Monday, October 03, 2005

The Nobel Prize in Literature (Updated)

MorrisonThis week marks the start of the Nobel Prize season. I used to be extremely fascinated by the Nobel Prizes when I was younger, and always wondered what the winners in the various categories--physiology or medicine, chemistry, physics, literature, peace, and economics--had achieved to earn such a prestigious honor, and though my fascination has waned, residual interest in the Prizes overall persists. For example, today's winners for the Physiology or Medicine Prize discovered helicobacter pylori, the corkscrew-like bacterium that is the chief co-factor in stomach and intestinal ulcers. Some years ago, after I'd first read about their discovery in the newspaper and then a few days later in a magazine, I asked my mother, who was suffering from an ulcer and who works in the medical field, if she'd heard about the new treatment. She hadn't, but proposed it to her doctor, and she was soon cured of her ulcer. I thought it was such a simple, but revolutionary discovery, and testimony to what scientic inquiry, at its best, can achieve. Yet over the years, and increasingly in the last fifteen years, I've found that the chemistry and physics discoveries were, after the blurb and a paragraph or so of description, often too complex, sometimes verging on incomprehensible. (The femtochemistry discovery, however, still impresses me, and I wonder how long it'll be till the professor at Harvard who slowed light particles down until they were still will win the prize.) I've also tended to care less about the peace and economics prizes; the former often is awarded for what turn out to be chimeras and utopian efforts that, unfortunately fail (or go to the likes of Mother Teresa), while the other has most frequently gone to brilliant people who have no sense of how human beings behave--except as variables in rarefied mathematical models. James Tobin and Amartya Sen are notable exceptions who come swiftly to mind. I also distinctly recall my surprise in ninth grade at seeing in the local paper that a Black person--Sir Arthur Lewis, a St. Lucian--was a co-winner of the economics prize and taught at Princeton University. I don't think I believed that one even after reading it several times.

I was and am most interested in the Nobel Prizes for Literature. For much of my youth, I associated the Nobel Prize in Literature with "greatness"--it was the ultimate mark of it. But quickly I came to recognize that most of the greatest writers out there, especially non-Europeans, did not and would not win the prize, and that some of the winners (René Sully Prudhomme, Verner von Heidenstamm, Pearl S. Buck, Roger Martin du Gard, etc.--who? exactly!) weren't as interesting or accomplished--good--in any way, as writers that were generally considered to be "bad" or "mediocre." The Good Earth? Please. I also saw that some writers, like John Steinbeck and John Galsworthy, had fallen out of critical favor or had written some books that really weren't that good--though Steinbeck produced several masterpieces that continue to hold up. I also learned about the source of Nobel's wealth--talk about disillusionment!

Still, back then when I thought of the Nobel Prize in Literature, I envisioned the texts I'd read by and images of William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Mann, Eugene O'Neill, William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Hermann Hesse, Luigi Pirandello, Pablo Neruda, Eugenio Montale, André Gide, Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus, George Bernard Shaw, St.-John Perse, etc.. Most of these male figures were also the ones extolled as "geniuses" throughout my education; Eliot's "The Waste Land" was the paradigmatic avant-garde poem, his "Four Quartets" the signature testament of a return to faith; Yeats was one of the most passionate and lyrically inventive figures ever to grace English-language poetry, and
he got his second wind!; Faulkner and Hemingway were the stylistic poles around which every American writer had to navigate, and so on. The colonized mind....
But there were those "great" writers who'd never won a Nobel Prize, but who'd lived at least long enough to have gotten one, so what had happened? Why was there no award to James Joyce (how was this possible?), to Kafka, to Proust, to Woolf, to Henry James, to Valéry, to Brecht, to Cather, to Conrad, to Langston Hughes, to Cavafy, to Vallejo, to Roque fact, up till my teen years, only a few non-White, non-European writers had ever won the Nobel Prize: Neruda, of course, and Miguel Angel Asturias, and Gabriela Mistral, all Latin Americans, as well as the Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata (at left), whose startlingly spare and remarkably condensed work, which at its best still holds up, became a passion of mine for a short while. (I didn't know anything about the political or sexual orientations of writers, but Yeats appeared to have fascistic leanings, while Eliot's work was evidently extremely conservative. Gide, I fathomed, was the only openly homosexual--or quasi-homosexual--figure among the bunch; I hadn't yet learned about Mann's ephebophilic passions, Eliot's youthful queer and racialist fantasies....)

