Friday, June 04, 2010

Book Review: Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk

Oh how I would love to go to Turkey! I’ve wanted to go for some time, and since I thought I would be able to go this spring I started reading this memoir. I have to say that the memoir is probably my favorite genre of literature.  This particular memoir is by a guy who was born in 1952 in Istanbul and who has lived there his whole life. But that doesn’t even begin to describe the richness of this book. For starters, the book has photographs. Lots and lots of them- 206 in fact (no, I didn’t count, I looked that up online). This adds such a unique flavor, as you can literally see images of Istanbul, page after page. Furthermore, Mr. Pamuk is quite verbose and gives lengthy descriptions of all kinds of aspects of life in Istanbul. At first I wasn’t sure if I would be down with that. But eventually I got on board. 

He talks a lot about the “huzun”, or melancholy, of the city and how central this is to the people and culture of Istanbul. This is a theme that runs throughout the entire book. He also talks about the tension between west and east and how “Istanbul’s greatest virtue is its people’s ability to see the city through both western and eastern eyes.” I really enjoyed his stories about his family and childhood- these are the stories I could read for hours. I didn’t particularly care for the chapters about various painters, poets, and writers from Istanbul or who depicted Istanbul in their mediums- these are the places I would have been perfectly connect with succinct descriptions. 

Though it felt a little disjointed to me (I kept thinking, ‘Is this about his life or a history of Istanbul?’), I understand the mix and diversity. I think my favorite chapter is the one in which he write snipits from Istanbul columnists from the past 130 years. I laughed out loud multiple times, it was so amusing. I don’t know if there are other books about Istanbul nor how they’d compare, but if you’re looking to read a good memoir and learn a lot about the city, definitely check out this one. 

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