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Istanbul: Memories and the City

Average Rating 3.5
( 25 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2006

    This is Pamuk's Istanbul

    The other day I have picked up the latest book by our first Turkish Nobel Laureate in literature, Orhan Pamuk. As far as one could tell, the decision to honor him with the Nobel Prize was largely based on this particular literary accomplishment. At least, when asked by reporters why Pamuk deserved the Prize, Professor Horace Engdahl, the very multilingual Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, kept referring to this book. The book in question, Istanbul: Memoirs and the City, is a concoction of encyclopedic information, nostalgia-invoking monochrome photographs and the author's unsettling childhood memories. It could very well be crowned his worst work to date by readers familiar with the author's previous books. As I forced myself through page after page of what seems to be Pamuk's much distorted perception of his hometown, I can honestly say that his childhood memories sprinkled here and there were what kept me awake. Just like in his previous works, a constant undertone of pessimism and hopelessness is palpable throughout the book, but his negativism is more disconcerting this time around as he unsuccessfully tries to ascribe his internal conflicts and his personal darkness to a magnificent town whose wonders never cease to amaze. Owing to his affluent background and is uber-privileged vantage point, Pamuk's views are so dreadfully skewed that you might start believing him while he wholeheartedly describes the citizens of his version of Istanbul, hovering in a dream-like state of communal melancholy. His imaginary Istanbul - with its decrepit buildings, filthy streets and rabid dogs roaming its dark, narrow, and decaying alleys - is not the vibrant city throbbing with liveliness that the ordinary folks, like his readers or the lower class Istanbullus for that matter, are able to perceive. His repeated use of the adjective dilapidated to describe certain aspects of Istanbul feels deliberate and malevolent. As he paints this almost repulsive picture of Istanbul, he does not fail to rebut disagreeing views of European Istanbul lovers by telling them, 'You need to live here at least ten years to be able to see it through my eyes.' Who are you to know what you are seeing? Pamuk sees Istanbul as a fallen fantasy town where he is entitled to scorn poverty and the impoverished which uglifies what is rightfully his. He is visibly and unashamedly tormented as this city, for which he fosters a pathological affection, ignores his irrational expectations of conformity altogether. She continues to pulsate, breathe and change, remains jovial and full of energy, determined to enjoy whatever life throws at her as Pamuk watches from the sidelines in anguish. Most disturbing of it all is his suggestion, maybe not directly but most certainly inferentially, that Istanbullus have no fight left in them. They have already lost the game and have made peace with the fact - hence comes the hüzün a term he is trying a little too hard to coin - and are desperately waiting for the shoe to drop. (Hey, why not generalize this to the entire country while we are at it and reinforce the whole Sick-Man-of-Europe deal?) Pamuk's yearning for all things European and his dislike for whatever may represent the east is even more pronounced in parts of the book where he professes his love to Istanbul. It is fair to say that Pamuk's work brought him very little acclaim in Turkish literature, and few if no awards. His writing skills have always been an issue of debate among his colleagues. Nowadays, there is a lot of discussion in Turkey about how his literary inelegance is magically lost in translation, how his sentences are invigorated and become more passable with some creative interpretation from his talented translator Melling Freely, as well as many proven accusations of plagiarism. Until recently, Pamuk has been known to steer clear of politics. He has spent most of his career carefully avoiding political subjects, or

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Painting to Writing: Orhan Pamuk's Memoir

    This memoir is an intellectual's refelction on his own life and development in the context of mid to late 20th century Instanbul. The images, both literary and photographic, are deeply meaningful and lyrical. While the book offers some insights into Istanbul and Turkey's history, culture, and development, it is primarily about Orhan Pamuk's reflection on these and their impact on his own life. Orhan Pamuk beings his tale with his interest in art, especially painting, weaving this interst all through the book until, in conclusion, he wants to become a writer. I recommned it in general but also as background to reading Orhan Pamuk's novels.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2009

    Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk

    I found this book to be a bit disappointing, I'd consider it to be read as a "portrait" of an artist/writer instead of as an insight on the city of Istanbul. A few descriptions/stories were insightful, however most were a bit odd and hard to understand the relevance to the subject matter.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2008

    A little too inaccessible

    I enjoy more pedantic stuff, but this was just a little too inaccessible. Maybe Pamuk takes for granted all these Turkish journalists and poets and European artists he mentions who are inextricably tied to his memory and sensibilities experienced in growing up in 50's-70's Istanbul, but I personally could not pronounce half of them, let alone had heard of any of them before. While he does go out of his way to brief the reader on some of the history and people he mentions connected with Turkey, a lot of the time one feels he's off in his own elite world, spouting names and images significant to him for whatever reasons he does not elaborate on too well. That said, it is a beautifully-written book. It is not quite memoir, not quite travel essay, not quite history, not quite autobiography. Readers may complain that the only 'juicy' parts of the book are when Pamuk actually delves into his own personal life and emotions, rather than spout off vignette after vignette of life and scenery in the derelict, post-Glory age, former hub metropolis of bridging the eastern and western world. I sympathize with these readers. I must admit, the most personable and riveting part of the work was Pamuk's almost confessional-style account of his sexual frustrations and first love with a female friend and model, toward the end of the work. (Perhaps that's just the effect of 21st century overstimulation for you though, which Pamuk is original enough to not pursue). That said, there doubtless is more to be appreciated about Pamuk than I have the capacity for right now. His subtle, dry outlook in all his descriptions should not be overlooked. I would grapple with readers who try to brush him off right away for being 'completely pessimistic' or 'depressing.' Like any good writer, it is an infatuation that had driven Pamuk to write this book - not apathy or even pathos, as the tone of the book initially exudes. The book itself is very well done, complete with shadowy black and white photographs that very appropriately reflect the book's cynical voice - 'Pamuk even has a chapter entitled 'Black and White'' - giving this quasi hisotry-memoir- literary work an almost journalistic flair. It was simply too narrow of an interest and too heavy-handed on the intellectual minutiae to really rivet me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2007

    A reviewer

    I really can't state all the reasons for my rating right now, I have no time truly, but I can give the number one reason. I read to escape the worries and realities of my own life , if for only a few hours every night, and with this book I was so taken in by the city and Pamuk's personal stories that I really did forget everything. It was like being part of the city I could feel the atmosphere all over. There are many more reasons why I loved this book, but all I can say is read it for yourself.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2007

    memoir or dismantled history book?

    I'm accustomed to memoirs making someone¿s stories come to life, the (sometimes) everyday-ness of their lives magnified and colorful. This book made Pamuk seem as dreary as he made life in Istanbul. Although he possesses wonderful writing style for his own memories the book itself seemed to be much more focused on fragmented bits of history leaving the precious well-written segments about his own experience, few and far between. Since Pamuk¿s book opens with one of these more personal scenes, the reader gets the impression that the book follows through in this form. However, he as the character, seems more like a vehicle to explain the history of the era by the second or third chapter. The sporadic back and forth in age and time, the depressing state of mind, make the history lack luster. If you *really* like history you may find this interesting, but if you're like me and thought it would be an interesting tales of youth in Istanbul, you may want to reconsider.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2007

    insightful

    An interesting book that turned out to be a quicker read then I thought. His personal accounts of the city and growing up are what makes him a Noble prize winner. This is a really good coming of age book.

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