I think it was around the time I graduated from high school that the Nobel Prize winners really started to interest me. One year (1982?) Gabriel García Márquez, whom we'd recently read in one of my English classes, won, and he was under 60 years old. Then William Golding, whom we'd also read--The Lord of Flies; do junior high school English classes still assign that book?--received the prize. I felt like I knew these people--I certainly knew their work, and it was contemporary (unlike Eliot's, or Hemingway's, or Yeats's). Then, when I was in college, lo and behold, an African writer received the Nobel Prize! A sub-Saharan African--from Nigeria, Wole Soyinka! And while I'd never seen any of his plays, I'd actually found a book of his hermetic, stunning prison poems in the library, and was so giddy I ran around with it for weeks. After Soyinka, it seemed like a sea-change had taken place--there was Naguib Mafouz of Egypt (1988); Octavio Paz of Mexico (at right) (1990), whom I'd actually seen speak and read his work; Nadine Gordimer, another African writer, whose work I'd found in a used bookstore; and then, in 1992, the Mack himself, Derek Walcott, whom the Dark Room had actually convinced to read, for no money, at the house on Inman Street, just a few years before!
None of these picks was as astonishing or marvelous, I thought, as the one the next year: Toni Morrison. I remember being choked up when I heard that this woman, whose work I'd first come across as a child, who was from a small town in Ohio and went to Howard University, who'd written what I'd come to think was one of the finest novels in American literature (The Song of Solomon) and another that left me speechless at its brilliance (Beloved), a Black American woman who was still alive and still writing and one of my heroes and models--and a hero to almost every writer I knew; and who'd gotten my friend Eric canned when he pressed her for her autograph, on my behalf, just a few years earlier--who was so fierce that she reduced a querulous young woman to tears the night she, Morrison, received an award from the Unitarian-Universalists in Cambridge, whom I'd drawn a picture of and presented it to (does she still have it?), a writer who appeared to raise the hackles of male and non-Black critics with equal frequency--she'd just been awarded the Nobel Prize. It almost seemed unreal. And then, when the pettiness and nastiness of her harshest critics burbled up--"Maybe now she'll learn to write" (Charles Johnson)--it was clear what an achievement her honor really was. She'd won the Nobel Prize! This to me represented the high point of the Nobel committee's efforts. Yes, extraordinary writers before and since have won, writers who've produced more than Morrison, a lot more--how many novels did Halldor Laxness actually publish?--but this was, I thought, a daring choice. And the committee followed it up with several more: Japan's Kenzaburo Oe, who essentially writes variations on the same novel, about his mentally challenged son; Dario Fo, a left-leaning provocateur whose work really doesn't seem to be that great; Gao Xinjian, an obscure Chinese writer living in Paris (when there was the far better known and praised Bei Dao already living in exile in the west); José Saramago, the dazzling Portuguese Communist spinner of metaphysically profound yarns; and last year's winner, with her sexually provocative and formally disruptive texts, Elfriede Jelinek (below). Her novel The Piano Teacher, which I used to see sitting on store shelves for years, untouched, is even more disturbing than the film. Some of the choices have been less surprising: Seamus Heaney, a longtime canonical poet; the plaintive, plangent Polish lyricist Wislawa Szymborska; J. M. Coetzee, whose work up to the raw utterly strange and remarkable Elizabeth Costello struck me as Nobel-resuméish; V.S. Naipaul about whom I'll pass over in silence; and Günter Grass, who was going to win it if he lived long enough. (Jorge Luis Borges's politics, I gathered, kept a Nobel out of his hands, yet the Argentinian right, including the dictatorship, held him in abeyance as well.)

