I really enjoyed this short but dense book, The Red-Haired Woman written by Turkish Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk. In the 1980s, a teenage, fatherless boy is an apprentice to Master Mahmut, a well digger. They dig for water in the hot sun, and tell stories to pass the time. As time goes on, they develop a tight relationship and grow to rely on each other as co-workers and as father and son.
However, everything is turned upside-down when, one evening, the boy observes a beautiful red-haired woman twice his age and daydreams about her to get through the difficult days of work. She is an actress in a traveling theater production and he becomes overwhelmed with a desire to see her in the play and meet her. Then there is an accident and we don’t know what happens to Mahmut. The boy leaves town and we are not sure who the red-haired woman really is. The character’s connections to one another and the mysteries make this novel a fantastic page turner.
Through stories told to the boy by Master Mahmut, ideas about fathers and sons are explored with references to Oedipus Rex, where a son kills his father and has children with his mother, and Rostam and Sohrab, where the father kills his son. I had to do some googling to fully understand the references, but I like to learn something when I read and this story was captivating. And who doesn’t like to learn a little extra by turning to the internet for help?
Love, loss and relationships are touched upon in The Red-Haired Woman, giving the reader a lot to think about, and so well-written with a few shockers and surprises. I loved how myths and real life paralleled each other and I highly recommend this book!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Orhan Pamuk grew up in Istanbul, where he was born, and bases a lot of his novels on his family today. He is described as ‘one of the freshest, most original voices in contemporary fiction’ (Independent on Sunday), is the author of many books, including The White Castle, The Black Book and The New Life. In 2003 he won the International IMPAC Award for My Name is Red, and in 2004 Faber published the translation of his novel Snow, which The Times described as ‘a novel of profound relevance to the present moment’.