A Strangeness in My Mind : A Novel

by Orhan Pamuk

Other authorsEkin Oklap (Translator)
Hardcover, 2015





New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.


"Since his boyhood in a poor village in Central Anatolia, Mevlut Karataş has fantasized about what his life would become. Not getting as far in school as he'd hoped, at the age of twelve he comes to Istanbul--'the center of the world'--and is immediately enthralled by both the old city that is disappearing and the new one that is fast being built. He follows his father's trade, selling boza (a traditional mildly alcoholic Turkish drink) on the street, and hoping to become rich, like other villagers who have settled the desolate hills outside the booming metropolis. But luck never seems to be on Mevlut's side. As he watches his relations settle down and make their fortunes, he spends three years writing love letters to a girl he saw just once at a wedding, only to elope by mistake with her sister. And though he grows to cherish his wife and the family they have, he stumbles toward middle age in a series of jobs leading nowhere. His sense of missing something leads him sometimes to the politics of his friends and intermittently to the teachings of a charismatic religious guide. But every evening, without fail, Mevlut still wanders the streets of Istanbul, selling boza and wondering at the "strangeness" of his mind, the sensation that makes him feel different from everyone else, until fortune conspires once more to let him understand at last what it is he has always yearned for."--Jacket.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Opinionated
For the first time I find myself coming away from a Pamuk book slightly underwhelmed. Usually in Pamuk's work there is significant use of allegory, and commentary on Turkish politics and society usually underpins the main story. This time though, if it was there, I couldn't find it. What I did find was a somewhat melodramatic family saga that tracks the growth of Istanbul and its transformation from a city of 3 million to a city of 13 million through a massive influx of rural migrants.

Don't get me wrong - Its well written, well translated and engaging, very funny in parts and bitingly critical of the condition of women - who have very little freedom or choice in their destiny unless they take the massively risky step of eloping. But for me, it lacks something. Melvut, the main protaganist, is a street vendor by occupation and inclination, and as he walks the streets of Istanbul we see the changes to the city and to culture through his eyes and in the lives of his family. I think the reader is supposed to be struck by conflicts between the traditional and the modern, religious vs secular lifestyles etc. But to me, most of this seemed to be the normal growing pains an urbanising country with rural cultural roots is bound to undergo.

In short I was quite interested in Melvut's progress, but rarely surprised by it. If you haven't read any of Pamuk's other work, I wouldn't start here. Read My Name Is Red, or Snow, or The Museum Of Innocence, first
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LibraryThing member seeword
Wonderful! Once again Pamuk leads me through the neighborhoods of Istanbul. Library book.
LibraryThing member elizapoppy
Wonderful tale of inhabitants of Istanbul from the 1960's until 2012.
LibraryThing member untraveller
A superb book having a greater meaning because of my travels in Turkey. Twas very similar to Wallace Stegner's 'Angle of Repose' in that it followed a family's journey thru life.... So much of the book had more meaning because of my stay in Istanbul and my visit to the Museum of Innocence.... A very, very satisfying book!
LibraryThing member traumleben
"A Strangeness in my Mind" is a Man Booker Prize finalist for 2016. Wanting to get to know a place better, we oft read the news and his history, trying to build a foundation of knowledge on the facts. It's difficult to capture a people, their attitudes, fears, inspiration and passions from facts, though. While the events that take place as background to a piece of fiction should be generally accurate, the rest of the work isn't bound by any kind of exactitude and is free to create personalities and situations to convey a particular feeling or idea. Orhan Pamuk does a superb job of capturing the character and transformation of modern Turkey by following a street vendor from Beyşehir in the Konya province who comes to live and work in Istanbul for most of his life. The main character, Mevlut, is a boza seller; boza is a traditional wheat-based drink that was once sold door-to-door in Turkey, as was yogurt. Through Mevlut, you get a good feel for Turkish attitudes, the tension between modernity and conservatism, the growing pains of a major metropolitan city, views on marriage, love, family, and the political shift as the socially conservative Justice and Development Party came to power in the new millennium. "A Strangeness in my Mind" is a human story, too, following Mevlut as a shy and unsure youth all the way to his senior years, through personal tragedy and rekindled dreams. The book does get slow in places, but it fits with the long inward journey of Mevlut and the pace of change in Turkey. Highly recommend for anyone interested in Turkey or who might be moving to Istanbul or Ankara.… (more)
LibraryThing member ozzer
“A Strangeness in My Mind” follows Mevlut Karatas as he adjusts to life in Istanbul following his migration from a small Anatolian village. Pamuk subtly weaves this personal story of a simple man who sells food on the streets of the city with descriptions of the cultural, political and physical changes that also occur in Istanbul from the 70’s to the present. Members of Melvut’s extended family living in Istanbul seem to be succeeding, often by taking advantage of the corruption that was prevalent in Turkey during this period. Meanwhile Melvut is somewhat melancholic about his own life. Notwithstanding his seeming failures, he derives a dreamy pleasure from seeing Istanbul at street level and interacting with its common people while selling boza. Despite some confusion about which sister he was actually wooing and eventually eloping with, Melvut also manages to develop a satisfying family life with the “wrong” sister.

