Istanbul: Memories and the City

Istanbul: Memories and the City

by Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul and still lives in the family apartment building where his mother first held him in her arms.

His portrait of his city is thus also a self-portrait, refracted by memory and the melancholyor hüzün that all Istanbullus share: the sadness that comes of living amid the ruins of a lost empire.With cinematic fluidity, Pamuk moves from his glamorous, unhappy parents to the gorgeous, decrepit mansions overlooking the Bosphorus; from the dawning of his self-consciousness to the writers and paintersboth Turkish and foreignwho would shape his consciousness of his city.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Nonfiction
  • Rating: 3.78
  • Pages: 356
  • Publish Date: July 11th 2006 by Vintage International
  • Isbn10: 1400033888
  • Isbn13: 9781400033881

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Pamuk was already one of my favourite authors when I read his memoir of his beloved city - Istanbul - in conjunction with a family vacation there. Imagine moving around that beautiful, powerful city with your own family while stepping into the living-room of Pamuk's childhood home, meeting his relatives from different generations.

But I hope that the piece will summon human experience that goes beyond this particular event." Similarly, Orhan Pamuk is not writing a Decline and Fall of Istanbul, in a strict economic and political reactionary sense. Added to this is descriptions of city-wide feelings, doings, and happenings, and most importantly, the concept of "huzun", a complicated, honorable, tenaciously held communal melancholy that Pamuk believes lies over the city, and of course- the endless big words East and West shoving their heads together in the midst of people just trying to live their lives. Pamuk deals with big questions that fascinate me, such as- How do you go on when all that you know has died?, Do you have to burn the past in order to live in the present?, What does this word "West" mean, and whom does it mean this to?, How do you deal with multiple identities that tear you apart?, What is the psychological effect of the generations who repress themselves in order to get along with the new power nations on the block and survive?, How do you live when all the legends have done it better?, What /is/ this attachment we have for certain places?, Who is allowed to have a "valid" perspective on a place, or a culture, and why do perspectives from certain sources produce such anger?.. He describes its honorable nature, its communal nature, the complicated opinions people have towards the past and the Westernizing present and future. He shows us stark pictures of the poverty of the "wings" of Istanbul, and then writes tortured chapters arguing with 19th century western authors who praised the "picturesque" beauty of the broken down areas of the city.

This is going to be one of the most personal reviews Ill ever write, but thats merely because Istanbul: Memories and the City has affected me personally, more than any other book ever has. I have to say that Ive also chosen a very odd timing to read this memoir. The few past months have been very busy and offered me very little time to read, and yet (stubbornly I guess, and to the amusement of many of my friends) I carried this book everywhere I went to make use of stolen free moments. The magic in this book was that- while it offered nothing new except the details of Istanbul and its dark alleys which Ive never been to- it reminded me to observe my own city with fresh eyes. And it made me wonder more than ever whether Pamuk intended those memoirs to be a record of his own actions and decisions, or a tribute to the city he loved yet in which he was ever restless and wandering. The more I read, the more I felt this irresistible urge to paint and write. And like Pamuk, I felt that "painting allowed me to enter the scene on the canvas." The positive pointed out, I have to say that this book was far from perfect. All in all, the few negative points aside, Pamuks memoirs will always stay with me, and remind me of a specific period in my life when I decided to study architecture (the very branch of study the author chose then soon after decided to abandon for writing), and when I re-established my long-term passion for painting (also a hobby the author chose to quit long ago).

Pamuk lived in a 'Westernized' (if I might dare to use that term) modern family with education and upwards ambition, and he lives in a city that bears the weight of some millennia of history.

Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul in 1952 and grew up in a large family similar to those which he describes in his novels Cevdet Bey and His Sons and The Black Book, in the wealthy westernised district of Nisantasi. The following year Pamuk published his novel The Silent House, which in French translation won the 1991 Prix de la découverte européene. This novel was published in Turkey in 1990, and the French translation won the Prix France Culture. The Black Book enlarged Pamuk's fame both in Turkey and internationally as an author at once popular and experimental, and able to write about past and present with the same intensity. His novel The New Life, about young university students influenced by a mysterious book, was published in Turkey in 1994 and became one of the most widely read books in Turkish literature.