The Red-Haired Woman

Orhan Pamuk, Ekin Oklap

The Red-Haired Woman
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The Red-Haired Woman

Orhan Pamuk, Ekin Oklap

From the Nobel Prize winner and best-selling author Orhan Pamuk is The Red-Haired Woman, a fable of fathers and sons and the desires that come between them.

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, the two 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 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 finds an irresistible diversion: The Red-Haired Woman, an alluring member of a travelling theatre company. She catches his eye and seems as fascinated by him as he is by her. When the young man’s wildest dream is realised, in his distraction a horrible accident befalls the well digger and the boy flees, returning to Istanbul.

Only years later will he discover whether he was in fact responsible for his master’s death and who the redheaded enchantress was.

The Red-Haired Woman is a beguiling mystery tale of family and romance, of east and west, tradition and modernity, by one of the great storytellers of our time.

Translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap.

Review

When a book starts with a quote from Nietzsche about Oedipus, you know you can expect fathers, sons, mothers and lovers to become entangled with devastating consequences. When th eauthor is a previous winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, you can feel confident you’re in accomplished hands.

Orhan Pamuk’s latest book, The Red-Haired Woman, is set in Istanbul in 1985, and follows a master well-digger, Master Mahmut and his young apprentice, Cem, as they excavate for water. The rewards will be huge if they are successful, but the work is dangerous and requires great skill and concentration. As they spend weeks digging further and further into the ground, the two men forge a connection, filling the hole left by Cem’s missing father. But as the connection between Master Mahmut and his young apprentice deepens, resentment begins to seep into Cem’s admiration of the well-digger, and the conflict and confusion he feels about his father starts to come into play. Each night Master Mahmut and Cem go into the small village close to where they are digging, to drink tea and talk with the locals. It’s during one of these visits that young Cem notices a beguiling older woman, the red-haired woman of the title. She too seems drawn to him, and after an unexpected night spent in each other’s arms, Cem’s tiredness and distraction results in a terrible accident for Master Mahmut in the well.

Running in fear, Cem tries to get on with his life, tamping down his guilty conscience and pretending nothing happened. But the past has a way of catching up with you, and when Cem is confronted years down the track with the unexpected consequences of his time spent as an apprentice, the Oedipal myth comes into play once again.


Gabrielle Williams works as a bookseller at Readings Malvern. She is also the author of books for young adults.

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