Pamuk’s intention is to show how Turks come to terms with an Islamic heritage while living in an environment that is rapidly becoming Westernized and secular. His characters struggle with achieving this cultural balance, succeeding to varying extents. Not only is Melvut exposed to people who advocate for Turkey to return to its Islamic roots, but also to radicals who espouse revolution and adoption of communism. Others pay particular attention to the city’s opportunities for personal enrichment. In his travels, Melvut sees modernist trends, criminality, racial bigotry and corruption. He struggles to understand his own “strangeness” and where he fits in this mix. The reader becomes familiar with the other characters, most of whom are members of his extended family through first person monologues that Pamuk inserts into his third person narrative. This approach injects a humorous and unpretentious tone to the story.

Pamuk succeeds in evoking the setting of Istanbul during this period. He describes the crude dwellings built by the newcomers as a strategy to claim land on the hills surrounding the city and how these become replaced by sterile high-rise buildings. We experience the narrow alleys of the old city where inhabitants lower baskets to street level to obtain their boza. We follow Melvut into cemeteries where he is threatened by packs of feral dogs. We experience the tradition of inviting the boza seller up to the apartment. What results is a mood that is at times mysterious and threatening, while at others quite humane and inviting. Although the story develops slowly and lacks tension, Pamuk obviously delights in telling the story of his city and its people. This makes for an engaging and satisfying read.
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LibraryThing member Gwendydd
This is the life story of Mevlut, who is born to a poor family in a small village, and moves to Istanbul as a teenager. Istanbul is as much a character as any of the people in the story - the city grows and changes dramatically as the twentieth century progresses.

All of the parts of the story about Mevlut are told in the first person, but along the way there are first-person asides from the other characters as they tell their point of the story. These multiple viewpoints are an interesting narrative device.

Ultimately, the story felt pretty rambling and unfocused. The book was probably more interesting as a history of Istanbul than as a story about Mevlut.
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LibraryThing member SigmundFraud
A Strangeness In My Mind by Orhan Pamuk is a stunning read. Place is important to me and in this novel the place is Turkey, primarily Istanbul and some small villages. We follow the life of Melvut, born in a village, who moves to Istanbul as a child with his father. He becomes a boza seller which he continues through his life. He falls in life with a village girl who bleeds to death after what seems like what have been a barbaric abortion. Melvut was very much in love and greatly sadden by her death. He has two young girls that he raises and who eventually leave to marry. Melvut becomes very lonely. He is a romantic. He eventually marries his younger sister-in-law and that is not the marriage made in heaven that his first was. It is a compelling story by a great Turkish writer. It is definitely worth a detour.… (more)
LibraryThing member EBT1002
"He didn't see it as a place that had existed before his arrival and to which he'd come as an outsider. Instead, he liked to imagine that Istanbul was being built while he lived in it and to dream of how much cleaner, more beautiful, and more modern it would be in the future."

"Mevlut liked to listen to him and daydream as he sat in the front seat of the Dodge, watching hundreds, thousands of lights shining out of cars and windows; the depths of the dark, velvety Istanbul night; and the neon-colored minarets going past. Mevlut used to toil on foot through mud and rain, up and down these very same streets, and now here they were slipping right through with ease. Life, too, slipped by in much the same way, speeding up as it ran along the tracks laid out by time and fortune."


Orhan Pamuk's long novel is as much the story of Istanbul as it is the tale of Mevlut, a Boza seller who moves to Istanbul as a child in 1969 to learn the trade from his father. Mevlut falls in love with a girl he sees at his cousin's wedding; he begins to send her beautiful and heartfelt love letters and eventually they elope together with the assistance of yet another cousin. Mevlut almost immediately realizes that the girl with whom he has run away and to whom he is now committed for life is not the girl with whom he fell in love. Rather, this is her unattractive older sister. Thus begins the life of Melvut, a man of principle and ambition, and the family with whom he is forever bound. As Istanbul's population explodes, political winds shift, and modernity intrudes upon their culture, Mevlut and his cousins dream of wealth and property; their minimal education and the intractable class barriers make advancement difficult. But they also dream of love and hold fast to family; on these, only time can intrude.

