My Evening With Orhan Pamuk

Whatever has ever happened before this moment is irrelevant


My Evening With Orhan Pamuk
by Azarin Sadegh

Whatever has ever happened before this moment is irrelevant.

Orhan Pamuk walked into the stage and the excitement of hearing him reading from his new book took over my breathing system, inside my veins, my stomach, my eyes, and I felt enchanted by his tall silhouette and the shine in his silver hair. I couldn’t decide which one of his little gestures were the most charming; his subtle smile as he glanced at the audience, or his obvious difficulty in pronouncing some words? At the end, I was particularly captivated by his inquisitive eyes, as if he could still look at the world with amazement.

I was sitting right in front of him, trying to hide my restlessness, trying to focus on what he was reading, wondering if I should have laughed out loud like some of the other voices in the crowd. I envied those women who could sound so confident, so carefree, and noisy, only enjoying his text, not being on the verge of having a heart attack like me.

Then it was time for his conversation with “the moderator”. (Don’t you dislike this term as much as I do? So let’s call him TM.) After the first question was asked, OP began talking, mostly like a conversation with himself. But TM didn’t give up. His fidgety hands and back and forth glances at his notes were the signs of his efforts to open up a dialogue, and driving it toward a certain zone in his mind.

OP talked about love and how the women in Turkey smiled (even chuckled) at him after his latest novel, The Museum of Innocence was first out - a love story with too many scenes about virginity or sex -but he wondered why, au contrary, the men appeared distant and uncomfortable. He added that this work has been compared to a modern Leili and Majnoon, but he said that no one should simplify it and the reader should know that his novel is also about so many other things.

Then Pamuk changed the subject and said how nervous he was about the real museum opening in Turkey and he revealed his own obsession with small museums and their intimacy and his fascination with objects (as a trigger to evoke a hidden memory). We learned that he had actually gathered – like Kemal his protagonist - all kinds of insignificant objects to create his own personal museum, but no one should expect this place to be like Louvre or Metropolitan.

As he was talking about Istanbul and going on describing people and places of his youth, I kept thinking that he should be somehow obsessed with his own memories. But don’t all his books have this same theme in common? This deep nostalgia about a black and white Istanbul 50’s and 60’s. “I see the tourists going to Istanbul and coming back complaining to me that the city has nothing to do with your melancholic descriptions,” he said. “But I have to say that while Istanbul has become westernized compared to the Istanbul of my books, all those western cities have become even more westernized.” And the hall exploded with laughter.

OP looked pleased and TM uncomfortable, checking his watch.

His last remark was about the notion of exile. He said that since he’s been teaching at Columbia, he hears all the academia talking about Diaspora, expanding it to the size of the whole world. “But as much as the statistics says, there are only 3% of people living in Diaspora. The rest of people still live in their homes. So nobody should be surprised that I’m writing for this majority. I am this kind of person. I like to stay in the same city, to live in the same house, to sit in the same room, gazing at the same view,” he said. Again, everyone laughed.

When it was time for asking questions, I managed to get in line from my seat going over knees, legs and purses, but there were a few already waiting behind the microphones, even more motivated than me. They asked him about Politics, Islam, the suicidal girls with scarf, even psychology. When I was only short of two people standing between me and my question, TM announced that the time was almost up and the next two questions would be the last ones of the night. OP looked at both sides of the hall, counting the people standing in line and said that he’d be willing to answer all the questions, but they should be brief. And the next two were really brief. Yet, as my turn came up and when I reached the microphone, TM rubbed his hands, saying, “OK, Thank you Mr. Pamuk for your time! Now, there would be a book signing session in the hallway,” and got up.

OP turned toward me, shrugged and raised his arms in the air, like saying that he didn’t approve of what had just happened. At that moment, I was pretty mad and disappointed. I could feel the gush of fear at the back of my mind, teasing me, telling me that I was going to fail again. After all, this week had been pretty hectic, with too many rejections.

Like everyone else, I rushed outside. The panic took ahold of me as I realized that I wasn’t fast enough. The book signing queue for OP seemed overcrowded, and endless. I hated myself feeling little at the sight of so many elderly - way faster than myself- already standing in line.

I got to the end of line and took all my OP books out, plus my Pamuk story. Betty (my friend and another devoted OP fan) joined me. As we were talking, someone tapped on my shoulder. I looked back. It was a Japanese girl I didn’t know.

“I know you,” she said. “You couldn’t ask your question. What was it?” Another woman next to her leaned forward. “So unfortunate that the time was up and TM had to cut you,” she said.

I was humbled that everyone had sympathized with my pain.

