A Dialogue with Dostoevsky: Orhan Pamuk’s A Dialogue with Dostoevsky: Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book

Kathryn D Schild, University of California, Berkeley

In an inserted essay on national literatures, Jelal, the mysterious columnist in Pamuk's 1990 novel The Black Book, introduces a novella about the messiah's appearance in Istanbul, supposedly written by the historic Ottoman writer Abdurrahman Seref. This work, “Le Grand Pacha,” was published in Paris in 1866, predating (as Jelal notes) Dostoevsky's second trip to Europe.

The intertextual dialogue thus created between “Le Grand Pacha” and the Grand Inquisitor inverts common critical frameworks about the relationship of Turkish literature to European literature and addresses Dostoevsky's direct influence on this complex novel of doubles and conspiracies. Pamuk inscribes Dostoevsky into the Western arc of East-West debates by turning Dostoevsky's assumptions about the Turks into the explicit narrative of “Le Grand Pacha” and challenging the Christian foundation of Dostoevsky's claims about universal human nature.

This paper explores both sides of the dialogue between Pamuk and Dostoevsky. I examine how Pamuk transposes the Grand Inquisitor into an Islamic context and uses this experiment to respond to critical concepts of anxiety of influence, Orientalism, and the hybrid genre of the Turkish novel. I then use “Le Grand Pacha” to reread The Brothers Karamazov, focusing on Dostoevsky's representations of the Turks, use of Islamic imagery, and the problematic Christianity of the Grand Inquisitor. This reading returns The Brothers Karamazov to the historical context of the Russo-Turkish Wars and Russia's resulting encounters with Islam, revealing a new facet of Dostoevsky's classic work.