Though I have a much clearer picture these days of the national and international literary world, how people get published or not, how reputations are made (or not)--how the literary system works globally, and exceeds mere aesthetic considerations--I still believe the Nobel Prize is a significant award, and also feel that every writer who wants her or his work to last--and there are other reasons for writing too, which a writer may consider more important, like topicality, or advocacy, or play, etc.--should strive for the stars, push her or his work as far as it will go, even to the risk of failure--and then beyond--as if the Nobel Prize, or some exalted target of excellence, were the goal. I also have read several different books about the history and awards processes of the Nobel Prizes in literature; each of the works broke down the various political and ideological battles, prudery, and other shenanigans that have resulted in some of the bizarre choices, or non-choices, such as the one that kept Tolstoy from winning a prize while a mediocrity like Prudhomme was honored. A more recent book by a Swedish author and articles in the last few years have explored in detail the aesthetic and political bent, quirks and leanings of the members of the Swedish Academy, as well as the nomination and award system, which resulted in certain writers being overlooked completely, while others--Jaroslav Seifert???--were lauded. So I'm quite aware that objectivity isn't really operative (or possible), and that many exceptional writers, for a variety of reasons, may not be honored.
For the last few years, nevertheless, Reggie H. and I have tossed out our choices and expected winners--who we realize won't coincide--and usually the Swedish Academy has chosen someone else. Realizing that my bias tends towards American and English-language writers, and writers from the African Diaspora, whose work I know best, I still believe that top choices should be, based on the innovation, sustained excellence, and literary, cultural and aesthetic significance and impact of their work: Wilson Harris [at bottom] (Britain/Guyana), Jay Wright (US), Kamau Brathwaite (Barbados), Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe/US), John Ashbery (US), Adonis (Syria/Palestine), Assia Djébar (Algeria/US), Hélène Cixous (Algeria/France), Nuruddin Farah (Somalia), Juan Goytisolo (Spain/France), Duong Thu Huong (Vietnam), Alexander Kluge (Germany), Javier Marías (Spain), Harold Pinter (UK), Haruki Murakami (Japan), Luisa Valenzuela (Argentina), Adrienne Rich (USA), Ngugi (Kenya/US), Amos Oz and A. B. Yehoshua (Israel); Milan Kundera (Czech Rep./France), E. L. Doctorow (US), and Femi Osofisan (Nigeria). Two candidates who probably would have strongly been in the running are no longer eligible--August Wilson; Israeli Yehuda Amichai; German-British writer W. G. Sebald; and Chilean Roberto Bolaño, who passed away a few years ago. I also think it's tougher for poets, and other than Osofisan, I know very little about international dramatic arts, so there may be some very important playwrights I've totally overlooked. I haven't tossed this list of my usual suspects to Reggie H.; I imagine he agrees with some and not with others.
Adélia Prado
Taking into account the fact that often the Nobel committee follows a round-robin pattern with genres and continents, but prefers writers with centrist-to-leftist viewpoints, a few writers who probably are more likely to have the award bestowed upon them include David Malouf (Australia), who is one of the most highly regarded novelists in his country, a Booker Prize recipient, and winner of the Neustadt Prize for Literature a few years ago, which has gone to several Nobelists in advance of the Swedish prize; Les Murray, also of Australia; Carlos Fuentes, with whom I took a course in college, and whose work has always existed in the shadow of García Márquez's; Marías; Tom Stoppard and Ian McEwan, of Britain; Tomás Tranströmer, of Sweden; novelist Nélida Piñon of Brazil; French poet Yves Bonnefoy; poet Okot p'Bitek of Uganda; Israeli Yoel Hofmann; Roberto Sosa of Honduras; Caryl Phillips, of St. Kitts, the UK, and the US; Mavis Gallant of Canada and France; Alvaro Mutis of Colombia; Homero Aridjis of Mexico; Brazilian Adélia Prado (at right); late Cuban poet Heberto Padilla; Pramoedya Ananta Toer of Indonesia; and Muriel Spark, of Britain. Wilson HarrisLess likely is American Philip Roth, who, simply because he's American, will probably not win, especially given the horrorshow we have passing for a government, though one exposé a few years actually mentioned Roth as a favorite of one of the chief judges. And he is an extraordinary writer, of capacious skill and accomplishment. To have written one or two of his best books is a lifetime's achievement, but to have penned Portnoy's Complaint; Goodbye, Columbus; Operation Shylock; Sabbath's Theater; American Pastoral; and The Human Stain is beyond amazing, and one of the reasons he's the most highly decorated living fictionist in the US.

But who knows what the Swedish Academy has decided? The end of this week or early next will provide the answer.

UPDATE: According to an article I just came across (but which others probably have already seen) on Yahoo! News, "Nobel Literature Prize Date in Limbo," by AP writer Matt Moore, the Swedish Academy has decided to postpone its announcement of this year's laureate from Thursday, October 6, to the following Thursday, October 13.

