138 of 140 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly Individualistic View of Istanbul by a Native Son
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...
Published on June 26, 2005 by Ed Uyeshima
55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Istanbul, the Grey City.
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...
Published on February 5, 2006 by Orkun Kasap
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138 of 140 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly Individualistic View of Istanbul by a Native Son,
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". In brief, Turkey has become a country simply obsessed by its hopeful acceptance into the European Union.
Where Pamuk's book takes flight is the chronicle of his own personal journey. He is a secular Turk who exhibits integrity by not seeking authenticity in so contrived a national mission -- which he finds exemplified in his parents' house, where the piano is untouched and the porcelain is simply for show. In fact, his recollection of his childhood and his parents' failed marriage within the context of the public desolation of a dying empire is what most informs his exploration of Istanbul in the mid 20th-century. In fascinating detail, he recounts the city's European visions through writers as diverse as Flaubert, Nerval and Gautier through Gide to Brodsky; and the work of native Istanbul residents like the novelist Tanpinar and poet Yahya Kemal. In particular, for Tanpinar, the poor neighborhoods of Istanbul were symbolic of Turkey's own impoverishment in the modern world. The text is accompanied by an abundance of illustrations, including the photographs of Ara Güler from 1950 and the present, and photographs from the Pamuk family album.
Pamuk's chief achievement in this book is to show the human damage done by Atatürk's revolution without succumbing to the benighted nostalgia of many Turkish Islamists. Like many secular Turks, the author grapples with the most basic questions of existence -- love, compassion, religion, the meaning of life, jealousy, hatred -- in trembling confusion and painful solitude, but he cannot offer a solution. Mapping his own complexities, he turns to the streets of his hometown and to the last vestiges of a great culture. One of Pamuk's qualities is his constant striving to be worthy of that inheritance. This is a fascinating read by a native son.
177 of 198 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very memorable !,
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. Here, in disguise there are strong political and social messages about the current tendentious issues in Turkey. Again, author Orhan Pamuk delivered us a gem in "Byzantine" style. Bravo!
128 of 142 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Huzun in the City,
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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 (12OCT2006, A Nobel winner! Congrats, Mr. Pamuk!)
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.
55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Istanbul, the Grey City.,
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.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A river through time,
Pamuk spans the distances of time and memory in this novel as he searches for the meaning of the melancholy, or huzun as he calls it, of the city of Instanbul. Born into a wealthy Turkish family, Pamuk slowly watches his family's fortune dissolve in the hands of his father. He recounts his memories as his family moves from one quarter to another, interspersing personal accounts with various literary observations. Through it all we experience the uneasy balance between Islamic and Western forces that have shaped the city over the centuries. He explores through the writings of Europeans, how foreigners perceive the city, and how Turkish writers have attempted to respond to these views. Pamuk has such an elegant way of writing, with many undercurrents, like the Bosphorus which he so much loves. I particularly liked his literary chapters, like that of the four melancholy writers of Istanbul, and their attempts to forge an identity for the city. These attempts may have fallen short of their grand expectations, but the books became treasures, and helped to define modern Turkish writing. There are also his amusing observations on Flaubert, Nerval and other French writers and painters, who became absorbed in the city and to whom he felt modern Turkish writing owes a substantial debt. While Pamuk tries to escape this melancholy in his painting, ultimately finding a muse on which to hang all his hopes, he can never fully escape it, as he too becomes absorbed in this great city, which proves to be his literary release.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dreamy account of the past and growing up in Istanbul...,
This review is from: Istanbul: Memories and the City (Paperback)
In all Pamuk's novels, I like the digressions, descriptions and ambience most; I don't think the plot construction is his strength. That is why "Istanbul. Memories of the City" might be his best book - it is not a novel and there is no plot.
There are three planes present in "Istanbul". The first one is made of Pamuk's memories of the city, its specific kind of melancholy, which affects all Istanbullis ("huzun", which the author describes in comparison to the feeling studied by Robert Burton in "The Anatomy of Melancholy" and other melancholic European writers, finding examples also in the works of the writers who visited Istanbul and on whom the city left its unique mark, as well as bringing to mind the typical Sufi attitude), its dying, disappearing old neighborhoods with decrepit wooden houses and mansions, and the atmosphere of a former capital, which days of splendor passed long ago. Pamuk, born and raised in Istanbul, has never really left the city and still lives there, having come back to the apartment building, belonging to his family, where he spent most of his childhood. He reflects on Istanbul's influence on its denizens, including himself, and passionately describes his own ambiguous attitude to his city, his love mixed with hatred and boredom, his desire for change combined with his need to preserve the old charm...
