It’s a long wait between Helen DeWitt novels; I’m happy to report she has a short story, “That Obscure Object of Desire,” in Bullett magazine that you can read online at a link in DeWitt’s post (which I cannot reproduce in a way that doesn’t lead to a 404 page; also, she says, I’m sure accurately, that “the print edition is much nicer”). Anyone who enjoyed The Last Samurai (my rave) will enjoy this, as you can see from this snippet:

They have a shelf of paperbacks by Orhan Pamuk. He read one once. He’d like to buy it.
If Kitap = Buch then Kara Kitap =? Black Book. 15,50.
He does not know Turkish, but he opens the book and looks at the words. He feels closer to this writer, probably, than to any writer in any language he knows, read only in sentences with meanings tangled up with other encounters with the language.
The back cover has:
“Pamuk’un şaheseri.” THE TIMES
“Zengin, yaratıcı, modern bir ulusal destan.” THE SUNDAY TIMES, İNGİLTERE
“Büyüleyici, çetin ve esrarlı bir işaretler girdabı. Bitmeyen bir enerji, çok nadir birşşey…” LIRE, FRANSA
He looks up “şaheser” in a Turkisch- Deutsch dictionary he does not mean to buy. Meisterwerk. A masterpiece.

(Typo warning: “смерь” should be смерть; the Polish quoted later on has “niezwzkąe” for niezwykłe in the version I see on my laptop, but that may not reflect what the magazine has on its site.)


  1. That was the way I found I ask for the cash registers when buying bandes desinnées in Grenoble.

  2. The link from DeWitt’s post doesn’t work for me either.

  3. Damn. How about this Google cache?

  4. Gosh, aren’t foreign languages, like, totally awesome?

  5. Hah, that first quote uses some Turkish grammar I just learned today — I love it when coincidences like that happen. There’s a suffix on both the possessor (-un here, according to vowel harmony) and the possessed (-i here, likewise). So, “Pamuk’s masterpiece”.

  6. …and let me give due credit to that handy reference, The Turkish Suffix Dictionary.

  7. After mislearning English I developed a phobia of trying to read foreign languages without first studying their phonology, and its relationship to their orthography (or -phies).

  8. John Emerson says

    As I understand, Turkish spelling is remarkably close to actual Turkish pronunciation.

  9. That works. Thanks, Hat.
    By the way, I just finished the Bowen biography of Coke. I was kind of surprised that she doesn’t say up front his name is pronounced “Cook”, but she doesn’t. I found the material on Coke as Attorney General extremely interesting; I had known him only as a judge and as the author of the Institutes.

  10. …and let me give due credit to that handy reference, The Turkish Suffix Dictionary.
    Wow, that’s a terrific resource—what a wonderful world we live in today (if you overlook the politics, global warming, and a few other details)!
    I was kind of surprised that she doesn’t say up front his name is pronounced “Cook”, but she doesn’t. I found the material on Coke as Attorney General extremely interesting; I had known him only as a judge and as the author of the Institutes.
    Same here, on all counts. Maybe back then she could take for granted that the average reader of such a biography would know how the name was pronounced.

  11. Not Thomas Coke of Holkham (“Cook of Hook’um”)?

  12. Victor Sonkin says

    Surely you know her new novel is finally out?

  13. John Emerson says
  14. John Emerson says

    DeWitt’s wiki deserves updating and fleshing out. I don’t think that I know enough to do it myself.

  15. Surely you know her new novel is finally out?
    Yes, but I haven’t gotten a copy yet.

  16. No, this is Edward Coke, Solicitor General, Speaker of the House, Attorney General, Chief Justice of Common Pleas, Chief Justice of England, first of the trust-busters, cooker of Bacons, establisher of the right to remain silent, onlie begetter of that bane of all law students the Rule in Shelley’s Case, author of Coke on Litleton and Coke’s Institutes, he whose reports of legal cases (his and others) are cited simply as Reports, the name being omitted as redundant.
    BTW, why does DeWitt’s narrator call Russian “Cyrillic”? It seems very weird to know any Russian at all and not to know the difference.

  17. Also, on behalf of James I, the prosecutor of poor Sir Walter Raleigh, according to that Wikipedia article. It’s hard to forgive something like that, isn’t it? Admittedly I’ve read nothing but the Wiki article, but: Coke’s behaviour during the trial has been repeatedly criticised; on…weak evidence, he called Raleigh a “notorious traitor”, “vile viper” and “damnable atheist”, perverting the law and using every slip of the tongue as a way of further showing Raleigh’s guilt.Boyer notes that Coke was, above all, loyal. He prosecuted Raleigh in that fashion because he had been asked to show Raleigh’s guilt by the King, and as Attorney General, Coke was bound to obey. “Just obeying orders”. Right. And then on top of that he prosecuted Guy Fawkes: Coke conducted the prosecution for the government – an easy one, since the conspirators had no legal representation – and through his speeches, “blacken[ed] them in the eyes of the world”. The conspirators were all sentenced to death, and died through various means. He sounds like the worst kind of establishment bureaucrat, a Bob Halderman type to James’s Nixon (bad analogy, I know. Nixon was smarter).
    Happisburgh, incidentally, where he had some property, is pronounced ‘Haysbra’ (schwa at the end). My family had a house nearby and we spent chilly, wet and windy summers there when I was young.
    Coke of Holkham seems to be a descendant.

  18. des von bladet says

    Turkished or not Turkished, periodicals don’t review books, reviewers do. (The _Dismalbladet_ aside.) I really hate blurbs that tell me what the “Sunday Times” thinks, because they actually tell me nothing at all.

  19. Oh, there’s no doubt that Sir Walter was treated rawly. He was convicted on the flimsiest of evidence, that of an alleged fellow-conspirator, given under torture, retracted, un-retracted and then (too late) retracted again. However, it seems clear that the King did not want him dead, as he suspended the sentence and then imprisoned Raleigh (not considered a punishment in those days), only to execute him 15 years later after an international incident in order to appease the Spanish government, who considered him no more or less than a pirate.
    But Fawkes, after all, was found on the scene and captured with slow-match and touchwood in his pockets. He had no character left to blacken. (Fr. Garnet’s execution for concealing what he knew under the seal of the confessional — not respected for Catholic priests under James’s reign — was another matter.)
    Lastly, the context of criminal trials was very different in Coke’s day. The rules of evidence that we anglophones are so proud of are a 19th-century invention, and Cooke was literally the King’s attorney (and the Queen’s, earlier) in exactly the same sense that a lawyer representing you in court is your attorney today. As the (U.S.) Code of Professional Responsibility has it: “As advocate, a lawyer zealously asserts the client’s position under the rules of the adversary system.” Naturally, those rules do change from time to time, and a Good Thing Too.

  20. I suppose you’re right, James I takes most of the blame for giving in to the Spanish ambassador. Still, I can’t like someone who put Sir Walter Raleigh in the can.

  21. I believe that would be Messrs. Brown & Williamson, not Sir Edward.

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