On a cold snowy day, our lives changed forever


by Azarin Sadegh

Betty was my best friend. We were both obsessed with Orhan Pamuk.

I have to confess that this obsession didn’t come to our mind naturally. It was like an inspiration by God or at least from one of his angels. At first it was a simple love. Like loving a pet, or a second cousin. But it changed on the day I noticed the subtle sarcasm on Pamuk’s lips, in a picture taken during the Nobel ceremony.

Before going farther to confuse you – my dear reader – I have to tell you about myself and how everything started in the mind of your humble servant, a man with limited knowledge about the world.

I met Betty for the first time at a church, or in a book club. I can’t be sure.

It was a hot summer day.  The week before, I had run over a squirrel with my bike. Since I failed to prove my innocence, the judge condemned me to 1200 hours of community service by joining the book club, run by the city at the local church.

My job was greeting the newcomers.

Betty, a fake redhead, came in to look for a book – any book. She was dressed in black and her blue eyes smiled with a timid spark.

“What’s your crime?” I asked her enthusiastically.

She stared at me like someone who had never seen anyone talking to her in such a warm tone.

“I didn’t mean to ruin the cross,” she said.

I laughed. “We’re alike,” I said, puzzled by her thick voice. “But who’s going to believe us?”

She shrugged.  

Back then, I was young.

In the following years, we aged and crushed more squirrels, and more crosses. I became an untalented writer, dreaming to write the most intriguing detective story of all times and Betty pretended to be a nun, saving the world like Mother Theresa.

Every Tuesday night we performed at the club per Father Galviano’s request. He was the head of our church. A true compassionate man and the only man of God we knew. He wanted me to read the chapters of my unfinished novel and he asked Betty to meditate with outlaws.

We were happy.

On a cold snowy day, our lives changed forever.

A man left a book with an exotic cover on my desk; My name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. As I read its first line, I felt charitable and pitiful. I read the first page. Then another. Then another. A devastating hope emerged in between those lines, moving from one page to another. Each page had a force of its own, impossible to memorize. Impossible to seize. I longed to remember the exact wordings, the exact sentences. Still its wholesome meaning escaped my illiterate mind.

I hurried to take the book to Betty to share my passion with her. But, I have to confess to you – my dear reader – that we haven’t still reached the last page.  No matter how hard we tried, we never grasped his message, written boldly in black on white for those who could see.

“The story’s too complex, too dark,” Betty liked to say.

“I don’t understand these people,” I liked to reply. “Their culture. Their complex first names. Their chaotic priorities.”

 “The man has won the Noble Prize, so he should be good,” Betty would say.

“It’s just us,” I would agree.

From that day, Betty and I, we agreed on everything. We kept reading and talking about him, and at the same time we looked for him everywhere we went.

It was a sweet obsession.

On a particular cold day – at the beginning of winter or maybe the end of fall - at 4:35 PM, we found – on YouTube - Orhan Pamuk’s speech at New York. We watched him in awe; he could actually speak English. How speechless we felt.

“He’s living among us,” Betty whispered. “Not so far.”

He was even closer than what we thought.

One day, at the movie theater, as I was watching Eugene Onegin, live from Met on a Saturday matinee, Pamuk took the seat next to me. It was the middle of the opera, right before Onegin broke Tatiana’s heart. He held a giant Coke and a large bucket of popcorn. His shoulder touched mine and he left as soon as the whole goblet of Coke was empty.

It was the first time I saw him.

The second time, he was walking on the Golden Gate Bridge, like someone who wanted to commit suicide. I thought he had gained a few pounds.

One day Betty called me to rush to her grocery store. “He’s here,” she screamed. She was hysterical.

I told her to keep him busy. When I got there, he had already left and Betty was crying sitting by the blind Red Cross’s volunteer. “Did you see him?” Betty asked.

“He’s blind, Betty,” I said.

But the blind man nodded with authority. “It could be him,” he said, and smiled. ”He donated four dollars and fifty four cents.”

“If I don’t touch him, I’ll die,” Betty said.

 “What if we send him a letter?” I asked.

 “We’re nobodies,” Betty said. “He’ll ignore us.”

Still, we spent the whole night writing him a simple letter; nice, basic, and plain. We told him Betty would die if he ignored us. We begged him to speak in the book club.

“Isn’t Orhan a Muslim?” Betty wondered. “What if he hates churches?”

 “Why should he?” I replied, and remembered seeing him so many times, pushing a stroller, playing with a hat, following a pretty girl, or chewing gums. He always looked so ordinary.  “He’s a writer. An artist,” I said. “How could he be that Muslim?”

Betty nodded hopefully

We sent the letter and we waited. While waiting days and nights, I saw him at the beach and at my butcher’s. He walked his dog at night, and he drove a blue taxi dressed in a cowboy hat. We waited as we fell asleep and as we awakened.

