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A Strangeness in My Mind: A novel Hardcover – October 20, 2015
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“Magnificent . . . a robust, affectionate chronicle . . . The book spills over with detail . . . [and] each of its sections . . . has the amplitude of most single novels . . . With the lightest of touches, [Pamuk] crosses his characters’ everyday routines against large-scale social and political disturbances . . . [Readers] won’t forget Mevlut or Mr. Pamuk’s Istanbul. Both seem too vital to exist only in the pages of a book.”
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“A complex psychological drama . . . [and] a tremendous concatenation of voices and places and politics and culture, gathered around a melancholy hero . . . [written with] virtuosic craft, intellectual richness, emotional subtlety and a feeling of freedom that comes from a narrative that finds its most meaningful moments in the side streets of storytelling . . . [A Strangeness in My Mind] wrestles with the complexity of an ever-changing city . . . Most delightful are first-person monologues by the characters themselves . . . It’s very funny, while also allowing into Mevlut’s tale the colorful voices and contending perspectives of the world around him . . . For Pamuk the vision of life as a complex web of knowable things provides a terrifically interesting way to write a book.”
—Martin Riker, The New York Times Book Review
“One of Pamuk’s most enjoyable novels and an ideal place to begin for readers who want to get to know him . . . Pamuk does for Istanbul something like what James Joyce did for Dublin . . . He captures not just the look and feel of the city, but its culture, its beliefs and traditions, its people and their values . . . A love letter to modern Turkey.”
—Adam Kirsch, The Washington Post
“Pamuk’s boundless compassion . . . makes the life of a struggling street vendor become, on the page, as monumental and as worthy of our attention as a sultan’s . . . [His] impulse to ennoble the most humble among us is perhaps the best reason to read Pamuk’s work . . . Since becoming Turkey’s first Nobel laureate for literature in 2006, [he] has written complex, ambitious books with the kind of energy one might expect from a young novelist.”
—Anthony Marra, San Francisco Chronicle
“A textured and rewarding narrative . . . Some of the most memorable chapters are interior monologues from women who, every day, must negotiate defiance and deferral to their men and their in-laws . . . [Pamuk] chooses multiple perspectives over moral judgment, which allows him to focus on the inner lives of his characters as they shape the city that, in turn, shapes them.”
“Filled with . . . rich specificity, creating for readers a world that feels, smells and tastes alive . . . Pamuk is such a skilled writer that he renders the most esoteric, seemingly banal topics fascinating . . . Strangeness is light and funny. Pamuk's perspective is generous. He takes a long view of history . . . a remarkable feat.”
—Trine Tsouderos, Chicago Tribune
“The women in these pages are fabulous . . . In the midst of the massive sprawl that is Istanbul, at the juncture of West and East, Pamuk uses a bickering crowd of family and friends to tell the story of a factious, ever-changing culture and its many points of discord.”
—Laura Collins-Hughes, The Boston Globe
“There’s no finer novelist living today . . . With A Strangeness in My Mind the author has made Istanbul into one of the world’s great literary cities . . . Reading Pamuk is like sipping a glass of fine wine or reading a late Dickens novel. Writers don’t get any better.”
—Charles R. Larson, Counterpunch
“Beautifully done, suffused with a nostalgic light . . . It is a big book, bristling with paraphernalia: indexes, character lists and epigraphs. But it is also an intimate one, contrasting 40 years of Istanbul’s political and demographic upheaval with the quotidian experiences of some of its inhabitants . . . A study of urban modernisation and a lament for a time before the single-mindedness of reformers.”
—Jon Day, Financial Times (UK)
“Magnificent . . . [a] sprawling story that Pamuk tells, and Ekin Oklap translates, with panache . . . At the same time as posing philosophical questions about the importance of intentions over outcomes, Pamuk celebrates marriage, parenthood and even quarrelsome extended family . . .
[He] is becoming that rare author who writes his best books after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.”
—Max Liu, The Independent (UK)
“Above all a love letter to the city in all its faded, messy, dusty glory . . . [A Strangeness in My Mind is] a vast collection of characters, events, houses, food, objects that, the reader realises at the end of 600 pages, are summed up in the name Istanbul.”
—Alberto Manguel, The Guardian (UK)
“Warm and gently engrossing . . . the story of modern Istanbul, of how a decaying, mixed, cosmopolitan city has been massively expanded and transformed by poor migrants from Anatolia. It has a political dimension . . . but at its heart, this is a novel about work, love and family.”
—Theo Tait, The Sunday Times (UK)
“[A] carefully detailed and compassionately told tale of life in Istanbul over the last 60 years . . . Pamuk has added another major work to his oeuvre . . . The novel’s central concerns are human nature, communication, and interpersonal relationships, and this great writer explores these themes with a universal warmth, wit, and intelligence.”
—James Coan, Library Journal
“Mesmerizing . . . A sweeping epic . . . The fable-like story’s chief protagonist is the ruminative Mevlut Karatas . . . His walkabouts and skirmishes with his family are engrossing, but what really stands out is Pamuk’s treatment of Istanbul’s evolution into a noisy, corrupt, and modernized city . . . This is a thoroughly immersive journey through the arteries of Pamuk’s culturally rich yet politically volatile and class- and gender-divided homeland.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review, Review of the Day, Pick of the Week)
“Rich, complex, and pulsing with urban life: one of this gifted writer's best . . . As Pamuk follows his believably flawed protagonist and a teeming cast of supporting players across five decades, Turkey's turbulent politics provide a thrumming undercurrent of unease . . . Pamuk celebrates the city's vibrant traditional culture—and mourns its passing—in wonderfully atmospheric passages . . . [and] recalls the great Victorian novelists as he ranges confidently from near-documentary passages on real estate machinations and the privatization of electrical service to pensive meditations on the gap between people's public posturing and private beliefs.”
