What’s wrong with an Orhan Pamuk TV series?

Orhan Pamuk, when he was asked in a recent interview if he would want to see his newly-published novel adapted to the screen, he said “yes.” A reluctant, Nobel laureate author kind of yes, though. The press took this Vicky Pollard-esque “yes but no but yes but” answer and made it into a “show me the money” statement as if Pamuk was calling out for prospective producers. The hate a potential Orhan Pamuk TV series received is so bizarre given that Turks are rather fond of their TV series.

Orhan Pamuk got in quite a bit of trouble recently, first by saying his latest novel Veba Geceleri (Nights of Plague) would make a fine TV series, and then by allegedly insulting Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the said novel. The latter claim was rather absurd (it’s fiction!) and vehemently denied by the author himself. But the TV stuff stuck.
 
Pamuk gave a live Instagram interview last Tuesday about Veba Geceleri, and when asked if he would want to see the novel adapted to the screen, he said “yes.” A reluctant, Nobel laureate author kind of yes, though. He said: “Yes, I would. But it is not easy. None of my novels got adopted so far, and I got a reputation as high-maintenance. I want to do it; I will be more forgiving. This book might get adopted, too, but the standards are very high. I am willing to talk to whoever is ready to reach those standards; go ahead. This book would make a fine TV series, but I would meddle in. I want it to get adapted, though; I am open to talks; let me give that message. I think it might happen.”  
 
The press took this Vicky Pollard-esque “yes but no but yes but” answer and made it into a “show me the money” statement as if Pamuk was calling out for prospective producers with the thickest checkbook. The very catchy headline was: “Orhan Pamuk: “My novel would make a fine TV series.” Certainly not for the faint of heart, the Turkish Twitter took the headline and had a heyday with it. The fact that Pamuk is a polarizing figure politically did not help either. Pamuk was ridiculed for being money hungry and an opportunist. He was compared to Gülseren Budayıcıoğlu, the famous psychiatrist whose books are adapted to TV with an astonishing rate with four series currently at prime time. He got the nickname Orhan Budayıcıoğlu. The message was that television is a lower art form, and Pamuk was stooping to that level.
 
The hate a potential Orhan Pamuk TV series received is so bizarre given that Turks are rather fond of their TV series, better known as dizi, and they certainly love a good novel-to TV moment. Better yet, Turkish series are the most prominent exports of the country, airing in more than 100 countries and getting adapted to local languages all over the world. Perhaps Turkey’s most popular dizi of all time, Aşk-ı-Memnu (Forbidden Love) was an adaptation of Halid Ziya Uşaklıgil’s classic novel of the same name. The series was shown in more than 40 countries, including the United States. Other icons of Turkish TV like Yaprak Dökümü (The Fall of Leaves), Fatmagül’ün Suçu Ne (What is Fatmagül’s Fault?), Behzat Ç., and many others are all literary adaptations. Netflix has six original Turkish series at the moment, no less than seven are coming out later this year, and another bunch is in pre-production. At least two of the upcoming projects are said to be written by well-known novelists from Turkey.
 
It is not just Turkish writers that are vying for a spot on television, either. International writers, best-seller sensations and high-end authors alike are getting their TV treatment as television is no longer a secondary form to film. On the contrary, television is having its second golden age, becoming more and more prestigious every passing season. The rise of streaming platforms and binge-watching also helped make literary adaptations more popular as the long and episodic form of TV is better suited to novels than film, allowing for better character development and more room for twists and turns. The pandemic created a hunger for more and longer content, too. Recent award darlings like Sharp Objects, Big Little Lies, and The Queen’s Gambit are all based on books. Sally Rooney’s smash success Normal People got adapted so fast it gave the readers a head spin. Even elusive legends like Elena Ferrante or Booker Prize winners like Margaret Atwood had their work turned into television hits.
 
It should not shock readers then that Pamuk’s door is knocking with TV offers both local and international. And some of those offers have almost bared fruit. In 2013, the producers of Aşk-ı-Memnu were said to adapt Cevdet Bey and His Sons, Pamuk’s multi-generational family saga, but the deal fell through. In 2020, it was widely reported that Amazon Prime was to adapt Museum of Innocence, possibly Pamuk’s most melodramatic work to date. But nothing is heard of the deal again. Pamuk playfully said in his Instagram interview that he once made a deal with Hollywood, but the two parties “ended up in a police station.” He added that the lawsuit is still ongoing. Pamuk did not name any names, but he might as well be talking about the Amazon offer.
 
Orhan Pamuk might be hard to please, but it is not like his work has never been seen through a camera lens. In 1991, the author himself adapted a story from his epic mystery The Black Book to the screen, penning the screenplay for the award-winning film Gizli Yüz (The Secret Face) directed by Ömer Kavur. In 2015, he co-wrote the screenplay for Innocence Of Memories, a partial adaptation of Museum of Innocence, along with director Grant Gee. In 2007, Pamuk’s Snow, his self-proclaimed “first and last political novel,” inspired a short movie by the Finnish filmmaker Hannaleena Hauru called So There Are No Poems Coming To Me. In the same festival that Hauru’s film was screened, the 13th European Film Festival, seven shorts were shot as part of a filmmaking workshop dedicated to Pamuk’s novel. Snow has also inspired a docu-drama in 2017: Rıza Sönmez’s Orhan Pamuk’a Söylemeyin Kars’ta Çektiğim Filmde Kar Romanı da Var (Don’t Tell Orhan Pamuk That His Novel Snow Is In My Movie I Shot in Kars). The novel was also adapted for the stage in 2018 and has toured France. Not bad for a novelist who once said, “I always wanted my novels to be adapted to films, but it has not happened as much as I liked because I was afraid of failure.”
 
So what’s wrong with an Orhan Pamuk TV series? Nothing, to be exact. If anything, it is high time for an Orhan Pamuk dizi. I can almost visualize a multiple seasons run for a Nights of Plague adaptation, much like the legendary Muhteşem Yüzyıl (Magnificent Century). I can practically see Cardi B. passionately commenting on it in her Instagram stories. Or what about an HBO mini-mystery based on Kırmızı Saçlı Kadın (The Red-Haired Woman) or a Coen Brothers adaptation of Snow? I am quite ready for a Netflix binge-fest of Museum of Innocence, where I channel all my pandemic angst to the screen and yell at Kemal with frustration for his unbearable incompetence. I am ready to say, “I watched a dizi one day and my whole life has changed.”

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