The Red-Haired Woman | Orhan Pamuk #ReadtheNobels

I had wanted to be a writer. But after the events I am about to describe, I studied engineering geology and became a building contractor.

This was my first Orhan Pamuk. I had fairly high expectations. To say I was underwhelmed is an understatement.

We start with a young man, fatherless for all intents and purposes, for most of his teen years, who is taken on by a well-digger over the summer so he can make money before going to ‘cram school’. There’s some interesting stuff about how to dig a well by hand, but a large part is young Cem fantasizing about the mysterious red-haired woman in the nearby town of Öngören.

I spent this entire section rolling my eyes at this tired male fantasy trope. How many books do we need about a young man losing his virginity to an older, experienced and alluring mystery woman? I only kept going because of Lisa’s positive review.

A third of the way in, the story finally settles when a rather shocking and life changing incident occurs. Yes, it’s another well-worn trope to use a moral and ethical dilemma that we all know will the haunt our protagonist for the rest of his life, but this one didn’t annoy me as much as the first.

The how, what, when and where became the rest of the story.

Wrapped up in Cem’s story were two ancient stories about fathers and son. The first was the well-known story of Oedipus, a mythical Greek hero who accidentally fulfils a prophecy by killing his father and marrying his mother. The second story was not as familiar to me – the story of Sohrab, a Persian warrior who was killed unknowingly by his father, Rostam, in a duel.

This meant that there were no surprises for the reader at the end. It was all about how we got there.

Ultimately I was disappointed. There was nothing subtle about Pamuk’s story, he laid it all out in front of the reader, leaving us nothing to do but go along for the ride. I read this a couple of weeks ago, and have forgotten most of the details already.

Given my long term Reading the Nobels plans, which Pamuk should I try next to get a better example of his style?

Title: The Red-Haired Woman (original title Kırmızı Saçlı Kadın)
Author: Orhan Pamuk
Translator: Ekin Oklap
ISBN: 9781926428826
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
Published: 28 August 2017 (originally published in Turkish 2016)
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 255
  • This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.

22 thoughts on “The Red-Haired Woman | Orhan Pamuk #ReadtheNobels

  1. Yikes! This does sound like one we could pass. And yes, such cliches. The story of Rustam and Soharab is a by word among the folktales in the East, which makes it even more cliched and weird. Almost like Pamuk is trying to write with an audience in mind and cater to them, which is very un-Pamuk. Like Lisa said, have you tried My Name is Red? That book is worthy of a read, atleast I feel it is worthy of a read 😀


    1. That’s interesting how common/cliched the Sohrab story is in the East because that’s how I felt about the Oedipus story, I had a real sense of ‘this has been done before’ – A LOT! And I don’t feel like he added anything new to the genre.

      My Name is Red is not (currently) on my TBR pile, but I will keep it in mind – thanks for the suggestion.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a shame. I absolutely love Orhan Pamuk, he is one of my favourite writers. Granted, The Red Haired Woman is not necessarily my favourite but I quite liked the combination of classic and modern, Eastern and Western literature . But that’s, of course, a matter of taste.

    As my pre-writers, Lisa and Cirtnecce have already mentioned, I definitely recommend My Name is Red.

    I also really liked Istanbul, Memories of a City. That’s non-fiction.


      1. I hope you find some of his other books as great as I did. But maybe he is not for you. That happens. I love to read Nobel Prize winners (though I knew him before he was awarded the prize) but there are a few that I didn’t enjoy, either.


  3. I’d heard mixed things about this & hadn’t tried it, but our ‘hero’ mooning about over some unattainable perfect woman happens elsewhere in Pamuk. Stay away from Museum of Innocence. 😉

    My favorite of the novels I’ve read is Snow, which has a bit of that, but also has quite an interesting political dimension. I liked My Name is Red, but it did feel a little draggy in places if you think of it as a mystery. But my favorite of his, which I liked a lot, is his non-fiction book Istanbul: Memories and the City.


    1. Istanbul is the one I have the highest hopes for, I confess…and it is also on my TBR pile. As is Museum of Innocence and A Strangeness in My Mind.
      Reading a few of the blurbs on Goodreads though, I see what you mean about his penchant for heroes mooning over lost/impossible/unattainable loves. At least I am now better prepared!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I am also so tired of that male fantasy trope. I read My Name is Red years ago and can’t remember much about it now, but I did mean to revisit Pamuk. This might not be the place for me to start though… I hope you enjoy your next Pamuk if you give him another chance!


  5. I’ve read Snow – I remember all those variations on kar (Turkish for snow) – but sorry, even re-reading the plot I couldn’t remember much about it. The WA library system don’t have Pamuk in BorrowBox so it might be a while before I read another.


    1. Sadly that does seem to be the trend developing for his books on this thread – forgettable!
      I checked my TBR after writing this post, and have three more Pamuk’s on my shelves, so I will at least give them a go.
      I believe the Inuit also have many words to describe snow.


      1. My idea of his writing is that language and ideas are more important than story. That might end up seeming as though he writes “forgettable” stories whereas it could be that readers have a harder time remembering expression and structure that might be admirable than if his books had more plot and story? I’ve borrowed him from the library a couple of times, but never felt that I had the right focus for what seemed to be a rather dense prose style.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I have not read anything by Pamuk, but will not start with this one. I am fascinated with Istanbul, so may go for that one.


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