The second level is the history of Turkey, from Byzantium, according to Pamuk, neglected and deemed unimportant by the Turks as a period which has left only the Greek minority and not much else behind, through the Middle Ages, times of Ottoman Empire and Ataturk, to the end of the twentieth century. Each period is described with nostalgia, but not without sharp criticism. Pamuk demonstrates his distance both towards the urge for westernization, the copying of European standards, and towards nationalism, chauvinism, feeling of superiority and dislike for Greek, Armenian and other minorities. He expresses his views firmly yet gently, without offense but leaving no doubt what is his opinion.
Interestingly, the third level, the most personal one, which is the memoir of the author's childhood and youth, shows his own doubts, prejudices and mistakes and his search for his own identity as a modern Turk as well as a creative artist. While the chronology of the Istanbul and Turkish history is not very precise, Pamuk's life proceeds from his birth to the student times more or less in order. He describes his life with the extended family, full of quarrels and hypocrisy, and his closest relatives - his mother, who seemed full of longing for something better, his father, failing in his business enterprises and living a second, separate life, his older brother, meticulous and teasing, and his grandmother, the queen of the household, who observed everything from her bed. Then, he proceeds to the account of his earliest, most personal, intimate feelings, then his school years, his artistic ventures, first, romantic love, unfortunate choice of architecture as the course of studies and, finally his arrival to the decision to become a writer.
All the planes combine in a unique way, wandering the streets of Istanbul evokes the historical memories, and the city undoubtedly had its giant share in shaping Pamuk's personality. The narrative flows in a characteristic, dreamy manner, with numerous references to literature and art, analyzing famous European works and introducing the Western readers to the Turkish poets, writers, journalists, painters and photographers. Pamuk's (Turkish?) obsession with the West is very visible, more than in his novels, the echoes of which sound in every passage in "Istanbul". Snow, always present in Pamuk's writings, appears here with double intensity, together with familiar themes of journal columnists, eloping couples, and family intrigues.
The book is full of carefully chosen, black and white photographs, some from Pamuk's family archives, some found at the old photo shops (the sources are listed at the end of the book), placed carefully between paragraphs. The pictures of cobblestone covered streets lined with wooden mansions, of streetcars and taxis, of laundry hanged to dry in the tiny cul-de-sacs, of the Bosphorus coast, enhance the text, add to the dreamy, magical quality and make excellent illustrations.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Imperial City,
Is any city as mysterious or compelling as Istanbul? To be the seat of the Ottoman Empire for centuries only to see itself poor, downtrodden and defeated in the modern age must produce a melancholy unknown in the West. Turkey's greatest living national treasure, Orhan Pamuk, gives us an insider's view of Istanbul. And he does so in the best possible way - by using his own life as a guide for Istanbul's intrigues in a highly personalized story of the city.
ISTANBUL therefore is not a detailed or comprehensive history of the town. Rather, its thirty-seven chapters provide bitesized snapshots of Istanbul through the lens of a young man growing up knowing that his city was once great and also knowing, alas, that its best days are behind it. Istanbul residents even have their own word for the melancholy this produces and this sense of huzun infuses the entire book.
Pamuk covers many things in ISTANBUL, including growing up in the shadow of a once great empire, the intimate relationship city residents have with the Bosphorus river, tales of various writers and artists who have visited Istanbul and the legacy they left behind, and the picturesque nature of outlying neighborhoods. The reader finds himself strangely drawn to Istanbul at the same time as he feels the pain and isolation of its residents.
Given the personal nature of the writing, Pamuk also focuses quite a bit on the odd pull the streets, buildings and citizens of Istanbul have had on him. I once heard an interesting question about rock-and-roll. Would U2 have been a spectacular supergroup had they been from Oklahoma City rather than Ireland even if all else, the music and talent, had been the same? An interesting thought to chew on and one that is relevant here. Pamuk is one of the more important writers today. But where would he be if he had been born somewhere besides Istanbul? The city so infuses his soul that it is difficult to imagine him being from anywhere else and writing the books that he does. A non-native could not have written ISTANBUL and we should be thankful that it has a native son like Pamuk to do the job for us.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ah Istanbul!,
I read the book about three months ago. The author uses the best method to describe a city: blend it with his life/memories. The book is giving a picture of the city since 1950s, his childhood years. Since he is "remembering", and since this for him (and most of us) inherently refers to "missing", the book is blended with "huzun" (melancoly). In addition, since Istanbul herself is a city of "huzun", that is, is a city which every body have always things to "remeber" of her, this makes "huzun" bigger. Everybody is missing the old, beautiful, imperial Istanbul, once center of the world, that is...like the great authors/artists that described the city, for whom he dedicates chapters in his book. Pamuk is ironically describing how his family and similar families contributed the late years of the long metamorfhosis of Istanbul from an (collapsed, died) old imperial city to a overpopulated/modern city without a spirit. He is trying to find out that the old beautiful lady is not dead yet, she is still young and breathing, through countless physical and metaphysical signs scattered all over the city, but she is heartbroken, hidden, shy and she is waiting to be recognized, explored and pampered.
