can persuade his grandmother to tear down her house.
But it is Recep's nephew Hasan, a high school dropout, lately fallen in with right-wing nationalists, who will draw the visiting family into the growing political cataclysm issuing from Turkey's tumultuous century-long struggle for modernity.
By turns deeply moving, hilarious, and terrifying, Silent House pulses with the special energy of a great writer's early work even as it offers beguiling evidence of the mature genius for which Orhan Pamuk would later be celebrated the world over.

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  • From the book

    2
    Grandmother Waits in Bed

    I listen to him going down the stairs one by one. What does he do in the streets until all hours? I wonder. Don't think about it, Fatma, you'll only get disgusted. But still, I wonder. Did he shut the doors tight, that sneaky dwarf? He couldn't care less! He'll get right into bed to prove he's a born servant, snore all night long. Sleep that untroubled, carefree sleep of a servant, and leave me to the night. I think that sleep will come for me, too, and I'll forget, but I wait all alone and I realize that I'm waiting in vain.

    Selâhattin used to say that sleep is a chemical phenomenon, one day they'll discover its formula just as they discovered that H2O is the formula for water. Oh, not our fools, of course, unfortunately it'll be the Europeans again who find it, and then no one will have to put on funny pajamas and sleep between these useless sheets and under ridiculous flowered quilts and lie there until morning just because he's tired. At that time, all we'll have to do is put three drops from a bottle into a glass of water every evening and then drink it, and it will make us as fit and fresh as if we had just woken up in the morning from a deep sleep. Think of all the things we could do with those extra hours, Fatma, think of it!

    I don't have to think about it, Selâhattin, I know, I stare at the ceiling, I stare and stare and wait for some thought to carry me away, but it doesn't happen. If I could drink wine or raký, maybe I could sleep like you, but I don't want that kind of ugly sleep. You used to drink two bottles: I drink to clear my mind and relieve my exhaustion from working on the encyclopedia, Fatma, it's not for pleasure. Then you would doze off, snoring with your mouth open until the smell of raký would drive me away in disgust. Cold woman, poor thing, you're like ice, you have no spirit! If you had a glass now and again, you'd understand! Come on, have a drink, Fatma, I'm ordering you, don't you believe you have to do what your husband tells you. Of course, you believe it, that's what they taught you, well, then, I'm ordering you: Drink, let the sin be mine, come on, drink Fatma, set your mind free. It's your husband who wants it, come on, oh God! She's making me beg. I'm sick of this loneliness, please, Fatma, have one drink, or you'll be disobeying your husband.

    No, I won't fall for a lie in the form of a serpent. I never drank, except once. I was overcome with curiosity. When nobody at all was around. A taste like salt, lemon, and poison on the tip of my tongue. At that moment I was terrified. I was sorry. I rinsed my mouth out right away, I emptied out the glass and rinsed it over and over and I began to feel I would be dizzy. I sat down so I wouldn't fall on the floor, my God, I was afraid I would become an alcoholic like him, too, but nothing happened. Then I understood and relaxed. The devil couldn't get near me.

    I'm staring at the ceiling. I still can't get to sleep, might as well get up. I get up, open the shutter quietly, because the mosquitoes don't bother me. I peek out the shutters a little; the wind has died down, a still night. Even the fig tree isn't rustling. Recep's light is off. Just as I figured: right to sleep, since he has nothing to think about, the dwarf. Cook the food, do my little handful of laundry and the shopping, and even then he gets rotten peaches, and afterward, he prowls around the streets for hours.

    I can't see the sea but I think of how far it extends and how much farther it could go. The big, wide world! Noisy motorboats and those rowboats you get into with nothing on,...

About the Author-
  • ORHAN PAMUK won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His novel My Name Is Red won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His work has been translated into more than 50 languages. The author lives in Istanbul.

