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Istanbul: Memories and the City Paperback – July 11, 2006
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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, Pamuks 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 Pamuks 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.
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Pamuk presents the City of Istanbul as seen through Western European photographs, paintings, and travel writings from the nineteenth century, and from Istanbul artists and writers, including journalists, a century later, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, as well as from his own experience of walking all over its different neighborhoods. He sees the neighborhoods falling into ruin, the mansions along the Bosphorus burning to the ground one after another, and his own family’s fortunes gradually crumbling. Against this decline and loss of pride, he sets his early love for painting, begun with a wish for praise and developing into joy of self-expression, and then reveals how he eventually chose to write instead.
This book is hard to read straight through because of all the interweaving ideas, stories, and themes. But various chapters, images and passages echo and invite rereading, and as I reread, I love the book more and more. I only wish I could enlarge some of the photographs to see them in more detail.
o Melling's Bosphorus Landscapes: This discusses landscapes of Ottoman Istanbul that published in Europe in 1819 and that "...give us a sense of the city's golden age with a fidelity to architectural, topographical, and everyday detail that other western artists, influenced by western ideas of presentation, never achieved... and so it is, as I leaf through... that I begin to think of Istanbul as centerless and infinite and feel myself inside one of the tales I loved so much as a boy."
o Huzun: This chapter examines a communal melancholy that stems from the experience of living in the ruins of the great Ottoman past. "...in Istanbul," Pamuk observes, "the remains of a glorious past civilization are everywhere visible. No matter how ill-kept, [these] inflict heartache on all who live among them... Huzun does not just paralyze the inhabitants of Istanbul; it also gives them poetic license to be paralyzed."
o Ahmet Rasim and Other City Columnists: In Istanbul, it has been historically "... imprudent to criticize the sultan, the police, the military..." and so "...literary elites had only one possible target for their scorn, and that was the helpless, faceless crowds, the little people... Everything we know about those unfortunate Istanbullus... we know thanks to...the ever censorious columnists." These "...made the city their subject."
o Don't Walk down the Street with Your Mouth Open: This chapter presents "... a random sampling of some of the ...advice, warnings, pearls of wisdom, and invective... from Istanbul columnists... over the past 130 years." Here's one example, which was printed in 1974: "When you see a beautiful woman in the street, don't look at her hatefully as if you're about to kill her and don't exhibit excessive longing either; just give her a little smile..."
In these and other chapters, Pamuk develops a deep and loving portrait of Istanbul, its history, and his own nuclear family. This enables the reader to understand the influences that shape Pamuk's sensibility and his consistently elegant writing.
Nonetheless, several of the concluding chapters of ISTANBUL are tedious to the max. These focus on Pamuk's adolescence and convey little more than the usual dilemmas and angst of a talented upper middleclass boy whose path to adulthood is uncertain. In this case, adolescent quandaries lead to this memoir's concluding sentences when Pamuk, then a university student, declares to his mother: "I don't want to be an artist. I'm going to be a writer." Still, his adolescence is not particularly interesting, especially in contrast to Pamuk's rich and quirky history of an ancient city and people, which is the great subject of this book.
I was skimming near the end and round up to four stars.
Pamuk clearly has an artist's eye for description, but unfortunately he allows teenage angst to overpower his book, making it frustrating reading too many times. One is tempted to think that the book is no more than 'Holden Caulfield does Istanbul'. Such a view would be a mistake. Enough remains, even in the author's personal narrative to redeem the work. The general sense of loss that pervades Istanbul society is well described, as is the tendency to live in the past which is perceived as a better time. Perhaps Pamuk is immature in his view that Turkey's uncritical emulation of Western European civilization was, and is holding the country and particularly Istanbul hostage to a dismal view of the present. One cannot deny however that there are seeds of truth in his view.
Just like fellow Nobel laureate V.P. Naipaul, Pamuk has a subtle and great sense of humor and describes his day and age in beautiful prose. I love this book, and I love Istanbul, a city of dreams with a grand past!
Nowhere else can you read about the two sides of Turkey like in Orhan Pamuk's books - where East meets West in both candid and honest terms. What an observer!