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Posts Tagged ‘Istanbul’

Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk

Posted by RB Kollannur on March 30, 2014

Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 04/03/2013

Publisher – Faber; Year of Publication – 2005; Pages – 336; Cost at the time of purchase – Rs. 350

Istanbul is a city with many fading memories. Founded in 330 AD, it began as the most glorious city of the Christian world and for most part of the next thousand years it would remain so. In Ottoman hands from 1453, the city’s new owners made it the greatest city of the Islam world. But with the fall of the Ottoman, came the fall of this ancient city. Having lost its political primacy to Ankara, Istanbul has been on a slow and sad decline the past century.

Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk is among the most celebrated authors of modern Turkey. His work “Istanbul: Memories and the City” is a semi autobiographical story about him and the city of his birth. Born in 1952 after the revolution of Ataturk, Pamuk grew up in a young nation attempting to forego its Ottoman past. Istanbul, filled with Ottoman architecture and culture, served as the very antipathy of these beliefs. Its glorious past was forgotten and the city was left for ruin. But having shaped Pamuk’s life, Istanbul stays on as a melancholic presence throughout the book.

Situated on two continents on the shores of the Bosphorus, Istanbul is still a very scenic and breathtaking city. But the reminders of a glorious past are omnipresent, adding to the huzun (melancholy) of the city. Pamuk looks back to the nineteenth century with grateful affection when, though the Empire was in a decline, Istanbul had reached its pinnacle in art and literature. Drawing upon the works of that era, peppering the book with photographs and the portraits of the city, new and old, the author has immersed the reader in the sombre lore of the city and has managed to impress the prevailing sadness.

Although it is easy to get lost in Pamuk’s biography of the city, the book also serves as his autobiography. Many stories from his childhood find a part in the novel and so do many of his conflicts with family. All these add to the solemn theme of the book.

We in India do not have an ancient city of the calibre of Istanbul to grieve. But the melancholy of Istanbul can be well reflected by the decline of our ancient civilization, once amongst the oldest in the world.


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