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Each of the five narrators in this excellent audio production admirably embodies the character he or she portrays, and two are outstanding. Juliet Mills, in a voice that suggests age as well as determination, elicits both sympathy and disgust for Fatma, the spiteful 90-year-old Hanin family matriarch who longs for the simplicity of her childhood. John Lee's measured baritone captures the infinite patience of the dwarf Recep, Fatma's man Friday, whose clear-eyed acceptance of the old woman and her three grandchildren (as well as his own illegitimate niece and nephews), nonetheless, leaves him powerless to stop their self- destructive behavior. This recent translation of Pamuk's novel, published in Turkish in 1983, unfolds largely through stream-of-consciousness and is admirably suited to audio. L.X. (c) AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 13, 2012
    In this first English publication of an early novel by the Nobel laureate, nonagenarian widow Fatma Darvinoglu lives in the eponymous house, a derelict villa in a seaside village near Istanbul. Bitter, sharp-tongued, and irritable, she arrived there as a teenage bride and endured the ensuing decades while her husband, Selahattin, sold off her jewelry to support his writing of a 48-volume encyclopedia intended to prove to his superstitious countrymen that God does not exist and that only by worshipping science could Turkey hope to achieve Westernized civilization. Their son, Dogan, an alcoholic like his father, died at 52, leaving three now adult children who have come to Cennethisar for their annual visit with grandmother. Faruk, the eldest, is a failed historian; Nilgun, his sister, is drawn to the Communist Party; adolescent Metin is jealous of his wealthy peers who drink immoderately and do drugs. The siblings are aware that the dwarf Recep, their grandmother’s servant, is also their uncle. Recep and his crippled brother, Ismail, were the product of Selahattin’s liaison with a servant. Ismail’s son, Hasan, a high school delinquent, has joined with nationalist thugs who frighten villagers. While Pamuk deftly suggests the political strife that roiled Turkish society before the 1980 coup, this narrative never achieves the richness and depth of his later work. All but one of the eight major characters are neurotic, self-pitying, resentful, contemptuous of others—even while they yearn to assuage their loneliness—and filled with grandiose dreams of what they’ll never achieve. Pamuk uses stream-of-consciousness to convey their inchoate thoughts, and he’s most effective when chronicling Hasan’s increasing mental instability. Pamuk’s belief that “istory’s nothing but a story” adds substance to what is otherwise a dispiriting tale. Agent: Andrew Wylie.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from December 24, 2012
    Nobel Prize–winner Pamuk’s spirited and spellbinding second novel, previously unpublished in English, follows a Turkish family as they come together in a fishing village outside Istanbul prior to a military coup in 1980. Narrated by a talented cast of performers, including Emrhys Cooper, John Lee, Jonathan Cowley, and Juliet Mills, this memorable audio edition proves to be an engaging production that will enchant listeners with its understated performances and superb pacing. Cooper and Lee are the true standouts, delivering stellar turns that resonate long after the final chapter. However, the entire cast is solid, its members boasting spot-on voices, dialects, and characterizations. This early work from Pamuk is brought to life—and fans will not be disappointed. A Knopf hardcover.

  • Francine Prose, New York Times Book Review "Inspired and impassioned...A microcosm of a country on the verge of a coup...Pamuk has a flattering faith in his reader' intelligence...The book [is] threaded through with ideas of history, religion, memory class and politics. But it never seems didactic because the reader comes to realize that these reflections are aspects of the inner life: plausible components of the characters' psyches. I was glad to be transported to a seaside town in Turkey, to meet this odd family and their neighbors, all of whom seem to be living in several places at once: in the present and the past, in history, in everyday reality and in the simultaneously limitless and constricted worlds of their own minds...The reading experience is so very pleasurable."
  • Michael David Lukas, San Francisco Chronicle "Luminous and stylistically inventive...energetic and exuberant...Silent House is a kind of literary time machine, allowing us to glimpse both the writer and his country at this crucial turning point...the novel brilliantly captures the disorder, nostalgia and hope of a society struggling with violence and self-definition."
  • Marie Arana, Washington Post "Propulsive...in this quiet unassuming way does a wrenching story unfold, until an unexpected and hair-raising turn...the author's most accessible novel to date...the work of a great engineer."
  • Alev Adil, The Independent (UK) "Gripping family saga...arresting and unforgettable...[Pamuk] speaks with great prescience, subtlety and sophistication. Silent House is both a highly readable fiction and an unsparing portrait of the Turkish intellectual class."
  • Shreekant Sambrani, Business Standard (India) "Spellbinding...luminous...rich in brooding memories of a bygone era but the experience is elevating rather than oppressive. The events and characters in this novel may belong to a particular region and time, but their angst is universal...That is a measure of the greatness of his craft, something one finds in Anton Chekov."
  • Mark Lawson, The Guardian (UK) "The beginnings of a great writer... Silent House illuminates the recent historical pressures, and 30 years on, the novel feels doubly prescient... A novelist prescient enough to publish [this] in 1983 proved himself fully deserving of the call from the Swedish Academy in 2006."
  • Jason Diamond, New York Observer "Impressive...It proves once and for all that Pamuk is truly one of the world's most versatile fiction writers, no matter the language in which he is read...Despite the specificity of the novel's setting, the characters' respective struggles are universal; they could be any family, anywhere, at any time."
  • Kirkus Reviews "Pamuk builds a multi-faceted panorama distinguished by his customary intellectual richness and breadth."
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