Orhan Pamuk, Turkish Nobel

The pandemic, theme of the latest novel by the Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk

The last historical novel of the Turkish Nobel Prize for Literature, in which he has been working for 4 years and set in 1901 during a plague, has many parallels with the current coronavirus pandemic.

The Turkish Nobel Prize for Literature Orhan Pamuk recently announced that he is finishing writing a novel in which he has been working for 4 years, and that under the title Veba Geceleri (Nights of Plague) will be a historical novel set in 1901 that will have as a background a bubonic plague pandemic that broke out in the late nineteenth century and lasted well into the twentieth century.

In an interview given last April to Columbia University, where he teaches, Pamuk regretted that the current coronavirus pandemic coincided in time with the time in which he is writing this novel -which in fact had been around his head for 30 years- and he admitted that the current outbreak of COVID-19 had slowed down his work, although he assured that he is now determined to finish his novel.

I started writing this novel four years ago. Suddenly, all the stories about the plague that I had been reading and that I had been writing about, started happening on the streets. This surprised me and slowed down my work for some time. But now I am motivated again to finish my historical novel,” Pamuk said.

The historical background of his new novel would be set during the so-called third plague pandemic, which was an outbreak of bubonic plague that especially affected Asia, killing about 12 million people, although it also reached America, and although it began in the century XIX it was active until the 60s of the 20th century.

The novel is set in 1901 on a fictional Ottoman island

Veba Geceleri is set between 1900 and 1901 on an imaginary Ottoman island with a mixed Muslim and Orthodox Christian population, located between the islands of Crete, Cyprus and Rhodes, under the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Initially, Pamuk had announced that it would end it in the fall of 2017, but based on his latest statements, it seems that it will not be ready until the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021.

The novel addresses the effects of the plague epidemic on society and especially on children who have been orphaned by the death of their parents, as well as the estrangement from central authority and relations between East and West. One of its characters will be the Ottoman doctor Vali Sami Paşa.

One of the peculiarities of this novel is that when documenting about the pandemic to write it, Orhan Pamuk had to examine books on medicine and photos and illustrations of the time; and just as happened with his 1st novel after receiving the Nobel Prize, The Museum of Innocence (Masumiyet Müzesi), Pamuk revealed his artistic side in several drawings in which he wanted to capture the atmosphere and spirit of history. Some of them, Pamuk said, will also illustrate his new novel.