"A dark Conradian drama, set in a beautifully illuminated Istanbul, where the past is always with us."- Orhan Pamuk
It is easy to guess what it was about Maureen Freely's novel, "Enlightenment", that drew me to it; it was Mr Pamuk's quote on the cover of the novel! However, if I'd only given the quote some more thought, I'd have figured that the quote was an observation and not a recommendation. To give the novel its due, the opening chapters are very gripping as they have the reader wanting for more while he embarks on a journey through the labyrinth that is Istanbul; into the semi revealed lives and psyches of those that inhabit this enigmatic city. The mental merengue that the reader experiences on this journey exhausts his very last grey cell, and by the end of it (that is if he ever reaches there) he simply gives up! When on that last page, I was thrilled that I saw light; that I was finally out of those convoluting plots and conspiracies that made for the Turkish identity of the 70s. However, a fraction of a moment later, it dawned on me that I was still carrying that ball of mysteries that had been handed out to me ever since I turned that first page of the novel; what was even more bothersome was that the ball had grown significantly in proportion; with every new character and each new twist in the plot the reader's bundle of mysteries had increased to the point that it had become burdensome! The reader's mind needed some off-loading before he could take on yet another twist in the tale. Alas, that was not to be, there was no respite from the burdening!
Was that Ms. Freely's intention to burden the reader such? It is one thing to have an open ending for a novel, one that leaves the reader seeking possible solutions, given that there are a few pointers provided for solving some of the mysteries presented. But when the entire novel is simply a complex intertwisting of innumerable mysteries, then the reader, at some point, just wants an out of his mental exhaustion, and that is exactly how I felt! There was no 'enlightenment' at the end of the novel in terms of its plot: what did happen to those young and bright minds during the 70's in Istanbul? Did the gruesome killing of the dynamic teacher really happen, and at the hands of the very students who revered every word of his? Alas, I will never know, and at this point I don't really care.
Maureen Freely, an American of Turkish origin, is a the translator of many of Orhan Pamuk's novels; the Nobel Prize winner with whom she attended Robert College in Istanbul. Ms. Freely has often been credited for being instrumental in promoting Pamuk's agenda for freedom of expression in Turkey and elsewhere. An ardent admirer of Pamuk and his writings she herself is an advocate of free expression of which there is a dearth in her home nation as "80 writers, scholars, artists, and activists have been prosecuted for insulting state, the judiciary, or Turkishness itself; there are 45 more cases set to go to trial before the end of the year."
I wouldn't write off 'Enlightenment' from my reading list if I were better informed on Turkey and its history because then the understanding of the novel may not pose as much of a problem. Besides there are some of us who might enjoy the reading challenge before arriving at that last page of "Enlightenment"!