Of course, as we stepped forward, I talked generously and in length about my passion for literature and for Pamuk and gave away my question. Everyone around us agreed that it was such a great question and they expressed their interest to listen to OP’s answer.

The line moved slowly, but I wished it could have moved slower, so the joy of anticipation could have lasted longer.

All the wishes don’t come true, but some do.

And the great moment I was waiting (as if I had waited for it all my life) arrived. I was finally right there, in front of the greatest writer of our time, the man whose books have changed my life forever.

He seemed triumphant, behind a wall made of serenity.

As soon as he saw me, his face lit up. “I’m sorry you couldn’t ask your question,” he said with a genuine smile. “It was TM who didn’t let me.” Then he stared at my copy of The Black Book (a totally worn out copy that I’ve read so many times) and frowned teasingly, “What have you done to my book?” he asked, but watching my reaction, laughed. “Actually, it’s good.”

I knelt down to be at the same level as his eyes. My injured knee hurt like hell, but it was a sweet hell. I didn’t care. “I’m your biggest fan,” I said. “I’m also a writer and I’ve written something just for you,” pushing my story forward on the table. He looked at the title. “Wow,” he said and grabbed my pages hurriedly. I wanted to cry of happiness. Even Orhan pamuk couldn’t resist to his curiosity to find out more about a title such as Becoming Orhan Pamuk!

After he signed every book we had carried, Betty and I said goodbye and walked toward the exit. But we saw the Japanese girl running toward us. “Please come,” she said.

I was surprised by the urgency in her request.

“Please hurry,” she said. “There’s a Turkish TV crew outside. They’re looking for someone who has read Pamuk. But so far they haven’t found anyone in the audience. So I told them about you. I’m sure you can answer to all their questions.”

I sighed, and thought I shouldn’t miss this opportunity of talking about my all time favorite subject: Orhan Pamuk!

So I agreed and walked toward the big sculpture by the fountain to find the Turkish crew guy who was gentle and polite. “Am I the only one here who has read Pamuk?” I asked, and he nodded. I was the only one who was brave enough talking about it, I was told. While waiting, we talked about OP and his works. I asked him why the Turks didn’t like him as much as the rest of the world. He was a bit shy. But finally he opened up. “He’s an orientalist.” Of course, we kept discussing over the meaning of an orientalist, until my turn came up.

The other crew member suggested that we should move to the other side of the yard, where Orhan Pamuk (still signing the books) could be visible in the background. The interviewer – a gorgeous girl – asked me about my reasons of being an OP fan, and I just felt totally comfortable answering this question and the rest of the questions that followed. I think the interview lasted about 6-7 minutes, more or less. I’m not sure.

After thanking the Turkish crew, I turned to take a last glimpse of my favorite author, and realized that there was no more book signing line, but Pamuk was still there, taking pictures with fans. I couldn’t help it, but I had to run inside the building, asking him to take a picture with me too.

You can’t understand my joy when he accepted. My only problem? I had no camera. But my dear friend, Betty, came to my rescue with her iPhone. I moved next to him, my shoulder almost touching his. As we were posing for the camera and while Betty was trying to figure out how her phone works, I whispered to him: “Did you know that the Turkish TV just interviewed me?” He glanced quickly at me, looking surprised. “Why you? What were you talking about?” he asked. “YOU,” I replied, pointing at the people around us. “Out there, there was nobody else who could talk about you,” I said.

OP raised his eyebrows. “Why didn’t they ask ME?” he asked.

I knew he was frustrated, willing to talk more about himself, about his life and his marvelous novels, describing a new image of Istanbul that no one has ever imagined, taking everyone with him to the depth of Bosphorus, or talking about the necessity of writing novels, even answering my question and all the questions that nobody has asked him yet. “I’m sure they’d be coming for you too,” I said. “Don’t worry.”

At this point, we froze and Betty took a blurry picture from us.

We left, while he was walking to the Turkish crew man, prepared to stand in front of the camera where a blinding light was going to shine over him.

My knee didn’t hurt anymore.

On the way back, after I dropped Betty home, I kept thinking that I should send a lovely thank you note to TM, because if it wasn’t for his cutting my question, OP wouldn’t have noticed or remembered me, he wouldn’t have been nicer to me, he wouldn’t have accepted to read my story, the Japanese girl wouldn’t have recognized me or talked to me, the Turkish crew wouldn’t have interviewed me and I wouldn’t have been in the same program with my favorite writer, I wouldn’t have taken that blurry picture, and I wouldn’t have had that absurd conversation.

