four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
18-Sept-Oct-2005
By: 
Orhan Pamuk
user_rating: 
0

Memories and the City

A-IstanbulTurkish novelist Pamuk parallels painful, life-changing events in his younger days with those of his home, Istanbul. Caught between Europe and Asia and East and West, Istanbul is a city of loss, particularly concerning its identity. This loss has left the writer and his fellow Istanbullus with hüzün, or communal melancholy, which Pamuk strives to convey throughout his erudite memoir. He does not see his city alone, but looks at it through the eyes of writers and artists, including fellow Turks and Europeans. Despite mourning his dying culture, Pamuk finds hope and dreams when, as a young man, he proclaims himself a writer.
Knopf. 384 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 1400040957

San Diego Union-Tribune 4.5 of 5 Stars
"His city is a place to loathe yet love all the more intensely because you loathe it, and if that sounds contradictory, you have a tiny bit of the flavor of Pamuk’s wonderful book. He has created a prose elegy to Istanbul and the people of Istanbul, and most especially his family and himself." Brian Alexander

Telegraph 4.5 of 5 Stars
"This evocative book … is one of the most touching childhood memoirs I have read in a very long time; and it makes me yearn—more than any glossy tourist brochure could possibly do—to be once again in Istanbul." Noel Malcolm

Guardian 4 of 5 Stars
"This quietly instructive and enchanting elegy to a redeemed childhood and to Istanbul itself will bring the world to his feet." Nouritza Matossian

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Far from a conventional appreciation of the city’s natural and architectural splendors, Istanbul tells of an invisible melancholy and the way it acts on an imaginative young man, aggrieving him but pricking his creativity."
Christopher de Bellaigue

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Even if you didn’t know Orhan Pamuk … even if you had no familiarity with Istanbul as a city, Pamuk’s memoir, Istanbul: Memories and the City, would still be a fascinating literary adventure. In part tales of the city, laden with photographs, in part the portrait of the artist as a young man, it is overall a skillful literary exercise using the personal to map a larger portrait of a society at a crossroads." Sandip Roy

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"… Pamuk’s Istanbul keeps unfolding like a series of Rorschach tests, multiplying its ink-stained ghosts and tempting the reader with potentially infinite interpretations. … His accounts of his parents’ difficult relationship, his eccentric grandmother, his embattled friendship with his brother, his sexual awakening and his first self-guided explorations as an artist lead inexorably to the book’s final, decisive words ..." Alberto Manguel

Critical Summary

Reminiscent of works by Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez, Pamuk’s novels, mostly set in his native Turkey, have racked up an International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, New York Times Notable Books of the Year, and profiles on NPR (see Snow, 3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2004). Marcel Proust comes to many critics’ minds when describing Istanbul, an introspective account that transcends the memoir, as it also describes a city losing its identity. More than a city or guide book, Istanbul is "the most haunting, heartbreaking, gorgeous book ever about a city," says The San Diego Union-Tribune. Although Pamuk’s memoir concludes with his adolescence, it rings true to the universal coming-of-age experience.