Photo © Hurriyet Daily News.

Elise Bellin, Librarian of the Islamic Resource Center, wrote this book review as part of an ongoing series that focuses on a range of books within the IRC collection as a service to the community.

The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk (2006)
ISBN: 9780571326099

Set in Istanbul amidst major political and cultural changes that affect every one of its denizens, a small-time lawyer, Galip, returns home after a long day’s work to find his wife, Ruya, has vanished seemingly without a trace. To find her, Galip must immerse himself in her life and the life of her mysterious older half-brother journalist involved in political intrigue. Thus begins Orhan Pamuk’s unconventional mystery which parallels the dangerous and thrilling journey Galip must take with the Sufi path to enlightenment and quest for self. As the story and main character transform along the way, we are brought deeper into a surrealist’s idea of a classic detective noir mystery.

As is often the case with Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, a significant portion of the story also has a political dimension, acting simultaneously to provide running political commentary on Turkish society as well as both internal and external battles between East and West throughout the ages. The esoteric political meanderings might seem a bit adrift in a mystery noir, and to an extent, it might lose some of its readers in doing so, but it serves to give an additional dimension to the occasionally convoluted dream-like path that our protagonist, Galip, takes toward solving the mystery of his missing wife and her equally missing half-brother.

As referenced earlier, Orhan Pamuk is the winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Fiction. Pamuk has written numerous books and his works have been translated into dozens of languages. This story is no different. As with any translation, some qualities of the work just doesn’t translate fully into English, so some concepts might not be as completely realized in the English version. Regardless of the issues at hand, Pamuk remains a master storyteller in any language. If a swirling of the metaphysical and realism is your style, you might just want to check out Pamuk’s mystery, The Black Book.