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Festival: Pamuk and Rushdie Go Home

Filed under: New Yorker Festival   Tagged: , , , , ,

The High Line Ballroom is a very interesting venue. It’s not very big, yet still a ballroom. All that dancing space taken up by a modest yet dense grid of rectangular tables. I was fortunate to get a table right in the front. I recommending arriving early at High Line Ballroom events; proximity may make the difference.

You will be seated with others; at my table was a young couple discussing Pamuk’s brief contributon to the Food Issue and James Watson’s “ornery” appearance a few days ago. (How often do you hear the phrase “This is the second Nobelist I’m seeing speak this week”?)

Pamuk and Rushdie thankfully ignored the Bushian undertones of the word “homeland,” opting instead to focus on the place of one’s upbringing, the place where one’s mother lives. (Rushdie pointed out that Pamuk’s oft-invoked mother, meant as a symbol for familiar trappings, loomed large over the proceedings.) The two men saw eye to eye on many matters; it was telling where they differed. Rushdie observed that a man who never leaves home is “sad”; Pamuk dissented, preferring to pity the man who is widely traveled and yet finds home in every foreign artifact. Pamuk made a point I found quite penetrating, to the effect that one can be sure one is not at home when one feels no responsibility for the state of affairs where one is. Rushdie impishly said, “I find Orhan’s sense of responsibility comforting; I’m in favor of irresponsibility.”


Pamuk’s English is strongly accented (and largely article-free) and yet, as befits a man of very wide reading, he had an uncanny knack for choosing the correct word. Where Rushdie was delightedly puckish, Pamuk was well-nigh sermonic, and yet charmingly so. Pamuk ventured some wisecracks, none of which went over; yet his “straight” discourse was often more effortlessly amusing, not least when he explained how much it pisses him off when westerners feel compelled to pigeonhole his accessible works as self-evidently limited to “Turkish” love or politics.

Rushdie’s easy whimsy manifested itself in several good anecdotes, such as when he described his mother as a “Garcia Marquez” of local gossip. He also told a wonderful story about the eye-opening feats of New Yorker fact-checkers, who requested that he alter a stray name reference so as not to coincide with the actual contents of the Bradford, UK, telephone directory. Rushdie demurred (in my view rightly).

Perhaps the most startling moment in a very diverting evening was when Rushdie pronounced Updike’s The Coup as “one of the worst novels ever written.” —Martin Schneider

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