Nights of Plague by Orhan Pamuk review – a playful approach to big themes

The reader is cast as detective, in this ludic novel about nationalism, pandemics and propaganda, set in the latter days of the Ottoman empire

Orhan Pamuk likes to play new games. Every one of his books has differed markedly from the others, yet each shares a capacity for disconcerting the reader. This one is long and intellectually capacious. It tackles big subjects: nationalism and the way nations are imagined into being; ethnic and religious conflict; the decline of an empire; the political repercussions of a pandemic. It includes many deaths.

Yet, for all the weight of its subject matter, its tone is lightly ironic, arch, even flippant. It has many flaws. It is repetitive; it contains far too much exposition. All the same – formally and in terms of content – it is one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year.

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