Pamuk's first novel, Cevdet Bey and His Sons, appeared in 1982. He achieved best-seller status at home and fame abroad with The White Castle (1985, tr. 1990), a postmodern historical novel set in 17th-century Constantinople (İstanbul) during the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Pamuk subsequently wrote two intellectual mysteries, The New Life (1994, tr. 1997), at once a thriller and a textual exploration set in rural contemporary Turkey, and My Name Is Red (1998, tr. 2001), a taut and magical story concerning a murdered 16th-century miniaturist. In Snow (2002, tr. 2004), an elaborately plotted tale of love and politics, he treats the clash of values between theocratic Islamists and secular Westernizers in late 20th cent. Turkey. The Museum of Innocence (2008, tr. 2009) centers on the conflicts between obsessive love and the pressures of tradition, and between erotic desire and social approval; it also is a portrait of İstanbul in the 1970s. The Innocence of Objects (tr. 2012) catalogs the objects of Pamuk's actual Museum of Innocence in İstanbul and discusses themes related to them. His other novels include Silent House (1983, tr. 2012), The Black Book (1990, tr. 1994, 2006), A Strangeness in My Mind (2014, tr. 2015), and The Red-Haired Woman (2016, tr. 2017). İstanbul: Memories and the City (2003, tr. 2005) is a memoir of his youth.
Pamuk is also an essayist, e.g., Other Colors: Essays and a Story (2007) and The Naive and Sentimental Novelist (2010), and a human-rights activist with a particular interest in the rights of Turkish women and Kurds. In 2005 he was charged with denigrating Turkey's national character by publicly stating that a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds had been killed in Turkey, a reference to the 1915 Armenian genocide and more recent Kurdish conflicts. In the face of severe criticism, much of it from the European Union, the charges were later dropped. Nonetheless, Pamuk found himself facing increasing ostracism and harassment in his beloved hometown, and he now lives mainly in New York.
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