Monday, July 1, 2013

Review of Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk

Istanbul: Memories and the CityIstanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk

Along with The World's Literature group, I have been reading a lot of books set in Turkey this year. Just check out what I've covered so far!  Most of the books have been fiction, two have included elements of fantasy (steampunk and nanotech!), and one is a cookbook with photography you would not believe.

BlissBirds Without WingsA Conspiracy of AlchemistsThe DervishSnowThe Dervish HousePurple Citrus & Sweet Perfume: Cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean

One of the best known Turkish authors has to be Orhan Pamuk. I've only managed to read one book of his so far, but there are many more on my to-read list to get to. I actually think reading this autobiography/memoir first will add some understanding to any of his books that I read in the future. It covers his childhood in Istanbul, up through his college years and the moment he decides to become a writer.

While this book came out in print in 2003, this audio edition was newly released by Random House in April. I had downloaded it but was listening to another book.

Then this happened:

I was already deeply interested in Turkey, even to the point of learning some of the language and the cuisine, but following the protests and police action in Twitter made me more interested in Istanbul.

Of course, the Istanbul of this book is several decades ago, but you can see traces of a history that breeds an environment where clashes between groups are not exactly unexpected, where poverty and control have always been issues in the background. Pamuk suggests that the most beautiful view of the city is from afar. I'm not sure he really means it, because he continues to return to this concept of hüzün, or melancholy, that he claims is part of the daily lived aesthetic in the life of an Istanbullu. That those living in the city want to feel hüzün, and don't feel as alive without it.

I know Pamuk has been criticized both by the government for not being religious enough and by the public for not being critical of the government enough, but this book makes it clear that he isn't all that interested in making a statement with his writing; he wants to describe. It makes so much sense now, to see his journey from painter to writer, to understand how this plays out in his writing. His descriptions of the black and white landscape of winter is central to Snow, the one book I've read.

I've had dreams about the Bosphorus, a strait in Istanbul separating Asia from Europe. Even though I've never been there and don't have reason to dream of it, I can see why you would. His descriptions of living within view of the river, of the fires and the commerce, made me long for this place I've never experienced.

The reader for the audiobook is John Lee, whose voice is very familiar to me as the reader for Ulysses. He does a good job with the pronunciation of Turkish names, but I kept expecting him to jump into "Hoopsa, boyaboy, hoopsa!" You know you listen to a lot of audiobooks when....

1 comment:

  1. 1. I can't read the name "Pamuk" without thinking of Downton Abbey.
    2. My interest is piqued! Turkey is a fascinating place, but until I can go there I'd love to read about it. Perhaps I'll start with Snow...


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