We will examine Orhan Pamuk’s novel Nights of Plague, in which he colorizes Minger Island, a place that does not exist, where he combines his imagination with history, with the past tense and realistic heroes.
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The work deals with the plague epidemic, which has an important place in Ottoman history. Quarantine challenges touch on important points with themes such as religion, nation, independence, people.
Now let’s briefly recall who Orhan Pamuk was before Nights of Plague
Who is Orhan Pamuk?
Orhan Ferit Pamuk was born in Istanbul in 1952. Pamuk spent his childhood and youth years in Nişantaşı. He completed his high school education at Robert College. During these years, he dreamed of being a painter and won the Department of Architecture at Istanbul Technical University. But after studying for three years, he gave up painting and architecture and left this department unfinished. He started university at Istanbul University, Department of Journalism for the second time and graduated from this department.
Deciding to become a writer after the age of twenty-three, Pamuk gave up on everything and devoted all his time to writing novels at home.
In 1982, a daughter named Rüya was born from his marriage to Aylin Türegün. He went to America with his wife in 1985 and was a visiting lecturer at Columbia University in New York between 1985-88. In the following years, he continued to give lectures at the same university once a year for a long time.
Harvard University is one of the important universities where Pamuk lectured as a lecturer (2009). Pamuk’s first marriage ended in 2001 and his second marriage was with Aslı Akyavaş in 2021. Today he is 70 years old and lives in Istanbul with his wife.
Orhan Pamuk’s Awards
Pamuk was deemed worthy of the Milliyet Publishing Novel Award and the Orhan Kemal Novel Award for his first novel, Cevdet Bey and His Sons. He won the Madaralı Roma Award for his work Silent House, The Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival Best Screenplay Award for his work Gizli Yüz, and The Prix France Culture for his The Black Book. He received The Prix du Meilleur Liter Etranger, Premio Grinzane Cavour and The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his work My Name Is Red.
He received The Prix Medicis Etranger and Le Prix Méditerranée Etranger Award for his work titled Snow. In 2006, she became the first Turkish person to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature for her novel The Red Haired Woman. Another award she received with The Red Haired Woman is the Lampedusa Literary Award.
She received the Mary Lynn Kotz Art Book of the Year Award and the EMYA (Best Museum of the Year in Europe) Award for Innocences of Objects. He received the Aydın Doğan Foundation Novel Award, the Erdal Öz Award and the Yasnaya Polyana Literature Award for his work A Strangeness in My Mind.
Summary of Nights of Plague
Nighst of Plague takes place in 1901 on Minger Island, the twenty-ninth province of the Ottoman Empire. Minger is a historical island in the Mediterranean between Crete and Cyprus, where the Minger people have lived since ancient times and where the Minger language is spoken. On the first pages of the book, there is a detailed map of the Minger Island, where the locations described in the work are indicated.
The map technique, which makes historical books enjoyable, has made this novel, which takes place in an imaginary place, very entertaining and realistic.
The novel begins with the arrival of the deadly and rapidly spreading Plague on the island. The epidemic on the island is seen during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamit. Abdülhamit assigns chemist Bonkowski Pasha, who successfully stopped the epidemic in İzmir and made him the Chief Health Inspector, to control the situation of the island.
However, after Bonkowski Pasha died in an unsolved manner, Pakize Sultan, the daughter of the sultan’s deposed brother Murat V, and her husband, Doctor Nuri, were sent to the island. Although some important personalities such as Abdülhamit and V. Murat are real in the book, some of the protagonists we believe to be true are completely fictitious.
Throughout the narrative, religious corruption has been criticized over the difficulties experienced during the quarantine process on Minger Island. The Plague epidemic could not be stopped because the people believed in the amulets written by the hodjas and sheikhs, not the quarantine rules. Sami Pasha, the governor of Minger, was left alone by Palace. Only the poor Greeks, Turks and real Mingerians remained on the island.
We learn what happened on the island from the letters that Doctor Nuri’s wife Pakize Sultan wrote to her sister in Istanbul. Most of these letters could not reach her sister due to quarantine. Since her husband is a quarantine doctor, the letters are detailed both in terms of the situation of the epidemic and politically.