Moore says that the postponement has led to speculation that the 18-member Swedish Academy, whose board includes noted poet Kjell Espmark, "may be locked in fierce debate as to who should take home this year's prize, which includes a $1.3 million prize, a gold medal and a diploma, along with a guaranteed boost in sales." Oh, the drama!

Moore's article also suggests that the leading candidates are Americans Joyce Carol Oates (why?) and Philip Roth,
Canadian Margaret Atwood, and Somalian Nuruddin Farah. Other writers considered strong favorites are Syrian/Palestinian poet Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said), mentioned above; Korean poet Ko Un; and Swede Tomas Tranströmer. Of this august group, Atwood, Farah, Roth, or Adonis would be my choices. Oates?


  1. Some other favorites (although they wouldn't be at the top of my list) include Orhan Pamuk and Rushdie.

  2. J:
    Once again, we're on the same wavelength -- I was about to write you an e-mail this morning asking about your short list when I decided to look at the blog first!

    Re Bill's suggestions: Rushdie has been on everyone's list for a while (he's on mine too) and I think Pamuk is starting to get that Nobel buzz. Might be a little early in his career (although what a slap it would be for the Turkish government, who has arrested him because something he wrote didn't toe their political line!)

    Saramago most likely knocked out Antonio Lobo Antunes; I would love to see Javier Marias win (as you know J!), and Roth (now being Cannon-ized by the Library of America) is my current US favorite (living -- a posthumous to August Wilson would be glorious. But then we'd have 2 black american Nobel Laureates, and I can hear the screaming from some quarters about that already!) You're right however that the current political climate makes an American pick somewhat unlikely (although Roth's PLOT AGAINST AMERICA with its alternate history of a fascist, anti-semitic US might just be the Swedish Academy's cup of tea right now).

    Mahmoud Darwish is also on my shortlist as well along with most (but not all -- for some reason I want to say 'not yet' for Murakami for example) of who you have. I feel its a good year for a non-Westerner (a dual choice? Adonis or Darwish along with Oz or Yehoshua?)

  3. It seems as if Joyce Carol Oates keeps getting mentioned. The year Toni won, I think it was Naomi Wolf that felt Oates to have been the more deserving writer. And Charles Johnson is such a fucking hater. I also keep hearing about Margaret Atwood, that's who I have my fingers crossed for. It took her forever to win the Booker, so now, maybe she will finally have her chance with the Nobel. Do you think Tony Kushner might have a chance someday? Maybe Alan Hollinghurst? Also, to your list of people no longer elgible I would add Susan Sontag. I hear she was on the shortlist for the prize a few years ago. Such a tragedy she will never get it. And I agree with you completely about August Wilson, he is most certainly missed.

    -Charles S.

  4. I agree with Reggie that Murakami is a "not yet," and I'd say the same for Pamuk (although I dearly love him, and wish that he would lose his penchant for too-neat endings). I adore Rushdie, and am thrilled when reading his work, but my strong personal response makes me a little nervous, I'm unsure how broadly meaningful he is to a typical reader.

    And, although I'm a bit of a dilettante to be participating in this discussion at all, I'm a little curious about J's demurral (or is that even accurate?) on Naipaul. He's an odd bird, to be sure, but he's one of the best pure writers of the last century, and surely that accounts for something. I love his writing more than his literature, I guess, so maybe that's what John is referring to.

  5. Bill:

    I originally had included Rushdie but thought about it and removed his name, in part because the quality of his work has steadily declined since The Ground beneath Her Feet and I'm not sure the Swedish Academy is brave enough to bestow such a high-profile prize on the author of The Satanic Verses. I do think very highly of his work. I have to confess that although I have two of Pamuk's novels on my bookshelves, I have never been able to get past page 20 or so. I'm not sure whether it's the translations or what, but I find the writing too dense (though that usually doesn't bother me) and stultifying. I'm not sure why, which is why I probably should try to read him again. You're right, though, that he would be a likely candidate, especially given Turkey's current political dance with the west. Age is less a consideration these days, I think, especially since Garcia Marquez and Brodsky, who was only 40 or so when he won, right?


  6. Reggie:

    Had you not posted and had I not had to write my notes out for my grad seminar today, I'd have sent you an altered version of this post yesterday!