“What if he doesn’t come?” Betty was worried.

“What if he accepts?” I was worried too.

We couldn’t eat. We couldn’t write. We couldn’t hope or despair.

We waited for three months and 12 days before his letter arrived at Betty’s mailbox.

It was the eve of a new year that never arrived.

 I couldn’t open it.

“Open it,” Betty begged me.

“What if he hasn’t accepted?” I said.

“Open the damn letter,” Betty said.

I opened it with pain and sighed in disbelief. The letter was written in Turkish.

Betty sobbed. “We’ll never understand what he meant.” Her voice changing from sadness to panic. Her breaths going from being to nothingness. Her hand turning from pink to still white.

“Betty, we can live without words,” I screamed.

But she didn’t believe me.

I ran outside, stepping in mud and snow. Orhan Pamuk, wearing dark eyeglasses, waited on a bench. He was dressed in the clothes of the blind man.

“Why?” I cried. “Why did you write something we couldn’t understand?”

Orhan Pamuk, the Noble Prize winner, grabbed my hands and his grin – for a second -reminded me of something familiar from my childhood, but it didn’t last. His face changed and he became a foreigner, someone I had never seen before.

I cursed him, running back inside the church. Father Galviano was confessing to Mother Theresa. Father sounded desperate, like a man without conviction.

I waited in the dark and prayed but our Jesus resembled Pamuk, a mortal. He hung silently from the cross, showing any sign of grief. His immortality spread over the ceiling and scattered on every window. His ubiquitousness evaporated in the air and plagued the space. His floating cells floated over my skin, inside my liver, at the center of my spine. His grandeur wasted on me. His words misunderstood.

I knelt down out of my respect for meanings, as a proof of my own irrelevance. I placed my head on the ground and crawled toward the doors of the unseen heaven I could have never reached. Tasting the blood I could have never swallowed. Becoming the emptiness I could have never filled.

“Why Orhan? Why did you leave me?” I shouted.

I, Orhan Pamuk, an ordinary man falling endlessly blind, drowning at the bottom of the outraged waters of the Bosphorus, would have never dared to respond.


Recently by Azarin SadeghCommentsDate
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more from Azarin Sadegh


by laiqthebo on

ur write-up renderd me is the same madness that i am nurturing in ma head. the only difference is that of the opportunities to see him live,to feel hm being around and to hear hm talking..u have represented all those who love OP. great...!laiq thebo


Who is your imaginary friend

by M. (not verified) on

Who is your imaginary friend Betty? Please write a sequel.


Wow. I just stumbled upon

by Kevin Anthem (not verified) on

Wow. I just stumbled upon here and it's the first time I've read one of your works, Azarin. After reading just the opening lines, I was already hooked by your story which made me read all until the end. Have you written a novel yet? I'd love to grab one of your books if ever you have one. Cheers!

Azarin Sadegh

Dear David,

by Azarin Sadegh on

Thanks for your encouraging note!

Actually, the first time I saw the youtube video you posted I almost died. I thought I was going to have a heart failure, as I realized that I had missed this opportunity of being with Pamuk in the same room. To see him closely and to listen to his voice, be enwrapped in the realm of his genius... succumbed by the greatness of literature. 

I would suggest that you might read My name is Red first. One of my favorite lines: "I don't want to be a tree; I want to be its meaning."

But I truly hope that after reading Pamuk you wouldn't feel (so desperately) as obsessed as me (and dear scb) with him...:-)

Thanks again, Azarin   

David ET

Dear Azarin

by David ET on

"I  am the last one to make a comment about your piece as I do not know Orhan.

I liked the fact that your voice was not from outside but from inside his books to the point that you had become one of its characters , even if you had created them. The influence was obvious and amazing Thanks for the experience and introducing me to him. I will start with youtube "


Genius is a rarity

by scb (not verified) on

Dear Azarin,

Thank you for your note! I loved the piece you wrote and identified strongly with it. Sadly, I do not think genius is contagious.

I am usually gregarious and unintimidated. Standing in front of Orhan Pamuk and seeing him so taxed by the book signing ordeal (I knew he would win the Nobel, eventually) made me feel ashamed and humble. This is because he is the kind of principled writer and thinker that I ferverently wish (alas! lonesomely)could be properly treasured.

Genius is a rarity. Either that of it seldom gets a hearing. In Pamuks' case I believe he has worked his elegant fingers to the bone for hsi art. I met an ordinary Turkish rug dealer who toured some tribal areas with him.

He obvious has the right stuff, the right temperament, knows himself and his city. I sense that he loves nothing better than to shut himself away with book and pen. I get a picture of him being a reader's reader and an author's author, a sort of florid introvert.

The greatest irony is that he is not well liked by everyday Turks inspite of their zooming secularism and the high honor he brought to their country. I am truly sorry for all he has endured in the name of truth.