The character of Kolağası Kamil, who was sent to the island as the bodyguard of Pakize Sultan and Doctor Nuri and became the most important character of the novel, is a widely discussed and discussed character by the readers. The reflections of nationalism can be seen in Kolağası Kamil, a true Mingerian, on the isolation of the island and the complex and triggering events that took place one after the other.
Kolağası rebelled against the empire and declared the island’s independence. In this respect, an investigation was launched against the writer Orhan Pamuk with the allegation that Kolağası Kamil was written to insult Atatürk and the Turkish flag (via the Minger flag) because there are many similar aspects.
Pamuk said, “There is no disrespect to Atatürk and the heroic founders of the nation-states that were established from the ashes of empires in Nights of Plague, which I have been working on for five years. On the contrary, the novel was written with respect and admiration for these libertarian and heroic leaders. As those who read the book will see, Kolağası Kamil is an all-round positive hero loved by the people.” gave the answer.
The love between Kolağası Kamil and Zeynep, who is also a true Minger, is quite impressive. Both Kamil and Zeynep are young people who know Mingerce well, dominate the Minger culture and want to keep this culture and consciousness alive.
Important points that point to Kamil’s similarity with Atatürk are that he ordered the origin, past, and ancient excavations of Minger Island and its people to be investigated; It is the assignment of scientists to do research on Minger language and replace foreign words, signs, signs with Mingerian terms. We can say that Kolağası Kamil, who is the President of the island, is likened to Atatürk by some readers because of his adventure from military service, war fronts to the independence of the island where he was born and grew up with national feelings.
The Topic of Nights of Plague
The novel contains information not only on Minger Island and the attitude of the Ottoman Empire against the Plague, but also on how neighboring or distant countries coped with this epidemic, what methods and measures they applied, and the attitudes of foreign countries towards Minger Island and the Ottoman Empire.
Nights of Plague, which is the work of an important intellectual accumulation, is similar to the long quarantine period experienced in today’s Corona epidemic and the problems that have arisen at the point of ensuring quarantine in our country. Therefore, with its fluency, imaginary and real elements, its historical aspect, the lessons it gives, it is an impressive book that touches on every emotion and thought of a whole people, from politics to health, from fear to love.
Nights of Plague Quotes
The lines I underlined in Nights of Plague were as follows, without comment:
“An important reason why the islanders do not flee is that they are unaware of the approaching catastrophe, which we will faithfully describe in this book, and cannot think of it. Their inability to imagine the disaster also led to the emergence of the disaster and the taking of a certain form in history. ” – Page 169
“Quarantine is the job of educating the people and teaching them the skill of self-preservation in spite of the people.” – Page 119
“Not all murders are committed for profit. Some murders are committed out of injustice and desperation, and sometimes people can become murderers by chance, even though they never planned it…”- Page 100
“People’s relationships with each other have weakened, their friendship and desire to learn something new, to get angry at new rumors has also decreased. Everyone had enough fears, wounds, haste. No one was preoccupied with the death of their neighbor.” – Page 452
“According to Pakize Sultan, who spent her entire life in palaces, the greatest proof of love was the depth and genuineness of the feelings of men and women as well as positive and understanding.” – Page 335
“A nation without religion, creed and history has neither a life nor a future.” – Page 313
General Evaluation of Nights of Plague
Nights of Plague strikingly depicts the helplessness of mankind against deadly and contagious diseases through the people of Minger Island, which is connected to the Ottoman Empire. It is a novel that criticizes the fatalism in religion, the ignorance of the people, and the enmity between different religions and races.
According to the novel, Minger Island, abandoned to its own fate, declares its independence with the revolution of its heroes Kolağası Kamil. But most things don’t go as expected.
Orhan Pamuk’s language and the flow of expression make the work stand out as a must-read Pamuk work.
Books of Orhan Pamuk
Orhan Pamuk is a meticulous writer who has worked on his works for years. The main novel he has written so far are as follows.
- The White Castle
- The Black Book
- The New Life
- My Name Is Red
- The Museum of Innocence
- Silent House
- A Strangeness in My Mind
- The Red-Haired Woman
Review Nights of Plague by Orhan Pamuk
Briefly My Opinion
Orhan Pamuk is one of the most prestigious and attentive authors of contemporary Turkish literature. It is a great pleasure for a native Turkish speaker to read his writings.