Published by Knopf Canada
Publication date: October 9th 2012
Genres: Cultural, Fiction
It is the summer of 1980 and in a tall, dilapidated house in the seaside town of Cennethisar in Turkey, ninety-year-old Fatma awaits the arrival of her three grandchildren, Faruk, Nilgün, and Metin. She lives alone in this house with the exception of a manservant named Recep, whom readers will learn soon enough, is also the illegitimate son of her husband, Salâhattin, who passed away decades ago. They had settled in this town so Salâhattin could be the doctor but his rabid atheism and obsession with writing the world’s greatest, most complete encyclopedia means that her life was a series of increasing insults: being mocked for believing in God and sin, having her entire dowry of family jewels sold as there were no patients to finally being informed that the children of the kitchen servant are his and her jewels must support them as well.
Each chapter of Silent House is told by one of five characters: Fatma, Faruk, Recep, Metin, and Hasan, the son of Salâhattin’s other illegitimate child. He’s a high school dropout who’s recently taken up with a local group of nationalists, whose main fundraising tactics consist of harassing local merchants and extortion. Although he, Metin and Nilgün played together as children they no longer associate with each other, something that adds to Hasan’s feelings of inferiority and contribute to his increasing anger at his lot in life. Faruk is a historian, dreaming of writing great works but, instead, doing nothing more than drinking himself to death, in the footsteps left both by his grandfather and father. For Metin moving to America is all he wants as he believes there he will find his real self, a self he cannot seem to find in Turkey
“The thing I called me was like a box within a box; it was like there was always something else inside it, maybe if I kept looking I could finally find my real self and express it… “
The pervasive theme of the book is loneliness. With the exception of Fatma, only the men speak and yet, despite their thoughts pouring forth on every page, they yearn only for someone to talk to. Each overflows with unfulfilled dreams—for Metin and Hasan it is love for young women who show them no interest and for Faruk it is to write a great work. Recep provides the book’s only feeling of humanity and action. It is he who cooks and cleans and is the sole companion for the aged Fatma, despite her inhumanity towards him when he was a small child. His loneliness and longing reach off the page with a sad ache.
Silent House is a melancholic tale about failed dreams and lost hope. Within the Darvinoğlu family much is made of what will be and what they will do but there is nothing but inertia, confusion, and the slow decline through alcohol. The granddaughter, Nilgün, holds some promise as a closet Communist, in what are very tumultuous times in Turkey’s history, but her background makes her naïve and we see none of her thoughts. Rather she is acted upon, as opposed to acting. Author Orhan Pamuk does a poignant job of exploring the contradictory emotions of lassitude and turmoil, created when opposing values (Eastern vs. Western) clash. The young Hasan, one of the most conflicted characters, puts it best:
There are lots of things that do happen in life and lots that could, but you’re just left waiting for them. It seemed to me that those things I wanted were coming very slowly, and when they did happen it wasn’t the way I’d wanted and planned; they’d all taken too long, as if to annoy me, and then suddenly you’d look, and they’d have already passed.