Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Istanbul: memories and the city - Orhan Pamuk

I’ve seen this book on the same shelf of my parent’s house bookcase for a few years. I thought it was a novel, I don’t know why. When I finally picked it up I found out that it is actually a collection of memoirs. Every chapter deals with a different topic. Sometimes it’s an area of the city, sometimes a person, a building, a situation, a life phase. This work doesn’t feature a proper narrative thread. It is rather a set of recurring themes - mostly sensations - that keeps together not only the pages of the book, but - the author feels - also the city and the people who live in it.
Istanbul - aka Byzantium or Constantinople - and its inhabitants are torn between the desire for modernization and westernization on one hand, and the melancholy and longing for a glorious past which is no more on the other: poverty, mess and filth are always there to remind one of the reality of that loss. The author is himself caught in this contradiction. He feels sad about it and wonders if this is the same sadness that permeates the whole place. It’s a kind of sadness which the city doesn’t experience as a consequence of some misfortune, something that can be overcome with action or a change of mind, but rather like a basic feature of one’s character, which has to be worn with patience and dignity, even pride maybe.
The author’s style is very refined, his thoughts accurately woven, his prose elegant like the interior design of an Ottoman palace hall. The book is intentionally soaked in a (Turkish) bath of melancholy and sadness, which are corroborated by the beautiful black and white photographs that dot many of the pages.
I don’t remember exactly whether I had some of the author’s impressions when I visited Istanbul many years ago. It was a short trip anyway, just a stop-over really. I know for sure that I wish I will visit the city again after reading this book. And the others that Pamuk recommends as well.

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