Book Briefs: Orhan Pamuk, John Le Carré

It is absurd to suggest that literature has a single higher purpose. It is and can do many things. But some of the bravest and most enduring works are those that expose and challenge a nation’s troubles. Of course, these pieces work best when the prose itself is great.In his essay on the novels of Uyghur author Perhat Tursun back street, Ed Park focuses on the artistry of the book, not its politics.But he also commented that “downright savage[ity]” tells the story of the protagonist’s life as a Uyghur in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region — the abuse and violence he faced. Park credits the novel’s racist depiction of Uyghurs as contributing to Tursun’s 16-year prison sentence.

Like Tursun, Orhan Pamuk faced retribution from a country he regarded as a subject: Turkey. As Judith Schlewitz explains, Pamuk’s writing had to contend with numerous “political and legal constraints.” He was accused of “defaming the Turks” after alluding to the Armenian genocide in an interview and is currently under investigation for allegedly mocking Turkey’s first president in his latest novel. He has also been threatened and harassed, although it is puzzlingly impossible to determine exactly who is behind these deteriorations. As such, they permeated his writing, creating a “paranoid literature.” In the United States, Jamil Jan Kochai used surrealism to criticize America’s endless wars in the Middle East, showing “how accustomed we have become to the strangeness of war,” writes Omar El Akkad. If a writer has been around long enough, people may be able to trace the arc of a country’s history in their writing. In his penultimate novel, John le Carré observes and laments that, in his native England, in recent years, “money has replaced ideology as the main battleground”.

Today, historian and author Andrea Wolfe argues that challenges to our individual autonomy are a major issue in disturbing developments in the United States. In her most recent book, she writes about Jena Set, a group of German philosophers and poets who came together at the turn of the 19th century to “revolutionize how we think about ourselves and the world”. Today, Wulf points out, we are “empowered” by “their absolute emphasis on individual liberty.” “As we find our democracies hollowed out and threatened by crooks, tyrants and reactionary politicians,” she wrote, we must “fight for that legacy.”

​​​Every Friday at the book briefing, we are together Atlantic Stories from books with similar ideas. Know other book fans who might enjoy this guide? Forward this email to them.

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what are we reading

Traffic conditions in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in 2018 (Carolyn Drake/Magnum)

Xinjiang produced James Joyce

“Persecuted by the religious right and its enemy, the Chinese Communist Party, Tursun will be a heroic figure no matter the quality of his work. So bittersweet for us English speakers, what we have The slender evidence – 136 pages, 25 years of refinement – is a near-perfect work of art.”

📚 backstreetby Perhat Tursun

Drawing of Orhan Pamuk tied with rope to write

Armando Weve

The Paranoid Literature of Orhan Pamuk

“When Pamuk called himself a paranoid writer, he named the other masters of the genre — Dostoevsky, Borges, Eco, Pynchon — and said he had something for them advantage because he grew up in a country where he grew up with paranoia as a form of existence. He was referring, of course, to Turkey, a political chaos, military coups (four since Pamuk’s birth in 1952) and a A country of frequent outrage with anti-government conspiracies.”

📚 Plague NightOrhan Pamuk

Fragments of Kochai book cover collage with children's photos

Library of Congress; Getty; Joanne Imperio/The Atlantic

The dark absurdity of American violence

“By using a fantasy style to describe the ordinary lives lost in the course of war, Kochai reveals the comical nature of a conflict where the military can investigate the deaths of ghostly terrorists it has killed remotely from a control room. The result is a dark one Literary impeachment, what an emperor lacks is not clothes but an allegory of conscience.”

📚 The Haunting and Other Stories of Hajji HotakJamil Jan Kochai

Photo of John Le Carre on a yellow background

David Levinson/Getty

John Le Carre’s biting story about Brexit

“in every aspects, Agents running in the field Secondary to its role as a scathing indictment of a country by a famous writer for betraying itself. “

📚 Agents running in the fieldJohn Le Carre

A red stamp over the etching of three men

Katie Martin/The Atlantic; Getty

Where does our sense of self come from?

“With freedom comes responsibility and danger. Friends in Jena struggled with it, just like we do today. From the moment of Jena’s huge transformation into a strong self, people had to deal with danger.”

📚 Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the SelfAndrea Wolfe

about us: This week’s newsletter is written by Maya Chung.The next book she is going to read is Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climate RegimeBruno Latour.

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