Oh TM! I’ll always be grateful to you, even if OP would probably never send me a message telling me to keep up the good job, or telling that I might have to give up on my dreams because everyone isn’t made for his kind of eternity, or even if he tells me anything. Nothing. Just a letter from him, so I can start my own private museum; my museum of innocence.

How can I thank you enough, dear TM? How could I ever?

As soon as I got home, I dropped on the nearest chair, took out my copy of The Museum of Innocence with excitement and opened it to the first page, and read the first sentence, “It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn’t know it.”


Recently by Azarin SadeghCommentsDate
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more from Azarin Sadegh

dear azarin

by laiqthebo on

your article proves that u really r a great fan of OP.i am sure i would write the same if i were a writer and if i were given the same chance as u had . love u.laiq thebo


Thank you!

by Omid B on


I have no idea who OP is, but I loved this. It's inspiring! It brings your passion out, and makes me feel it intensely, even though I have no connection. Thank you!





Thanks, Azarin!

by Esther on

Didn't you say somewhere that Pamuk is the kind of writer who keeps you awake all night to finish his books?  Well, I'm that kind of reader.  And the library has multiple copies with short loan periods.  If you could wait till now to meet Pamuk, I think I can wait till 2010 to read his latest.  There are always his older works if I get impatient.  Or yours, for when I don't make it to the library or don't want to be up reading all night. :)

Anahid Hojjati

Dear Azarin, I have met some of my favorite poets

by Anahid Hojjati on


Azarin jan, Siavash Kasrai is not amongst us anymore, but I met him; who is one of my favorite poets, in Iran more than 25 years ago.  During 1978-79 and very early 1980s, I met some of my favorite writers and poets.  For some more recent "deedar", I have to think hard which means that recently this kind of "deedar" has not happened.

Dear Azarin, I am glad that your favorite writer turned out to be charming when you met him in person.

Azarin Sadegh

Dear Anahid, Dear Esther,

by Azarin Sadegh on

Dear Anahid,

Thank you for reading my essay! Actually to be honest, I truly expected to be a bit disappointed by him, since most writers are less interesting in person than on paper! I had even heard rumors about Pamuk's arrogance, even his "bad" behavior toward some moderators in Torento, etc...that's why when I found him to be so charming and friendly, I couldn't stop admiring him even more!!

Btw, I'm now curious to find out about your favorite living author...or did you ever have a chance to meet her/him?

Thanks again, Azarin


Dear Esther,

Oh my...number 55? Did you know that The Museum of Innocence is 560 pages? It means that you should wait for a really long time..:-)

I would say... why not buying it? (Thinking about that commission everybody's talking about..:-) Ok, ok, just kidding!

Good luck! Azarin


Anahid is right!

by Esther on

I am currently number 55 on the waiting list at my public library for "The Museum of Innocence". :)

Anahid Hojjati

Dear Azarin, thanks for this great article

by Anahid Hojjati on

Dear Azarin, thanks for letting us know how your "deedar" with your favorite writer went.  You did a great job of showing us how not being able to ask your qustion, at the end, worked out better for you.  You showd the readers how interested you were in interacting with your favorite writer.  Even if "Orhan Pamuk" is not our favorite writer but many of us have writers, poets, singers, etc. that we idolize, so we get the feeling that you have for this great writer.  Yes, you should get a commission from him since I know that many people after reading your article will be curious to read his works.

Azarin Sadegh

Dear Mehrban, Dear Shifteh,

by Azarin Sadegh on

Dear Mehrban,

Thank you so much for always being so supportive...I'm sure once you read Pamuk, you would understand why I feel the way I feel.


Dear Shifteh,

I think Pamuk should pay me some commission now after all the publicity I'm making for him...(just kidding...really!)

Thank you also for reading my other pieces! I am truly touched by your kind words...and I like a lot that you don't find my work too dark... Oh Hallelujah! (I should be thinking about Leonard Cohen, I guess!)

About my interaction with the readers: I would always thank those who leave me comments, because I think it is the least I can do. I always hope to receive more critics of what is not working in my writing, so I can try harder to improve. For example, if the majority of readers find the work depressing, when I thought I was writing comedy..then it is a real problem that I should fix! Yes, I've learned a lot through this interaction specially that many of the comments come from some of the best writers here!

As one of my first writing teachers told me: To become a good writer, you need to sweat a lot! Don't wait for the inspiration!

Thanks again, Azarin


Merci Azarin (I'll be thinking of you tonight)

by Monda on

@ Leonard Cohen's concert - I know you love him as well.


