Orhan Pamuk “Istanbul. Memories and the city”

I was lazy to start it and not very convinced it was “my thing”. First pages only confirmed my misgivings. To tell the truth, the book served as an insomnia cure for some time and I managed to read one or two pages at a time before falling to sleep.

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But at some point it changed. The book pulled me in.

Was it the subject, the clear love for it, was it the honest memories, the accurate descriptions full of details one would never notice, the old photos or was it something else…

The book is a true memoir. And not just any but by an artist, a Noble prize winner, an İstanbullu.

Over the thirty-seven chapters the author goes through the subjects of his youth, his family mansion, his family members, historical events in Istanbul like the burning of the Pashas’ Mansions, The Bosphorus, his father’s cheatings and financial losses, the city’s melancholy, painting, westernisation, religion, Turkish and foreign artists writing about and painting Istanbul, his first love and his choice of writing over painting.

Of course there is more … but these just come to my mind now. What is important, is that writing about these topics the author demonstrates great knowledge of the subject matter, he loves and understands the city, he underlines many times that his life is connected with Istanbul and its fate, that it made him who he is. Orhan Pamuk shows incredible memory ! or is it his poetic imagination ? His attention to detail is amazing and his honesty with the reader surprises. He shares a lot about his first sexual experiences, he writes about growing up, boyish fascinations and feelings, teenage rebellion, his tricks and lies, friendship, the relationship with his brother and his first love.

I would say it is a romantic book. Romantic in two ways. A book about love, and feelings and as we know it from school, from the period in literature – Romanticism. He becomes a wanderer. Like the the poets, artists of that time he goes on a crusade to find the city’s melancholyhüzün which he sees in the Bosphorus, in dilapidated buildings and usual streets in poor neighbourhoods. But it seems to me it is like a fight with the windmills or maybe my soul is not poetic enough to see the hüzün. Or, as I prefer to think, there is no hüzün in the city but in Orhan Pamuk himself. As he writes I poured my soul in the city’s streets and there it still resides.

Pamuk shows himself as a vagabond, an irresponsible or spoiled youth, as an artist. Sometimes, I think he is sharing more than he should. It seems like looking into somebody’s soul and it’s not a very comfortable feeling.

The book is about Istanbul. Yes. But it is also a story of a true artist being born.

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