I really enjoyed this short but dense book, The Red-Haired Woman written by Turkish Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk. In the 1980s, a teenage, fatherless boy is an apprentice to Master Mahmut, a well digger. They dig for water in the hot sun, and tell stories to pass the time. They develop a tight relationship and grow to rely on each other as co-workers and as father and son. One evening the boy observes a beautiful red haired woman twice his age and daydreams about her to get through the difficult days of work. She is an actress in a traveling theater production and he becomes overwhelmed with desire to see her in the play and meet her. Then there is an accident and we don’t know what happens to Mahmut. The boy leaves town and we are not sure who the red-haired woman really is. The characters connections to one another and the mysteries make this novel a fantastic page turner.
Through stories told to the boy by Master Mahmut, ideas about fathers and sons are explored with references to Oedipus Rex, where a son kills his father and has children with his mother, and Rostam and Sohrab, where the father kills his son. I had to do some googling to fully understand the references, but I like to learn something when I read and this story was captivating. Love, loss and relationships are touched upon in The Red-Haired Woman, giving the reader a lot to think about, and so well written with a few shockers and surprises. I loved how myths and real life paralleled each other and I highly recommend this book!
As seen on Goodreads:
On the outskirts of a town thirty miles from Istanbul, a master well-digger and his young apprentice are hired to find water on a barren plain. As they struggle in the summer heat, excavating without luck metre by metre, the two will develop a filial bond neither has known before–not the poor middle-aged bachelor nor the middle-class boy whose father disappeared after being arrested for politically subversive activities. The pair will come to depend on each other, and exchange stories reflecting disparate views of the world. But in the nearby town, where they buy provisions and take their evening break, the boy will find an irresistible diversion. The Red-Haired Woman, an alluring member of a travelling theatre company, catches his eye and seems as fascinated by him as he is by her. The young man’s wildest dream will be realized, but, when in his distraction a horrible accident befalls the well-digger, the boy will flee, returning to Istanbul. Only years later will he discover whether he was in fact responsible for his master’s death and who the red-headed enchantress was.
A beguiling mystery tale of family and romance, of east and west, tradition and modernity, by one of the great storytellers of our time.
About the Author:
Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul in 1952 and grew up in a large family similar to those which he describes in his novels Cevdet Bey and His Sons and The Black Book, in the wealthy westernised district of Nisantasi. As he writes in his autobiographical book Istanbul, from his childhood until the age of 22 he devoted himself largely to painting and dreamed of becoming an artist. After graduating from the secular American Robert College in Istanbul, he studied architecture at Istanbul Technical University for three years, but abandoned the course when he gave up his ambition to become an architect and artist. He went on to graduate in journalism from Istanbul University, but never worked as a journalist. At the age of 23 Pamuk decided to become a novelist, and giving up everything else retreated into his flat and began to write.
Orhan Pamuk’s books have been translated into 63 languages, including Georgian, Malayan, Czech, Danish, Japanese, Catalan, as well as English, German and French. Pamuk has been awarded The Peace Prize, considered the most prestigious award in Germany in the field of culture, in 2005. In the same year, Snow received the Le Prix Médicis étranger, the award for the best foreign novel in France. Again in 2005, Pamuk was honoured with the Richarda Huck Prize, awarded every three years since 1978 to personalities who “think independently and act bravely.” In the same year, he was named among world’s 100 intellectuals by Prospect magazine. In 2006, TIME magazine chose him as one of the 100 most influential persons of the world. In September 2006, he won the Le Prix Méditerranée étranger for his novel Snow. Pamuk is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences, and holds an honorary doctorate from Tilburg University. Pamuk gives lectures once a year at Columbia University. He received the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the second youngest person to receive the award in its history. In 2014, Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence received the European Museum of the Year Award (EMYA) given by European Museum Forum in Tallinn, Estonia. In the same year Pamuk also received Helena Vaz Da Silva European Award, an award which “acknowledges exceptional contributions to the communication on cultural heritage and European ideals”. In 2015, he received two significant prizes in Turkey for his ninght novel, A Strangeness in My Mind: Aydın Doğan Foundation Award and Erdal Öz Literary Prize. In 2016 Orhan Pamuk receives The Yasnaya Polyana Literary Award (from the Museum and Estate of Leo Tolstoy) for “Foreign Literature” category with his novel A Strangeness in my Mind.
Orhan Pamuk’s tenth novel, The Red-Haired Woman (2016) is the story of a well-digger and his apprentice looking for water on barren land. It is also a novel of ideas in the tradition of the French conte philosophique.
Apart from three years in New York, Orhan Pamuk has spent all his life in the same streets and district of Istanbul, and he now lives in the building where he was raised. Pamuk has been writing novels for 40 years and never done any other job except writing.