—Kirkus (starred review)
About the Author
ORHAN PAMUK won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. His novel My Name Is Red won the 2003 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His work has been translated into more than sixty languages.
Top customer reviews
At the center of this sprawling epic of a novel is Mevlut, a vendor of vogurt and boza. We follow him through forty years or more of his life. At the beginning of this book, in language that eerily sounds like it could have come from an early British Eighteenth Century novel, we read: “Being the Adventures and Dreams of Mevlut Karatay, a Seller of Boza, and of His Friends, and Also a Portrait of Life in Istanbul Between 1969 and 2012 from Many Different Points of View.” In a note from Mr. Pamuk’s editors at Knopf, we find out that Mevlut is tricked into marrying the wrong woman, so I am revealing no more than what I too knew before I started the book if I am telling too much of the story. A lot of this novel then has to do with what happens after what we surely must say is a serious setback for this hero of our time. We are witness to all events in this humble man’s life and the lives of those he loves: people marry, they have children, their children grow up, marry and leave home, they go into military service, some of them die, they move to better houses. In a word they go through this thing we call a life.
In spite of all the other characters, A STRANGENESS IN MY MIND belongs ultimately to Mevlut. He is poor, innocent, so thoroughly decent, at times naïve but capable of deep love. He is religious but not an extremist, he is a good husband, a good father, a good friend. Simple pleasures bring him much joy. Here is a glorious passage that speaks to that joy. His wife Rayiha asks him to take their two small girls for a walk while she cleans house: “Mevlut would forget about everything that upset him. Walking in the streets with Fevziye in his arms and Fatima’s tiny hand inside his own calloused palm made him feel like the happiest man in the world. It filled him with joy to come home after a day spent selling rice and doze off to the sound of his girls talking, to wake up and play games with them (guessing whose hand was on his back or playing tag).” But he is also a man of loneliness as the title suggests: as he expresses to Rayiha, “’There’s a strangeness in my mind. . . No matter what I do, I feel completely alone in this world.’” And later in his life, while visiting a cemetery as he was wont to do, “He’d started whispering the name of God to himself more often, and occasionally he would ask him for deliverance from a lifetime of loneliness.”
Mr. Pamuk has expressed in interviews repeatedly that he writes novels not just for readers in Turkey but for everyone, that he has fought to have his “story a humankind’s story.” He certainly achieves his goal in this oh so fine novel that touches on the universal with its statements about love, family, friendship, loneliness, happiness, the swiftness of life. For the time I spent with Mevlut, he became my friend, my brother. In another quote from the author, he says that he writes “to be happy.” I would argue that his novels make his readers happy as well.
The novel also teems with a myriad of details about Istanbul and Turkish culture. I certainly now want to taste pistachio baklava for instance; furthermore, when I described my pleasure from reading this novel to a Turkish friend here in Atlanta, she promised to bring me a taste of boza. That is even more than I could have hoped for.
Finally, to paraphrase what Garrison Keillor has said about a line from Emily Dickinson, the last line of this fantastic novel will blow your head off.
The story follows Mevlut from age 13 to 53. His father and he are part of the massive post-war migration from the eastern rural villages, both communist-atheist Kurds and Muslim Turks, mixing with the nationalists and secularists of Istanbul when the city grew from three million to thirteen million. Mevlut falls in love when he sees a beautiful twelve-year-old girl at his cousin’s wedding, writes love letters to her over several years but never meets her. Later, planning to elope with her without having met her, Mevlut is tricked by another cousin into eloping with the girl’s plain older sister. He develops a strong love for his mistaken bride over the years as they raise a family, but the subtle story of the changing values of the Middle-East and the impact of those changes on Mevlut’s life and family raise the simple story to the Middle-East version of Updike and Roth.
Pamuk plays with the theme of determinism: the impact of Kismet, fate, and the changing environment caused by the overwhelming impact of western values and culture, particularly on Mevlut’s wife, Rayiha, and later their two daughters. The old themes of Dostoyevsky, the clash of East and West values, permeate Pamuk’s novels, but “Strangeness” is different. It focuses more on the single character and his wife trying to survive a changing world.
A meek man, Mevlut, like most people in the world, is concerned about the survival and love of his family. He is not a political man, although politics swirl around him daily, or a devout Muslim, but he culturally follows the traditions of Islam and turns to religion during his periods of stress and tragedy. His meekness, his inability to confront the government bureaucracy and his wife’s cry to control her life, all clashing with the old Middle-East traditions, results in tragedy that Mevlut simply accepts as his fate, never acknowledging any responsibility. Mevlut thus becomes the common man in the Middle-East, ignoring or accepting the corruption, the human rights violations in the name of crime prevention and stability, the lack of freedom of speech in the name of nationalism, the subtle repression of women, even by a once secular state.
This wonderful story of one simple man’s struggle with life seems to be a major change for Pamuk. It’s filled with metaphor and symbolism of feral dogs and conflicting cultures and politics covering his world with posters of their opinions and some will find the length, the numerous characters and rambling narrative tedious. I found myself skimming some parts but still mesmerized by the compelling story. Maybe as he ages, Pamuk will focus more on the emotions of the individual as he does in “Strangeness” and less on the conflicts of ideology as in “Snow.”
The core of the work - in my view - is related to the chances that destiny intervins in our decisions, or we believe in destinity and so it works. The other question : Does love at first sight exist? What is happiness? See all these questions answered through the simplicity of the boza seller and also the readers experiences. It is also important to see how the writer talks about globalization and its effects on Turkish society, the internal politics, how appeared the Islamics groups. The spiritual side of the main character is another feature to consider when the reader analyzes his personality, fears and strengths
If I were you , I wouldn't miss this masterpiece