The Red Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk – Book Review

Pamuk is an award-winning writer and since I had not read any of his books earlier, I thought I will start with his latest work called the The Red Haired Woman. I had a lot of expectations from this book and maybe it was because his earlier work was highly appreciated.

Blurb –

On the outskirts of a town thirty miles from Istanbul, a master well digger and his young apprentice are hired to find water on a barren plain. As they struggle in the summer heat, excavating without luck meter by meter, the two will develop a filial bond neither has known before–not the poor middle-aged bachelor nor the middle-class boy whose father disappeared after being arrested for politically subversive activities. The pair will come to depend on each other and exchange stories reflecting disparate views of the world. But in the nearby town, where they buy provisions and take their evening break, the boy will find an irresistible diversion. The Red-Haired Woman, an alluring member of a travelling theatre company, catches his eye and seems as fascinated by him as he is by her. The young man’s wildest dream will be realised, but, when in his distraction a horrible accident befalls the well digger, the boy will flee, returning to Istanbul. Only years later will he discover whether he was in fact responsible for his master’s death and who the redheaded enchantress was.

A beguiling mystery tale of family and romance, of east and west, tradition and modernity, by one of the great storytellers of our time.

Translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap


My Review –

This is a story about Cem Celik, who is a high school student and to earn some money and to make the best of his time before joining university starts to working as an apprentice to a well digger called Master Mahmut, in Ongoren in the 1980s. For him Master Mahmut takes the place of his father who abandoned him and his mother when he was young.

He falls in love with a beautiful red-haired woman who is much older than him and was a part of the theatre group who was currently performing at Ongoren.

The book compares two ancient myths, Sophocle’s Oedipus Rex and Ferdowsi’s story of Rostam and Sohrab. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus marries his mother and kills his father as he was unaware of the facts but when he realises the truth he is shattered. Likewise in Ferdowsi’s story of Rostam and Sohrab, Rostam meets his son, Sohrab, on a battlefield and kills him to maintain his reputation. Rostam later realizes that Sohrab was his son.

This story also revolves around different types of fathers, one who abandons his son, one who becomes like a father and one who doesn’t know he has a son.

The book talks about the differences between the values of east and west. There is also confusion of identity and belonging.

I felt that in the quest to explain about both the epics, the book seems more like a lecture than a novel in a lot of portions. There is a lot of explanations of the epics which did more harm than good in my view.

Overall, I enjoyed the book apart from the lengthy explanations. I will read the other novels by Orhan Pamuk as I feel that I will really like them, especially Snow and The Museum of Innocence.

I will rate it a 3/5. If you are reading Orhan Pamuk books for the first time, you should read his other work before you read The Red Haired Woman.

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