    I agree that Saramago may have knocked out Lobo Antunes, who in any case does not explore to the same extent what might be called the "great" issues--especially the metaphysical themes that Saramago writes about so marvelously--that so beguile literary prize judges. But also Lobo Antunes is only in his 60s, so if he hangs on, his time might come around. I like his work, but I'll never forget my Portuguese teacher totally dismissing him as someone who wrote "about the war"; in her opinion, the best writers--in Portuguese--wrote about the everyday, or were truly innovative in terms of their prose, or both. So that Fernando Namora, Augusta Bessa Luis, and Saramago ranked far more highly, in her view, that Lobo Antunes. I'm not sure I buy that, though I was persuaded back then.

    Marías has become an international darling, and his work grows increasingly more formally complex, AND Spain has regularly produced laureates, so if there isn't some kind of waiting list on which Goytisolo, Ríos and others already are higher in the queue, Marías might just win. Also, I now believe that being translated into English helps one's chances, so Marías might also have that added bonus in his favor. As fast as he writes them, Edith Jull Costa translates them, and Harvill and New Directions issue them. BTW, have you finished Your Face Tomorrow: Fever & Spear yet? Something about that title just haunts me!

    Do they give out posthumous awards? I thought I read they didn't, but it would interesting if they did. One issue with Wilson that is now quite apparent in the tributes is how so many critics want to ghettoize his work, as if it ONLY speaks to Black people. Morrison also suffered from this to some extent, though the genius of Song of Solomon and then Beloved dispelled it to some degree. (I didn't mention Stanley Crouch's famously hateful essay from Notes, but it paralleled some of the attempts to place her work and Black women's writing of the 1970s in a critical box and trap it there). Interestingly enough, my colleague from Kenya mentioned to me that now they read Morrison there in HIGH SCHOOL, and a grad student from Spain I'd worked with several years ago mentioned that in college in her American and African-American lit courses she was reading Baldwin, Baraka, Brooks, Wright, and Morrison. The universal in the profoundly local and particular....

    I totally forgot Darwish, but you're right that he's probably also a strong candidate, alongside Adonis.

    Murakami...well, he has produced several very highly regarded novels over the last decade, is considered a singular stylistic and thematic figure in the context of Japanese literature, and translates well into English, so I think he's well-placed to win. He also has published about 6-7 novels, several books of short stories, and several books of essays, right? I wonder if he's not considered too pop, but then I recall the plot and substance of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, for example, and have to say that if that's not considered a book of sufficiently conceptual, structural and narrative complexity and depth, what is?

    I also used to think Umberto Eco was a strong candidate, because Italy hasn't received much attention, but then Dario Fo won and Italian novelists aren't getting a lot of play internationally, so....

    Another author that I always thought would win was Aharon Appelfeld, who I think retells variations on the same story in all his books. But the Swedish Academy has cited several writers who deal explicitly with the Holocaust--Kertesz, Sachs--and so perhaps Appelfeld will not be the Israeli novelist to be selected. I think Yehoshua is amazing, and while I'm not always a fan of Oz's work, he is prodigious and wrote this extraordinary novel-as-verse--the name escapes me--that I read a few years ago. It blew me away. I need to get the title and reread it, but I thought, wow! Hoffman (sp.?) is more formally experimental, and then there's David Grossman, whose See: Under Love is one of those lifetime masterpieces all writers dream of. There's a younger Israeli writer who's getting a lot of play. His name escapes me, but he's supposedly very good, innovative, sort of like a Victor Pelevin (another one I like quite a bit) but with his own, idiosyncratic touch.

    Adonis/Oz or Darwish/Yehoshua would be quite a choice. But I think the prize will again be a surprise. Just think that there are several major countries, with notable literary communities, whose writers have never received the Nobel Prize: Brazil; Indonesia; Malaysia; Vietnam; Canada*; Kenya; Algeria; Morocco; Iran; Colombia; and Argentina.*

    And then there are numerous smaller countries, or writers writing in what Pascale Casanova and others call "minor literatures...."
    *Wait, is this right? Have no Canadians or Argentinians ever won the Nobel Prize for literature?

  7. Charles:

    Joyce Carol Oates has been mentioned more than once, I think, but many writers cannot stand her work and think quite a bit of it to be sloppy. I personally think she has written some exceptional novels--Because This Is Bitter, Because This Is My Heart, etc., but I have colleagues who refuse to teach her work, and not only because she produces like a computer. I would imagine Philip Roth, Alice Munro, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, Pynchon, etc. might be more immediate considerations, but you're right that her name has come up before. One of her former students has a funny story about how Oates basically told her her work wasn't "black" enough. Yeah, okay, thanks, JCO, holla!

