Istanbul is a shimmering evocation, by turns intimate and panoramic, of one of the world's great cities, by its foremost writer. Orhan Pamuk, winner of the Nobel Prize in 2006, was born in Istanbul, in the family apartment building where his mother first held him in her arms. His portrait of his city is thus also a self-portrait, refracted by memory and the melancholy-or huzun- that all Istanbullus share: the sadness that comes of living amid the ruins of a lost Ottoman Empire. As he companionably guides us across the ...
Istanbul is a shimmering evocation, by turns intimate and panoramic, of one of the world's great cities, by its foremost writer. Orhan Pamuk, winner of the Nobel Prize in 2006, was born in Istanbul, in the family apartment building where his mother first held him in her arms. His portrait of his city is thus also a self-portrait, refracted by memory and the melancholy-or huzun- that all Istanbullus share: the sadness that comes of living amid the ruins of a lost Ottoman Empire. As he companionably guides us across the Bosphorus, through Istanbul's historical monuments and lost paradises, its dilapidated Ottoman villas, back streets and waterways, he also introduces us to the city's writers, artists and murderers. Like the Dublin of Joyce and Jan Morris' Venice, Pamuk's Istanbul is a triumphant encounter of place and sensibility, beautifully written and immensely moving.
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We visited Turkey and found this book a wonderful preview of the city and the country. I like all of Pamuk's books, even though the Turkish people seem to despise him.
Oct 17, 2008
A must read
When it is the first time a European meets a Turk, he gets very surprised. He even thinks the Turk is behaving as he is a European. He believes his way of living in his country is much more different. And when somebody such as from Pakistan meets a Turk, mostly, criticises herand asks "how a muslim you are?" Pamuk in his book is giving the normal life of a normal Turk living in Istanbul. He even criticizes or appriciates his culture as a normal Turk does. If you are a European thinking Turks in an oriental way, or a Muslim that cannot understand why Turks are different from Arabs, this is a very helful book for you to understand Turks.
Apr 19, 2007
Huzun in The City
Ah, to understand a Turk. To comprehend a vast, neglected city like Istanbul, a once-splendid hub of empire and now the veritable locus of "East Meets West." Even better, to glimpse intimately, what makes a great author, great. If you haven't read any of Orhan Pamuk's work, reading this fine memoir is the perfect place to start, it can only whet your appetite for future readings. If like me, you lament that nothing remains unread in Pamuk's translated canon, then this book will feel like pure luxury, like a series of grace notes floating over a collection of excellent fiction.
"Istanbul: Memories and the City" has many tender accounts of the author's childhood and family life along with insightful musings on the character of Istanbul and its denizens, the Istanbullis. Certainly, the book's central theme is an exploration of how relationship and birthplace make us what we are. As Mr. Pamuk makes plain, (and lucky for us) he was born in no ordinary city. In addition, the book harkens directly to the zany, dream-afflicted characters found abundantly in Mr. Pamuk's work, which the memoir makes amply clear, are so much in their parts . . . like unto himself.
Once again, Pamuk has us pondering the structure and nuance of Identity, this time as a grand idea explored through the medium of childhood and birthplace. The sensitive candor with which Mr. Pamuk describes his background and relationship to the City is quite touching. The chief literary pleasure of the book has to be the chapter describing "Huzun" (which may be an aging sister to notions of "Kismet"). "Huzun," according to Pamuk, is a collective melancholy consisting of, in differing degree; longing, nostalgia and unrequited love. Mr. Pamuk explains how the experience of "Huzun" both limits and expands the life of Istanbul, its citizens and himself, as a quality central to shared identity.
Despite Istanbul's storied allure, the book highlights the deeper mystery of Istanbul's past, belying old notions of "orientalism," while revealing the cultural affect of early 20th century "Westernization" and its resulting distortions. The Ottoman past becomes the modern Turkish state within the lifetime of his grandmother and parents. This transformation is most opaque when Mr. Pamuk recalls the interminable, empty "western-style "sitting rooms" used by the apartment dwellers to bear witness to their incipient "Westernization." Photographs of neglected Ottoman-era houses leaning sadly into each other over the Bosphorus, along with pictures of the author's family are an exceedingly pleasant accompaniment to the text.
Also not to be missed, is the chapter on the never-quite-completed and wholly subjective "Encyclopedia Turkey." This chapter captures a certain frenetic intensity that lies with The Turks, a people who did the unthinkable by adopting new habits of dress, writing and socio-political organization within an unimaginably short period of time. The energy behind this intensity appears (to this reader) to counterbalance the undertow of "Huzun," in both Mr. Pamuk's memoir and his collected fiction. By the author's account, the chaos wrought by the redirection of Turkish society and its requisite "Westernization" resulted in difficult years for Pamuk's family and the legacy of Istanbul. Fortunately, today Turkey is the seventh fastest-growing economy in the world. Similarly, Mr. Pamuk is an internationally recognized writer and a Nobel prize winner.
Paramount to "Memories and the City" is the true art of sweet memoir. As Mr. Pamuk engages us in his city and childhood, (even a first romance) the shades of Hoja, young bus riders from "The New Life," shadows of the poet Ka from "Snow" and especially Jelal, that crazed columnist from "The Black Book," rise above the blue haze of Istanbul's "Huzun" with devastating grace, to the reader's extreme delight.
Apr 3, 2007
Discover the heart of secular Islam
I first picked up Pamuk's book because I admire him so much as a writer. I have also been reading everything I can get my hands on about Islam, the religion, its history, its followers, and the civilization that it created. Pamuk is not really an Islamist of any sort, but writes from the perspective of living in the most prominent city of the Ottoman Empire. This perhaps more than any other book provided me a glimpse into the lives of those who grow up in an Islamic culture. He is a totally captivating writer who allows you to see what it is like to live as a modern man in culture that is struggling with modernity.
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