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Istanbul: Memories and the City Paperback – July 11, 2006

3.8 out of 5 stars 151 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Turkish novelist Pamuk (Snow) presents a breathtaking portrait of a city, an elegy for a dead civilization and a meditation on life's complicated intimacies. The author, born in 1952 into a rapidly fading bourgeois family in Istanbul, spins a masterful tale, moving from his fractured extended family, all living in a communal apartment building, out into the city and encompassing the entire Ottoman Empire. Pamuk sees the slow collapse of the once powerful empire hanging like a pall over the city and its citizens. Central to many Istanbul residents' character is the concept of hüzün (melancholy). Istanbul's hüzün, Pamuk writes, "is a way of looking at life that... is ultimately as life affirming as it is negating." His world apparently in permanent decline, Pamuk revels in the darkness and decay manifest around him. He minutely describes horrific accidents on the Bosphorus Strait and his own recurring fantasies of murder and mayhem. Throughout, Pamuk details the breakdown of his family: elders die, his parents fight and grow apart, and he must find his way in the world. This is a powerful, sometimes disturbing literary journey through the soul of a great city told by one of its great writers. 206 photos. (June 10)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Reminiscent of works by Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez, Pamuk’s novels, mostly set in his native Turkey, have racked up an International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, New York Times Notable Books of the Year, and profiles on NPR (see Snow, ***1/2 Nov/Dec 2004). Marcel Proust comes to many critics’ minds when describing Istanbul, an introspective account that transcends the memoir, as it also describes a city losing its identity. More than a city or guide book, Istanbul is "the most haunting, heartbreaking, gorgeous book ever about a city," says The San Diego Union-Tribune. Although Pamuk’s memoir concludes with his adolescence, it rings true to the universal coming-of-age experience.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (July 11, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400033888
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400033881
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Istanbul has been the designated intersection between East and West for centuries, and as a past tourist there, I have felt the resulting richness in culture and history as I visited the city's landmarks. However, author Orhan Pamuk takes a different view as a native of the city - a pervasive confusion over identity in reconciling the often conflicting sympathies of different cultures. In fact, he feels that there is an overwhelming sense of melancholy. As a Turk, Pamuk knows of which he speaks in this intriguing memoir as he grew up during the Atatürk revolution. He is not caught up in the inherent exoticism of the city but rather what he sees as a critical juncture between past and present. The past is represented by the Ottoman Empire, a multilingual dynasty whose heart once beat in Istanbul, its once dazzling capital. But the empire no longer exists, except in the surviving imperial mansions and memorials, the marble fountains and clapboard waterside villas. Yet, all the remnants are deteriorating as developers take hold of the real estate.

In Pamuk's view, the Ottoman past is a foreign country for the Turks. The present is the Turkish Republic, Atatürk's secular, Western-oriented, homogenizing nation state now centered in Ankara, an outgrown Anatolian village. Pamuk spends much of the book understandably mourning the replacement of the Empire with the nondescript country that is Turkey now. Sometimes his disappointed tone can be wearing, but Pamuk's honesty is bracing. Politically and economically, Istanbul is no longer a city of consequence, let alone a world capital. It is an insular little place sinking in its own ruins, "so poor and confused that it can never again dream of rising to its former heights of wealth, power and culture".
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Format: Hardcover
In 1923 when Turkey became a republic, Muslim Turks made up half of Istanbul's population of about a million. The other half consisted of Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Italians and other non-Muslim ethnic groups. The city was truly cosmopolitan and highly fashionable in the 1960s when Pamuk was growing up in upscale Nisantasi district: Non-Muslim religious temples outnumbered mosques even then, although the population has unevenly grown to 1.5 million in favor of Muslim Turks. One could order ham or pork sausages for breakfast in most restaurants or drink lemon flavored vodka at Rejans, a Russian restaurant run by two emigrant White Russian ladies, in Beyoglu. In those days, Istanbul was a visibly secular, highly sophisticated, cultured and refined city.

Today, Istanbul has a bustling population of about 12 million people where the non-Muslim population can hardly reach 100 thousand in total. Some churches and synagogues are closed most of the time because of lack of attendance and funds. Pera (or Beyoglu) is no longer a cosmopolitan community despite its long surviving name. The city has a much different, lackluster character now. It looks tired, burdened by heavy traffic, crowded streets and dense housing.

When Orhan Pamuk reflects on his life in Istanbul, he cannot help feeling melancholic about it because the city has now been inundated by an influx of conservative migrants from rural Turkey. While walking around in working-class districts similar to Fatih or Carsamba, a secular Istanbullu (like Pamuk himself) would indeed feel depressed. Clad in clothes compliant with Islamic values, overpowering number of bearded men and headscarved women would contrast very poorly to the secular images of the past.

For me, this book is not as simple as it appears at first glance.
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Format: Hardcover
Since the Byzantine, Istanbul has been called " the Grey City", as in many days of the year grey clouds wander above the city, making the bosphorus look like filled with silver. Because of his personality, Orhan Pamuk sees Istanbul only in black and white, making the city look even more "grey". I am only 20 years old and have lived in Istanbul ever since I was born. But I don't feel that Istanbul is only filled with "hüzün" or every part of the city reflects the pain of the lost civilization. It is true that we lost many of our memories , as Pamuk says the city mourns the lost times, but another life now sorrounds the city and young people of the city builds up a new understanding, a new way of life in Istanbul.

Yet the book is extremely wonderful, especially when Pamuk talks about the experiences and paintings of the Western wanderers, who came to the city in times of the Ottomans. Because Istanbul lacks recources that tells us about his past, seeing the city in the old times and feeling that lost dignity was beautiful.

I also believe that reading this books helps a lot when understanding other books of Pamuk. His childhood and his memories tells us a lot abour the characters in books like Kar ( Snow ) or The New Life.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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