I've never heard Pamuk speak but I believe he loves the city of Istanbul. This novel, a bit of a slog at times, was nonetheless enjoyable and a fascinating glimpse of Turkish culture and history since the 1960s.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
I will be honest and say that until about page 250 I felt I was dragging myself through the book a bit. Suddenly, and OMG moment and I was glued to it right to the end. The tears are still drying on my cheeks as I write this review. Tears for love, for loss, for change, for intentions of the heart and intentions of the word. Mevlut, the dear boza selling protagonist takes us through the streets of Istanbul over fifty years of his life. Somehow he remains pure of heart despite the dramatic political, religious, economic, and sociological changes which occur during his lifetime. I will not soon forget this lovely, lovely man. I have a powerful yearning to walk the streets of the Istanbul neighborhoods in which he has walked nightly for fifty years, in which he found peace with the strangeness in his mind!… (more)
LibraryThing member EpicTale
Having read and loved Pamuk's "Museum of Innocence" (MOI) several years ago, I greatly looked forward to "A Strangeness in My Mind" (ASIMM). Sadly, the story never grabbed me and I gave up on it after 200 pages. The prose (at least in English translation) was wooden and unexciting. Moreover, the development of protagonist Mevlut over the course of his adolescent and early adult years (which is all that I got to) failed to hold my attention and interest. Compared to ASIMM, I found MOI to be overall a far more memorable and noteworthy read, as well as a much more engaging sketch of Istanbul and its unique culture and history.… (more)
LibraryThing member BALE
A Strangeness in My Mind is a love letter to Istanbul. It is a beautifully composed work of art that brings to life the ever changing streets of Istanbul between 1954-2012 and the quiet, yet powerfully meditative life of its protagonist and boza seller, Mevlut. Pamuk is a master of the written word. His writing hits all the senses and illuminates the soul. The insightful development of his characters, particularly Mevlut, is fraught with beauty, angst, depth and symbolism. His bird's-eye time-lapsed view of Istanbul, as it evolves from year to year, is played out magnificently through his cast of varied characters. They serve as distinct counterpoint to Mevlut’s stubborn and complex relationship with past and present. Pamuk’s love for his city rings out as melodiously as the boza seller’s voice on his nightly odyssey through the streets of Istanbul. A quiet, yet powerful novel. Once again, Pamuk fails to disappoint his besotted readers.… (more)
LibraryThing member bodachliath
There is something rather old-fashioned but charming about this sprawling, languorous family story set in Istanbul over 40+ years. The central character Mevlut is a poor street trader who supplements various day jobs by spending his evenings selling boza (a traditional slightly alcoholic drink) on the streets. This represents something of a departure for Pamuk whose previous books have been set among the city's richer elite. This one also allows more space to its female characters.

The first two chapters are out of sequence - the first covers the night when Mevlut elopes with his wife Rayiha. He has been writing to Rayiha since seeing her sister at a family wedding - his cousin Suleyman has tricked him into addressing the letters to the "wrong" sister, but it soon becomes clear that Rayiha is the better match. The second chapter is many years later as Mevlut suffers a crisis of confidence after being robbed by ruthless street thieves. The rest of the book is told in chronological order, starting when Mevlut arrives in the city as a boy to help his father in his yogurt and boza selling business.

The real subject of the book is the city itself - Pamuk chronicles its expansion, modernisation, political and sociological changes in great detail. The incorruptible but poor Mevlut is contrasted with his scheming (and richer) cousins.

For such a long book, this is a surprisingly easy read - the story telling always keeps you interested despite the mundane nature of much of the story. A pleasure to read.
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LibraryThing member leslie.98
4.5* for this audiobook edition narrated by John Lee (whose marvelous voice sounds like Sean Connery to me!); 4* for the book itself

I had a difficult time getting interested in this book at first, partly due to my unfamiliarity with both cultural and geographic landmarks that I assume most Turks would understand easily and partly due to the fact that these unfamiliar terms and names were coming to me in auditory form rather than written.

However, once I I had gotten the basic characters straight in my mind (and done some Googling about certain terms and places), I found the story fascinating. Basically this is the story of Mevlut (and the city of Istanbul) from the time in the 1970s when as a boy he left his village to join his father in the city until the 2010s when he is a grandfather.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
This book sprawls across 40 years or so -- and describes the city of Istanbul as well as the life of Mevlut, a street vendor of a traditional slightly alcoholic drink called boza. It's a wonderful, captivating story about Mevlut, who falls in love at first sight with a young girl at a wedding, only to be tricked by his cousin into sending love letters to her older sister instead. But the older sister, whom he elopes with, proves to be the great love of his life. The strangeness in Mevlut's mind seems to be his desire to stick to the traditional ways of a street vendor rather than engaging in the political and financial machinations of his cousins and best friend, Ferhat. There is a constancy in Mevlut which contrasts with the geographical and political changes in Istanbul. The book is very well written and drew me in completely.… (more)


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