I Must Be Myself

It was then that I sensed somewhere deep in my memory a recollection stir like a shadow, and as the shadow advanced through a gate in the garden of remembrance that opened into another garden, only to continue through a second and then a third and fourth gate, I felt all through this familiar process the gates of my own personality open and close as I was being transformed into another person who could become involved and happy with that shadow; it was then that I’d catch myself before I began to speak with that other person’s voice.

In quintessential postmodern form, Orhan Pamuk spins a black book of confusion where the author, the narrator, and most of the primary characters and events are inhabitants of a swirling fiction replete with significance: underground Istambul, blanketing snow, stopped clocks, doll shops, newspaper columns, Aladdin, Heart-of-the-City Apartments, mystery stories, ancient stories.

Sometimes when I remember one of the stories in these pages, say the story of the executioner or the first time we heard Jelal tell the tale called “Rüya and Galip” on a snowy winter’s night, I end up recalling some other story in which the only way to be oneself is by becoming another or by losing one’s way in another’s tales; and the tales I want to put together in the black book remind me of a third or fourth tale, just like our love stories and memory gardens that open into one another, and I am thrilled to remember the story of a lover who becomes someone else upon getting lost in the streets of Istanbul, or the story of the man looking for the lost mystery and meaning in his own face, which make me embrace with increasing ardor my newly found work which is nothing more than retelling these old, very old—ancient—tales, ending up with me coming to the end of my book.

Stories within stories; fictions upon fictions. Is identity just a matter of making believable stories? A modern Shahrazad?

Sometimes a book, no matter how long or involved, leaves the reader with just one powerful vision that may hide out in the back corner of memory only to be recalled in disturbing dreams. In The Black Book, for me, it was the image of Rüya bleeding out in the doll section of the Aladdin Five and Dime, alone, with the lights on but the doors shut and locked.

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