    Atwood is a good choice too. I read The Blind Assassin and Oryx and Crake within the last two years, and my appreciation for her grew. She is also a very good poet and sharp essayist. If a Canadian were to win, I think it would be her. I'm not sure about Kushner, though if he keeps producing and on a grand scale, he might be recognized by the Swedish Academy. Hollinghurst? I don't know. I do love his books, though. I still have to read The Line of Beauty. I imagine it will be easier for an openly LGBT writer to win now, given the social attitudes in Sweden in particular, but Hollinghurst may need to publish a bit more. Goytisolo, if he wins, would probably be the next openly gay writer.

    I didn't include Sontag, though I sort of remember that she was nominated. Her strength wasn't her fiction, though that's where her greatest interests and love lay. There have been several Nobel Laureates who were primarily essayists--Churchill (what?), Mommsen (what??), Bergson (a great philosopher, but???)--and I would argue that Eliot was a better essayist and critical thinker than playwright. Saying that, I wonder if Sontag, if she were alive, would have gotten it. Her essays of the 60s, and her studies on photography, illness (the cancer, not the AIDS), and the final pieces, are utterly vital works of literature.

    August Wilson's impact will resonate for years to come.

  8. Bill:

    I find Naipaul's ideology repellant. He has only gotten worse in later years. He is one of the major novelists in late 20th century English, but I feel like he was waiting for his Nobel (well, he wouldn't be the first), and probably even lobbied for it. Did anyone else? I know Mircea Eliade supposedly tried to get one, despite his fascist past; and then there's Elias Canetti, who is increasingly thought of as one of the most vile personalities ever to have taken up a pen. His new memoir--how many more are there??? The man has been dead for years!--gets a skewering for its narcissistic, nasty portrayals and depictions of others, including Eliot (a nasty character himself) and Iris Murdoch, whose plainness, feet and bear-like walk supposedly repelled Canetti, though he could not stop himself from sleeping with and dominating her! It's too bad she developed Alzheimers, because I sure in the hell would have liked to know her take, not in fictional form, which exists, but in nonfiction, of the sort of monster he reputedly really was.

    Anyways, I wish that Harris or Brathwaite or Erna Brodber or Nancy Morejon or any number of other authors had gotten the prize instead of Naipaul, but he had the work, and the friends in high places....

    BTW, I left Cuba off my list. That country has produced some of the most important Spanish-language writers of the 20th century, but I don't think any of them have ever won. Would an award to Padilla or Morejón or another Cuban writer be construed as a primarily political act, like Fó's was?

  9. I have to confess that although I have two of Pamuk's novels on my bookshelves, I have never been able to get past page 20 or so. I'm not sure whether it's the translations or what, but I find the writing too dense (though that usually doesn't bother me) and stultifying. I'm not sure why, which is why I probably should try to read him again.

    Some of it is the translation, and some of it is his "stiffness," for lack of a better word. He's a bit of engineer and rather controlled, and often suffers from overdevelop-ed dead ends and too-neat endings, but his themes--identity, urban living, wonder, Occidentalism--resonate deeply in me.

    I believe that Snow was the work of a new translator, and well received--it's an odd book, hyped by the publisher (and by Pamuk himself) as a "political novel," but that's not the most interesting aspect to it. He maps the anxiety of creation (writing, art, love) into a correspondence with problems of faith; in Turkey, where religion is associated with the old, failed state, it's a short hop to politics.

    The New Life (after Dante) is perhaps his best work--the beautiful first chapter details a man's encounter with a book that changes the protagonist's life--but I still adore The Black Book, an unruly, flawed love letter to Istanbul and fantastic examination of the city, the self, and wonder.

  10. Bill, yes, Snow and The Black Book I found...impenetrable as lead. And I say this while also asserting that I regularly read very dense works. But there is something about his prose, or how it's rendered, that I find deadening. My partner also put the book down after only a few pages, and we have very different tastes. I'd started to think Pamuk was a sort of international Jonathan Safran Foer, hyped to the heavens but really lacking once you tackled him, but I take your word for it and will try him again, perhaps even starting, ironically enough, with The New Life.