This is the first novel by the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, who I learned about with many other people when he won the Nobel Prize about 15 years ago. This is the third book of his I’ve read now along with My Name is Red, which is quite similar or shares similarities with this book, and Snow, a contemporary novel not all that much like these too. In this novel, we meet a young Italian scholar in the early Renaissance who is captured by slavers, and because of his status as scholar, given over to a Turkish scholar, who turns out to be his exact double. These two men, linked by their love of learning and scholarship as well as their physical appearance, create a paired bond despite or maybe because of their cultural separation from each other. There’s just enough difference to link them, rather than repel them, as often happens in doubles stories. They work together for years and years for the sultan, and when it seems all is over and done, begin to question their nature and relationship to one another.
The confluence of several motifs I’ve been reading recent weeks, this book involves both a double and a “forgotten manuscript” both of which are tropes that I have mixed feelings about. I think I like doubles better, because they allow for more primal fears. However, I think that linking “found manuscripts” to how we think about “found footage” might allow us to think about what this trope does and doesn’t do. It does give the document both a feel of verisimilitude, while also making it seem more artificial. Sometimes I think this linking of the authentic to the fabricated is intentional, and sometimes it’s unintentional. Where it’s intentional, I think it adds depth, and where it’s unintentional, it weakens the effect.