However, inspiration IS the contagious thing and I hope you will keep writing. (I especially loved the part where the letter came and it was in Turkish).

Azarin Sadegh

Dear Feshangi,

by Azarin Sadegh on

I'm happy you liked it...but it is more like being in a nightmare, not in a dream..:-)

Thanks, Azarin 

Azarin Sadegh

Thanks Zion!

by Azarin Sadegh on

Dear Zion,

Thank you so much for your feedback! I guess my intention was to startle the a real punch line! But kidding aside, if you had read the Black book (a book with the issue of Identity as its main subject), you would have predicted that my protagonist was going to become someone else.

Plus, my intention was also to write about the difficulty of understanding his work, and his message. This helplessness any reader might feel facing a piece of art. When you know the "meaning" is there, but somehow it is out of reach...almost like something written in a foreign language.

Thanks again, Azarin


Dream like

by Feshangi on

and beautifully put together. I really enjoyed reading your story. 



Took me by surprise

by Zion on

I didn't see that last sentence coming. Took me fully by surprise, even though the surrealist style of the story became apparent quite early on.

Azarin Sadegh

Is this obsession curable?

by Azarin Sadegh on

Dear scb,

I am so happy to read your comment...I guess I should be one of the rare people who would understand (so deeply) why you wanted to slap that woman...

Like you, I also read Snow first. But then, I read the Black Book (my favorite), My name is red, White Castle and the collection of his essays "Other Colors". After reading him, the other novels from other authors became pale and I longed for feeling that same devastating colorful effect he had on me.

Till now, I always thought I was alone. That it was just me. That this disease is incurable...Thanks for giving me back this lost sense of normality.

But still, I have to say that I feel so jealous of you, to be with him in the same room and I wonder if his genius is contagious?


PS: Dear JJ, I know that reading Pamuk is not easy, but believe me! Once you read his first sentence, you just can't put the book down:

Let me give you an example of how he starts his novel:

"The silence of snow, thought the man sitting just behind the bus-driver. If this were the beginning of a poem, he would have called what he felt inside him `the silence of the snow'..."

And how ends like this:

"After all, nothing can be as astounding as life. Except for writing. Except for writing. Yes, of course, except for writing, the sole consolation."




I became his eternal nobody

by scb (not verified) on

I developed an obsession for Pamuk back in 2004. In 2005, he came to the Smithsonian to read his new novel, Snow. After the reading (which became a gracious conversation with the sudience), he promised to sign his book.

Along with "My Name is Red" I had read "The New Life and "The Black Book." I read "The White Castle" and "Snow." Later I read the autobiographical"Instanbul," essays, interviews and on-line discussions. I still pray that his translators are working on something new.

To truly read his work is to be doomed to your couch, arranged in the clothes you slept in because you were unable to put his book down until sleep overcame you. Forget showering or eating properly. Silent cursing and praising becomes a secretly mad habit because his book is having such a terrible effect on your body and you are thrilled about it. Worse is knowing that you will finish the same book and then you can never read it in quite the same way again.

Someday terrible morning I will have read everthing I can find of Orhan Pamuk to read and there will be no more. Dishevelment by the words of a genius is to know feeble comprehension and the force of word-lust. You pretend to your family that you understand him (or could, maybe), that you willingly sacrifice to this cause.

I stood in line at the Smithsonian to have Orhan Pamuk sign my book, which I had thumbed and dirtied. I became his eternal nobody. I had never met anyone I so admired as much; I was speechless, dumb and tired. And badly dressed.

People from the Turkish Embassy lingered lugubriously behind the table where he sat signing books in what looked like silent pain. I wanted to slap the woman in front of me who gleefully asked him to address several books to her relatives, dictating their names.

I thought about fleeing. He was gracious, tired and mournful. How could I do this to him? I said nothing but a childishly gulped "thank-you." He met my eyes for moment surprised that I didn't speak my name for him to inscribe on the flyleaf.

He sighed and thanked me in return.

Jahanshah Javid


by Jahanshah Javid on

Afarin Azarin. I enjoyed the innocent obsession and the unreal-ness of it all. Best line: “If I don’t touch him, I’ll die,” Betty said.


Wish I had the patience and attention span to read not just Pamuk's books but all great works of literature. I know, I know very well, how much I'm missing.

Multiple Personality Disorder

No, none of us is rich!

by Multiple Personality Disorder on

But yes, we've heard of public libraries, but we thought that's where they KEEP the books.  You mean to tell me they let you look at them.  I guess I'll check it out then.

I'm out of here.  Good luck with your book.

Azarin Sadegh

You won't!

by Azarin Sadegh on

I thought at least one of you was rich enough to be able to buy Pamuk's books, or smart enough to have heard about the public library....too bad for all of you!


Multiple Personality Disorder

I have not found any of his books in any garage sales.

by Multiple Personality Disorder on

Yet, I have not given up either!