What an unusual and powerful book. I’m still thinking about it weeks (and several other books) later.
I never imagined that a book written with so many understatements brief acerbic sentences, along with generous use of the “F” word, would convey so much in such an engrossing way from page one.
Unlike some reviewers I encountered online, I believe that the central idea of the book is not really about the relationship between the two main characters, Benson and Mike. The book highlights how much working out your own identity and your relationship with your parents / your parents’ perspective, is needed in order to form your own long-term, stable relationships.
The book begins with an unusual situation that draws you right in – I just wanted to know more! The morning immediately after Mike, (a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant in Houston) brings his mother (who just arrived from Tokyo) home, he flies to Japan to look for his estranged father who is dying. This means that Mike has left his stunned mother and his lover Benson ( a Black daycare teacher with a knack for reaching out to “troubled” kids) alone together in their small Houston apt…
This is a VERY special book – absolutely fascinating.
I’ve read other books by Pamuk and found them interesting but this one is “an experience”.
Be warned that it’s a “slow read”. Oddly enough this is not because the plot advances very slowly (though I admit, the book could have been a bit shorter…) but rather due to the fact that there are so many important details and an abundance of characters. The reader needs to stop and take it all in!
Mind you – characters are not limited to human beings in this book. I never imagined a coin or a drawing could be so alive!
The story takes place in 1591, in the Ottoman Empire. While it is a “whodunnit” murder mystery, the book vividly presents the tension between East & West as expressed through the role of art and artists. The complexity of finding the balance between artistic freedom and religion, of the desire to create vs the need to do things as they have always been done, how art reflects the relationship between God and humans.
One of my favorite parts was the presentation of what dreams are good for and how to use them!
Pamuk doesn’t glorify the past – life expectancy in those days sounds short and violent…
In short – read this book when you have time to savor each detail and let it take you on its journey.