The Red-Haired Woman: Orhan Pamuk’s latest tale of love, guilt and longing

Orhan Pamuk and the cover of his new book titled 'The Red-Haired Woman'
The cover of the new book and its author Orhan Pamuk

Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s new novel titled ‘The Red-Haired Woman’ (Penguin Random House India) chronicles the jagged-edged life of a real estate businessman who struggles with a father-shaped absence in his childhood, the unbearable burden of lifelong guilt, and anxiety about what love is.

The protagonist-narrator unpacks the events of his long life even as he flees from his unforgiving memories. Growing with just his mother in Turkey in the 1980s, Cem spends his early years piecing together disparate patches of information to make sense of the long, unexplained absences of his father who is a revolutionary.

With no money to go to university, Cem moves to ÖngÖren, a town near Istanbul to work with Master Mahmut, an accomplished well digger. The two men work very hard, but they find no sign of water.

Instead, Cem finds love briefly when he meets ‘the red-haired woman’, a theatre actor old enough to be his mother. They make love once but then disappear from each other’s life for  the next three decades.

After this Cem’s life becomes fairly eventful. An accident that Cem blames himself for results in a change in career, but the incident haunts him well after his next career takes off.

Cem also discovers that the ‘red haired woman’ is more a part of his life than he ever realised and the lone tryst with her has initiated a chain of events that will eventually take him to his own death. And strangely Cem’s death ends up echoing the ancient stories he has always loved: of Rostam, Sohrab, and Oedipus.

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