Orhan Pamuk on 'Anna Karenina'

Anna Karenina
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We talk to a lot of authors, and we’re always curious about what books made the biggest impact on them. The answers can be pretty surprising — Turkish writer and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s favorite novel is "Anna Karenina," the 800-plus-page Russian novel bursting with characters living the life of imperial Russian society. Pamuk says that complexity is why he loves novel so much. If you enjoy his take on the book, you can also listen to our interview with Pamuk on his novel "Snow."

This transcript has been edited for clarity. 

If you ask me [which novel] is the greatest ever written, I think it's "Anna Karenina." I think that it's a miracle of a novel — every word of it is miraculously beautiful.

The book is full of enjoyment of life [and] its peculiar aspects — little details of life captured with such full force and vitality and convincing crisp quality. And also, it's about dramas of human beings, [with] extreme compassion paid even to the little figures or most guilty ones.

It's a book of various [comparative] love stories. It is about what is important in life. Novels should be about what is important in life — love, marriage, friendship, struggle, making money, community, family, history, belonging. "Anna Karenina" is essentially a glorious, wonderful novel about these issues that takes place in Moscow and St. Petersburg in [the] 1870s.

The first sentence is astounding. It's almost the peoples wisdom in the streets of Russia: "all happy families are alike, but all unhappy families are different in their unhappiness."

I read it first in Turkish in 1971, [when] I was nineteen. I had a picture [of Tolstoy] on my wall. Two or three years later, when I first began to write my first book...emulate is not the word, but I continue to admire him. You don't have to write much, but [writing] one good book — or two good books  — will save your life.