The English translation is superb. Also, there are many illustrations throughout the book, however I would recommend to the first-time readers about Istanbul to accompany historical and modern picture catalogues of Istanbul while reading this book. Why? To make/understand "huzun" bigger/better. To make the pain more intense! To see what we have done to this great city!
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exotic Literary Memoir and Travel Guide,
This memoir stikes me as both erudite & conversational thanks to a fairly reader-friendly translation, but it can be boring at times. Pamuk deals on three levels simultaneously: it is first and foremost a personal memoir,containing voluble childhood memories of mother,father, brother,grandmother and numerous aunts and uncles,his schools(at which he was a precocious student who found time to make fun of those who were more prone to disciplinary problems),his love of painting,his rich sometimes malicious fantasy life, as well as a great deal of teenage angst in the latter chapters regarding his guilt and self-hatred regarding a career choice;a wonderful if sad chapter on his first love,"Black Rose", a model; and his decision to drop out of college and abandon his original love of painting in favor of a career as a writer, a decision he makes after the "Black Rose" rejects him.In the last chapter we learn that his mother, who exerts a high degree of influence over him, believed that painting, though a highly esteemed vocation in the West, was not a practical alternative especially in the more backward East, and she strongly recommends that he finish college and find a profession,so that he won't become neurotic or constantly dependent on the beneficence of art patrons. She did, however, encourage his interest in art by allowing him to use one of her apartments as an art studio; his father supported all his interests. As a youth he moved a lot, due to his parents' frequent arguments and his father's extramarital affair.
The memoir is also notable for his family's secularized view of religion; for the most part,with a few exceptions, he considers most of the rituals of Islam, including Ramadan, to be almost in the realm of superstition and the province of the poor rather than his own more intellectual family. Symbolic of this is the family maid who tells Orhan his hands will turn to stone if he touches her while she is praying.
The family which I would describe as upper middle class slowly squanders its fortune over time--he mentions this repeatedly-- but Orhan has the benefit of a private school education in his early years. Many of his best friends were rich at the American Robert Academy. The memoir is also in large part a literary history of 4 modern Istanbul writers he greatly admires and other French writers who visited Istanbul as tourists especially in the 19th Century; the book also contains a large amount of art commentary as well as quite a bit of emphasis on the Bosphorus, its accidents, its fires, the architecture of its now time-worn palaces, and its steam ferries. The memoir is less a political history but we learn the importance of the Ataturk Revolution, and the Westernization and Turkification that it inspired, as well as its negative impact on the wealthy industrialists of Istanbul, including some interesting details about vendettas among the rich shipping magnates. The Turkification was also a form of ethnic cleansing of minorities. One of the first efforts at Westernization, and certainly not the last, was to eliminate traditional Turkish dress. There is a great deal of emphasis on the melancholy aspects of this now dilapidated city which fell from world power in the 19th Century as it slowly lost all or most of its conquered provinces; melancholy, or "huzun",a word used to denote apathy, is the word Pamuk most frequently uses to describe Istanbul, a quality shared by citizens of every class. At the turn of the 19th Century, from the engravings provided by Melling, Istanbul seems to rival Paris as a world class city. Besides the personal memoir, the book focuses on the travel writings of French authors like Gautier, Nerval, Flaubert and Gide and the indigeneous Istanbul writers,most educated in France and some of them newspaper columnists,who like Victor Hugo in Paris, frequented the poor back alleys and ruins of this complex city, a habit Pamuk emulates in some detail after making his decision to become a writer. These foreign writers as a rule were quite condescending in their negative views of the primitive East and held their own Western values as far superior. Flaubert, for example, blames the East for his contracting syphilis, a false charge; some of them, including the Turkish writers, enjoyed watching fires. Unfortunately Pamuk often, perhaps necessarily, slips into didacticism in discussing the literary history of Istanbul; it often seems rather dry and in some ways Pamuk fails to bring it to life. As the writer, it is his responsibility to do so.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Self and the City,
Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul is a thoughtful tour through the streets and soul of one of the world's great cities. It cleverly interleaves Pamuk's own coming of age tale with an informative history of the neighborhoods where he's lived his entire life, a kind of cross between Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and a brainy Rick Steves travel guide. My favorite part of the book is Pamuk's description of the Western travelers who wrote about Istanbul and the way Pamuk himself, as a young Turkish writer, needed to see the city through their eyes before he could correct their accounts with his own experience. One of the best treatments of cross-cultural influence I've read.
Despite his insistence on Turkey's huzun, the special melancholy that comes with the awareness of having once been a great empire, Pamuk's a genial and generally enthusiastic guide to the dustier corners of the city and its history. He manages to celebrate the Turkish capital without sugarcoating it, along the way making a subtle case for the value of art and the artist for a culture's self-understanding. I hope Turkey and its leaders understand what a rare ambassador they have in a writer of Pamuk's gifts.
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Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk (Paperback - July 11, 2006)