Book Review- “The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist” by Orhan Pamuk

Introduction to the reviewer:

Seema Panjwani is a research scholar at V.Y.T PG Autonomous College, Durg.


Orhan Pamuk’s The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist is the set of essays, based on the lectures he delivered at Harvard University as part of the distinguished The Charles Eliot Norton Lecture 2009. Orhan Pamuk presents a masterful theory of fiction writing, concerning plot construction, character, theme, centre and many artistic views which he has experienced in his life. Pamuk is profoundly inspired by Fridrich Schiller’s famous essay “On Naïve and Sentimental poetry” 1795- 1796.  Drawing on Schiller’s distinction between naïve writers—those who write spontaneously by the influence of natural universe and Naïve poets are one with nature- calm and wise. By contrast sentimental writers—those who are reflective poets and who are unsure whether his word will encompass reality and convey the meaning that he wants but he is aware of his writing structure, techniques used by him and artifice the portion of his work. Pamuk says: “Being a novelist is the art of being both naïve and reflective at the same time” (The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist, 13). Pamuk reveals the two ways of processing and composing the both. Orhan Pamuk defiantly asserts that the more the novelist succeeds simultaneously both naïve and sentimental, the better he writes. He says;My aim is here to reach a deeper understanding of Schiller’s essay, which I have loved very much since my youth as well as to clarify my own thoughts on the art of novel via his essay ( as I have always done ) and to express them accurately ( as I am striving to do now).    (The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist,14)

          Throughout his lecture, Pamuk takes us through his own literary journey and looks at the works of writers such as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust, Mann and V.S. Naipaul any  many other great novelists. Pamuk assist: In my thirty-five years as a novelist, this is what I have always thought Tolstoy did, as well as Dostoyevsky, Proust, and Mann – the great novelist who have taught me the art of the novel. (The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist,178) Further he gives example of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Rousseau’s Confessions, Michel Foucault and the writings of Wolfgang Iser, Umberto Eco etc. Pamuk praises: “Reading Tolstoy’s description of how Pierre watches the Battle of Borodino from a hilltop, in War and Peace, is to me like a model for reading a novel” (The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist,8). Pamuk put in the pictures his views of novel reading and writing. Writing a novel means painting with words and reading a novel means visualising images through someone else’s words. By ‘painting with words’,   I mean evoking a very clear and distinct image in the mind of the reader through the use of words. (The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist,93)

       Pamuk believes, the highest achievement of a novelist, as a creator and an artist, is the ability to construct the form of the novel as an enigma a puzzle whose solution reveals novel’s centre. It is the best example can be his My Name is Red .Pamuk feels that the strongest initial urges while writing a novel are

To make sure I can “see” in words some of the topics and themes, to explore an aspect of life that has never before been depicted, and to be the first to put into words the feelings thoughts, and circumstances that people who live in the some universe as me are experiencing. (The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist,68)

In his thirty-five years writing career Pamuk tells about the pleasure in the structural games of the novel, he composes and derives pleasure like a child: ‘I have made my living by writing novels; I’ve often felt fortunate to have a job that involves playing games like those I used to play as a child. Despite all its challenges and the great labor it demands, being a novelist has always seemed a joyful business to me.” (The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist,70)

Orhan Pamuk in The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist in his epilogue section expressing his desire to share his novelistic journey and personal concept about the art of novel:

As to my goals for the book; I wanted to talk about my novelistic journey, the stops I’d made along the way, what the art and form of the novel had taught me ,  the limits they had imposed upon me, my struggles with and attachment to them. At the same time, I wanted my lectures to be an essay or meditation on the art of the novel, rather than a trip down memory lane or a discussion of my personal development. This book is an integral whole comprising all the most important things I know and have learned about the novel. (The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist,182)

Further Pamuk adds about his main goal of exploring the effects that novels have on their readers, how novelist work, and how novels are written. He shares his intertwined experience of novel- reading and novel writing as he has spent more than half of his life over it after his twenty. He suggests that: “The best way to study the novel is to read the great novels and aspire to write something like them. At times, I feel the truth in Nietzsche’s words: before speaking of art, one must try to create a work of art.” (The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist,183)

        Pamuk asserts that, compared to the other novelists he sees himself as someone who is more interested in theory and he enjoys reading about theories of novel—this interest proved fruitful when he started after the age of fifty, teaching at Columbia University. When at the age of twenty-two Pamuk declared to his family, friends and acquaintances that he is going to be a novelist and not a painter. In Turkey, there are painting lovers as its past Byzantium is considered a city of art but there are very few readers. Pamuk tells the bitter truth about his country’s view about a reader: “Still I live in a country that views the nonreaders as the norm and the readers as somehow defective.”(Other Colours,107). Everyone warned him to protect from a bleak future that of devoting his whole life to writing novels in a country with a small readership. Pamuk remind the words of his one of acquaintances but not mentioning the name and words as: “Orhan, nobody understands life at twenty-two! Wait until you get older and know something about life and the world that you can write your novel”. Pamuk got furious at these words and he replied which he wanted to his readers to listen too:

We write novels not because we feel we understand life and people but because we feel we understand other novels and the art of the novel, and wish to write in a similar way. Now, thirty-five years later, I feel more sympathetic toward the views of my well- intentioned acquaintances. For the past ten years, I have been writing novels in order to convey the way  I see life , the world, the things I have encountered, and the place where I live.(The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist,183-184)

On the whole, the complied work is on art of fiction and its functions which assisting the readers with profound theory by the practical experiences of the Nobel laureate.

Work Cited

Pamuk, Orhan. The Native and The Sentimental Novelist. Trans. Nazim Dibkas. India: Penguin Books,2012. Print.