Dear Azarin,

by shifteh on

Just like Monda, I now want to read Pamuk!  You have done a wonderful job in creating enough curiosity in your readers to go and pursue more readings.

More importantly, I discovered your other pieces!  And now, I can’t stop reading them.  I see how you are so fully engaged with your readers and responding to their comments.  I read how some of your readers mark your writings as being very dark and how you have so openly responded to them by sharing your first hand experiences with revolution, war, immigration, etc. 

I, personally, cannot see the darkness.  I can see how the memories, ingrained in your heart and soul, are now a part of you and how you, are molding them into your present existence.  That is absolutely beautiful.  You have the gift of being a story teller; you have a way with your words; and you describe your world (imaginary or real, doesn’t matter) effectively.   

I look forward to read more of your work.  It is refreshing to see a writer who painstakingly edits and reedits to achieve perfection!



Azarin jaan

by Mehrban on

you took me with you and through that moment of joy,  ["I am your biggest fan"].  I felt it.  Your writing could do that.

Azarin Sadegh

Dear Bijan, Dear Monda

by Azarin Sadegh on

Dear Bijan,

First of all, my husband already knows!! And he is so jealous of Pamuk and keeps sending me these "Torkish" jokes, hoping to change my mind about his genius..:-)

BTW, I have never been in Turkey, so I can't be really nostalgic about Istanbul...but I've visited the city through Pamuk's eyes.

Thanks again for being so supportive, Bijan jan! I really appreciate your kind words...Azarin


Dear Monda,

Thank you!  I'm so happy that there is at least one more person who understands how I feel!! Yes, the intensity! This is the right word....:-)

I'm also very happy that you're going to read him too! I would suggest that you start by My Name is Red. This book is the most plot driven book of Pamuk (a murder mystery), with many references to Persian literature (Rumi and Shams, Khowsro and Shirin, Rostam and Sohrab) and Behzad's Miniature. My favorite one is The Black Book, but it is one of those books with no dialogues...(I love them) but I know they are very hard to read. It is about a man's obsession with another man to the point of taking his identity.

His other great book is Snow (It was my first read of him). It is about the political Islam (and love of course, like in all his books!).. The story of a poet who cannot write poem anymore, so he goes back to his city of childhood, pretending to be a journalist writing an article about the islamist girls committing suicide. 

Voila! Thanks again! Azarin    

Azarin Sadegh

Dear Hamid,

by Azarin Sadegh on

Dear Hamid,

What you said here - so beautifully - is absolutely true! I can’t agree more. What you wrote is a simple example of why I love Pamuk…a good writer writes about something we (as readers) already know or feel (like our deepest fears, or maybe just a simple view we pass by every day), but we had never really thought about it in those words, and from a unique point of view which stuns us by its truth. In other words, the good writer reveals our own truth to us!! (does it make sense?)

The first writer who had this kind of effect on me was Kafka. In his case, I was a simple reader indentifying myself with him and his existential problems, but in Pamuk's case, my fascination with him has to do with his craft of writing. Because I can't stop admiring him to the point of wanting to be like him as a writer.  

The first time I read Pamuk, I was blown away right from beginning, and he never stopped astounding me by the beauty of his poetic prose, the depth of this melancholy in his descriptions and at the same time by his mastery in writing (in such elegant way) so easily, so simply, about the most complex subjects. Being a post modern writer, he goes way beyond expected, and makes the ordinary, extraordinary.

One of my favorite Pamuk quote is the Black Book’s ending that always gives me goosebumps: Nothing is as surprising as life. Except for writing. Except for writing. Yes, of course, except for writing, the only consolation."

Dear Hamid, Thank you so much for reading my essay and for your great feedback!



Azarin jan

by Monda on

I can totally relate to the joy you felt around Pamuk - I felt just that when I met Leonard Cohen. Man it was intense!

After reading your article I want to order some of his books. which introductory ones would you recommend to a Pamuk-novice with short attention span? :o) 

Bijan A M

Dear Azarin

by Bijan A M on

I have not read any of Orhan Pamuk’s books and have been to Turkey only for 2 days (1 day each in Istanbul and Ismir). So, I probably cannot relate as closely to the nostalgia. But, reading through your piece, Pamuk must be a great writer to deserve this kind of admiration from another writer like yourself.

As usual I enjoyed very much reading your article and it made me a little envious to realize that such degree of admiration even exists. From a literary stand point you have done great. I wish I had Jeesh’s literacy and perceptions to praise you properly.

Just don’t let your husband read your article!!!! (this is the extent of my humor).


Thanks for your post. I remain your fan.     

