A portrait, by turns intimate and panoramic, of one of the world's great cities, by its foremost man of letters. Blending reminiscence with history; family photographs with portraits of poets and pashas; art criticism, metaphysical musing, and, now and again, a fanciful tale, Pamuk invents an ingenious form to evoke his lifelong home, the city that forged his imagination. He begins with his childhood, his first intimations of the melancholy awareness of living in the seat of ruined imperial glories, in a country trying to become "modern" at the crossroads of East and West. Against a background of shattered monuments, neglected villas, ghostly backstreets, and, above all, the fabled waters of the Bosphorus, he charts the evolution of a rich imaginative life, which furnished a daydreaming boy refuge from family discord and inner turmoil, and which would continue to serve the famous writer he was to become. --From publisher description.
This book doesn' have the elaborate artfulness of My Name is Red - not to say that it ısn't literary or that craft wasn't a concern, but it's a peculiarly weightless, translucent sort of craft, and Pamuk clearly didn't want frippery to get in the way of the record, of finally setting down some things that happened in - with space set aside for the de rıgueur speculation about history and memory and forgetting - the way that they happened. Apparently his father died as he was writing the book, and you can see that influence in the book's family-memoir aspect. The bildungsroman stuff about beıng a writer, I dunno, the individual interpolations are always interesting, I guess, but mostly we've heard that one before.
I've had this book recommended to me more than once by the locals, and without presuming to know İstanbul, I will say that if people here nowadays seem to be a little more game, have a little more pluck, if there's a little more goin' on than Pamuk's long, diffident, Protean struggle with the past, the hüzün is still there, and if people are fond of it it may just be a new permutation - nostalgia for the time when notalgia was our defining trait. It's also likely, as Pamuk says, that they feel the sadness more than all those slow-river inscrutable orientalist-cliche brown people because hell, this was the Ottoman Empire. One thing that deserves more thinkıng about with Turkish history in general and hüzün ın particular is what parallels can be drawn with Japanese history and those orbiting concepts, natsukashii and shikata ga nai.
Also,he says the same thing as me about how all good art makes you want to put your mouth all over it. So I'm endeared to him for that!
And, there are the times when Pamuk addresses himself directly to the audience and hints at his deeper purpose in telling the story. That purpose, as I understood it, is to describe the artistic lives of Orhan Pamuk and of Istanbul, but through tangential stories that show their richness as well as their deep interconnections.
Reading this book is like listening to the ramblings of your favorite uncle, if your favorite uncle were Turkish, and a Nobel-winning novelist.
Original post on "All The Things I've Lost"
The memoir is colored by melancholy, a word rooted in the Greek melankholia referring to pensive reflection marked by a dark or sad outlook. The Turkish word for melancholy is huzun and it has an Arabic root with a much more nuanced meaning that spans thoughts of both material pleasure and spirtual loss. According to Pamuk:
"The huzun of Istanbul is not just the mood evoked by its music and its poetry, it is a way of looking at life that implicates us all, not only a spiritual state but a state of mind that is ultimately as life-affirming as it is negating." (p 91)
It is this feeling that Pamuk tries to capture in his discussions and digressions on his own experience of Istanbul and that of the others, often from the West, who have observed its life. So we encounter comments and thoughts from writers as diverse as Levi-Strauss, Ruskin, Flaubert, Gide and Gerard de Nerval. But there are also the insights of local writers like the novelist Tanpinar who, influenced by the French poet Theophile Gautier, wrote in a poetic and painterly mode of the vistas of Istanbul and extolled "the painterly style of writers like Stendahl, Balzac, and Zola" (p 227).
While Pamuk discusses the view of Istanbul "Under Western Eyes" (pp 234-44) he also finds the source of this melancholy in the ruins of the old city as seen both in his personal experience and through his reading of Tanpinar and others. He also meditates on the impact and meaning of the Bosporus to himself and his family. The city becomes a dream to which its denizens could aspire. "We might call this dream -- which grew out of the barren, isolated, destitute neighborhoods beyon the city walls -- the 'melancholy of the ruins'" (p 253)
The sum of all these thoughts and more is a brilliant and evocative image of the Istanbul that encourages the reader to read more and the traveller to visit and see for himself. This reader found in this memoir everything that he had come to expect from Pamuk's fiction melded with a passion for family, literature and city. It has become another favorite of mine from the pen of this great writer.
He walks through back streets of Istanbul to escape pain in his own life- where art is discouraged as a profession as it does not put bread on the table. This is a far cry from the civilization of art and abundance that thrived not so long ago on the very streets he walks. This contrast creates a gentle melancholy that hangs in the air of the city and seeps into the hearts of it's inhabitants.
In his walks, Pamuk is not most drawn to the remaining monuments of the Ottoman empire preserved by the country, but to sad ghosts that are forgotten in back streets that lean and are propped up and patched by the families that inhabit them.
Pamuk’s love for his city is pure in that it does not transform the object of his affection. He loves the city for what is and not for a (westernized) ideal of itself. It is the readers view of those back streets and of their place in the city that are transformed.
I read this while in Istanbul and must admit that little has changed over the centuries. While he and the Western authors and painters he relies on to tell his story accurately depict a beautiful place with nothing to offer, it's hard to sympathize with his overwhelming need to hold on to a city that's past and present are decaying simultaneously.
A side note, don't eat the meatballs in Istanbul.
I'll etch a comprehensive review when my age is equivalent to that of Pamuk’s 58 years. On behalf of my 30 years of being on this planet, I vocalize my immense repulse for melancholic reminiscence. I sternly adhere to selective amnesia when it comes to my past barricading the battlegrounds of nostalgia and ruthless gloominess. It sensed similar to one of the obligatory elocutions of "my old days" by an elderly relative at my frightful family reunions or the nerve wrecking yakking with previous acquaintances.
Orham Pamuk is a noted Turkish author and he writes beautifully.
He goes over the history of Istanbul and the melancholy that inflicts it, the ruins and memories of an empire lost.
I don't know how current the description is, since it was published 10 years ago, but it was a very interesting evocation of time and place as the author was growing up.
The book has many black and white photos of old time Istanbul.
Incidentally, Library thing has the title wrong: it's "Memories OF A City", perhaps that's the U.S.version.
My main problem with this book can be summed up by the author's assertion on Page 295 that “What is important for a memoirist is not the factual accuracy of the account, but its symmetry.” Was he really so aware as a child as he paints himself to be?
The book is dated; the picture it paints of Turkey isn't the Turkey of today. But it's still worth the read for its portrayal of a city in transition, straddling east and west as (perhaps) only Istanbul can.