“The white castle” by Orhan Pamuk

This article is also available in: Italiano

“The white castle” will transport us to Istanbul in the mid-17th century, telling the story of a Turkish master and an Italian servant, so equal as to merge into one another

The quote

“The one who came in looked far-fetched to me. So I was there! So I thought at that moment. As if someone, wanting to make fun of me, was introducing me again through the door opposite the one from the which I had entered and said: “Look, after all you had to be like this, you had to enter, so you had to move your hands and arms, so you had to observe the other and yourself sitting in the room!”

“The white castle” by Orhan Pamuk

The white castle

The twenty-year-old Venetian gentleman, passionate about astronomy and mathematics, and the Turkish astrologer look alike as if they were twin brothers. They look at each other with suspicion but for years live closely together engaged in the most varied scientific research: they study fireworks, design watches and discuss astronomy, biology and engineering. Together they manage to eradicate a plague epidemic. They spend a lot of time talking about their lives. Sultan Muhammad IV (1648-87) entrusted them with the construction of a powerful war machine, but during the disastrous war in Poland the device did not work. The union is broken and only one of the two “twins” will return to Turkey … But which one? A novel that is a metaphor for the link between East and West.

A sort of “master-servant dialectic”

The whole novel is based on the relationship between the Turkish master and the Italian servant, linked by an identical aspect which, from the beginning, will trigger a very strong bond. The two, in fact, will come to feel a mutual curiosity for each other, even going to challenge each other in mental games and destroying page after page the veils that separate their minds (from here forced spoilers).


The closeness between the two will grow to the point of allowing themselves to identify with each other, to the point of overcoming any initial difference and transforming one into the other. At the end of the novel, in fact, the servant will take the place of the master by returning to Istanbul as a Turkish, while the second will make the reverse journey reaching Venice. The whole “White Castle” then seems to transform itself into the story behind Hegel’s much famous “Servant-master dialectic”, which follows exactly the same logical steps. The main differences are mainly related to the methods, which in the book are definitely more similar to the Ottoman 17th century than to the German 19th century. Here, in fact, the master seems to exploit the servant’s intelligence with curiosity and respect, trying first to give life to the aforementioned mental process, definitely a big difference with the philosopher’s speech.

Near but without touching each other

In this novel the central theme that appears from the first lines is that of “personal identity”, a theme dear to the author and which, not surprisingly, is among the main issues of his great “The Black Book“, a book that I personally have much appreciated for themes and final. In that text, the two protagonists (a journalist and a relative of his) managed to enter into deep connection through the texts and the memories, arriving, at the end, even to get confused, transforming into a sort of unique identity.

The Black Book

Just something on the same false line I also expected for “The White Castle” but, being the basis of the novel different, the end result turns out to be very different (at least conceptually), upsetting most of the hypotheses made during the reading. With malice, in fact, Pamuk will push us several times to suspect that servant and master are one, but denying us in the final with the division of the two protagonists. Their union will not be definitive but temporary and, above all, will be aimed at a future split, very different, in fact, from the “The Black Book”.

Personally I expected and hoped for something similar to the aforementioned work, however “The White Castle” is an excellent novel that will make you travel at the height of the Ottoman Empire, combining historical and philosophical stories and allowing the reader to travel to 360 °. Only two clarifications: in primis, however good and interesting, Pamuk is never a too fluent author; in secundis, including what has been said above about Hegel, you will definitely enjoy the book more

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