Red Wine


by Red Wine on

آذرین جان ، من باید به خدمت شما عرض کنم که در طول این ده پانزده سال گذشته، بسیار کم این قبیل کتاب‌ها را خوانده‌ام ! اگر هم خوانده ام، حتما به سفارش دوست و اشنا بوده است، دلیلش هم واضح هست، قبول دارید که هر سال تعداد کتاب‌های خوب ادبی‌ کم میشوند.

بنده به زبان اسپانیایی میخوانم ... ایشان برنده یک جایزه در مادرید شدند در سال ۲۰۰۷ که بنده متاسفانه وقت نکردم بدانجا برم و با ایشان اشنا شوم.

از لطف شما بسیار متشکرم.


Hamid Taghavi

Dear Azarin

by Hamid Taghavi on

There are artists, writers, painters, movie makers whose works have all the conventionally measured and usually expected qualities, but also an added intangible, and that’s their ability to connect to some people at a level beyond comprehension. At that level, they speak to you through a language only your select few understand, They are able to create a world that becomes private because you can’t or wouldn’t want to describe to others. It’s too alien and indescribable. Even when others open themselves up to it few of them would be moved and stirred up the same way to be taken to that exclusive world. I wonder if this is your unspoken dynamic with Orhan Pamuk.

Strangely enough, in person those same artists may or may not evoke the same type of response, that it is only through their work they can do all the stirring. They may not even know the power they hold over their following.

Azarin Sadegh

When the Bosphorus dries up

by Azarin Sadegh on

Dear Jeesh,

Wow...after reading your amazing comment, I had to go back to read it again! I couldn't believe how nice you are! You truly "khejalatam midahid".

I'm happy to bring back your fine memories of Istanbul and the Bosphorus...and that small cup of Turkish coffee that should be holding the secret to your future at its bottom :-)

Actually, as you have noticed, I tried to add another layer to the simple tale of that night's events, and to make a parallel between my own obsession with Pamuk and the story of his latest novel (about a man's obsession for 30 years with the love of his life, and with the city of his childhood) ...

I think that this theme is one of Pamuk's favorites! Just read the Black Book's second chapter, titled When the Bosphorus dries up! I'd say that this story is also about obsession....Between us, I just hope that I wouldn't turn into that man/or him after 30 years..:-)

Thank you again for reading my writing! It really means a lot to me. Your fan, Azarin

Azarin Sadegh

Dear Red Wine

by Azarin Sadegh on

Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words! I'm so happy that you're enjoying his work (maybe not as much as I do.:-)

BTW, are you reading him in French, or in English? The English translation (By Maureen Freely) is phenomenal, but I haven't seen any of the French translations.

Thanks again! Azarin

Jeesh Daram

Reflections in two mirrors

by Jeesh Daram on

Ms. Azarin Sadegh,

Aside from Pamuk's significance in your article, your penmanship reminds me each and every time of when one puts two full size mirrors across from each other and then stands in the middle and looks at all the other mirrors' reflections which miraculously show up one after another with an expansion of space and perspective. Yet, others might pass by and see nothing but just two mirrors on two walls across from each other. So, while I was in the middle of this tunnel of mirrors, I got to the point that you talked about his references about Bosporus and Istanbul and how the picture that Betty took turned blurry....

I could not help it but to go and make myself a Turkish coffee to reminisce good memories of Istanbul, and your fine day with the author. Then I came back to read the rest....

You described the man very elegantly.

Red Wine


by Red Wine on

من هنوز کتاب ایشان را تمام نکرده‌ام ! با این که سن ایشان کم است ولی‌ انگاری که بیش از ۵۰ سال مینویسد و صد احسنت به ایشان که انقدر مسلط هستند .

امید وارم که وقتی‌ شود بقیه کتاب‌های ایشان را بخوانم و همینطور ایشان را در فرانسه در نمایشگاه کتاب ملاقات کنم.

سپاسگزارم آذرین جان از مطلبی که نوشتید.


Keep up the good work! :)

by Esther on

I will certainly read more of your stories (including the ones I haven't yet read).

Azarin Sadegh

Thank you dear Esther!

by Azarin Sadegh on

Dear Esther,

Of course, (like any writer) I would be more happy if more people read my stories, specially my Becoming Orhan Pamuk story..:-) Actually, the version that I gave him is a bit different from the one already published, but in essence it is the same.

Thanks again for your kind words, Azarin


Dear Azarin

by Esther on

Thank you for your lovely article. It reminds me of reading "Snow", as well as of my moments with my OP equivalent. I hope you don't mind if I post this link, as I would like to encourage everyone who has not read your also very lovely Becoming to do so!