A Strangeness in My Mind [2014/15] – ★★★★
“Street vendors are the songbirds of the streets, they are the life and soul of Istanbul” [Orhan Pamuk/Ekin Oklap, Faber & Faber, 2014/15: 33].
Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2016, A Strangeness in My Mind tells the story of Mevlut Karataş, a street-seller in Istanbul. From his childhood in a poor village to his children’s marriages, we are taken on the literary journey of his life, introduced to his uneasy relationship with his cousins Korkut and Süleyman, his stoic friendship with rebellious Ferhat, and, more importantly, to his marriage with Rayiha, which occurred under rather peculiar circumstances. The main aim of Pamuk in this book seems to capture a life and a way of life through the years, showing the daily happiness and struggles or ordinary people living in Istanbul, while demonstrating the changes that Istanbul has undergone through time, including its socio-economic and political situation, expansion and modernisation. Translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap, A Strangeness in My Mind is closer to an overlong “docu-fiction” and over-indulgent bibliographical non-fiction and, in truth, is a bit far from that exciting literary novel that would make the reader hungrily turning the pages or would impart to them some true insight or reveal some Pamukian complexity. However, where the book truly shines is in a loving, nostalgic and painstaking reveal of the life of a street-seller, a profession that is rapidly dying in large cities. Pamuk’s emphasis on the mysteries and intricacies of this moribund craft, together with his touching tribute to Istanbul of the past, is to what makes this novel so compelling – ultimately.
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My Name is Red [1998/2001] – ★★★★★
“Why does man not see things? He is himself standing in the way: he conceals things.” “What are man’s truths ultimately? Merely his irrefutable errors“. (Friedrich Nietzsche)
In My Name is Red by Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, murder of one miniaturist – Elegant Effendi – was committed within the circle of miniaturists working for the Sultan in medieval Istanbul. At the same time, thirty-six year old Black returns to his hometown of Istanbul after his twelve years’ absence to seek once again the hand of his beloved Shekure, an opportunity that was denied to him twelve years previously. Unwittingly, Black becomes entangled in the intrigues of miniaturists working under Enishte Effendi, Black’s uncle and Shekure’s father. Masterfully, Pamuk takes us deep within the art circle of medieval craftsmen who labour to produce a mysterious new book, a circle repleted with professional jealousy, narcissism, hidden love and, above all, differences as so the proper way of painting and representing pictures under one strict religious canon. In this historical novel, Persian art-forms clash violently with rising Venetian art influences as Black starts to realise that, in order to find the murderer of Elegant Effendi, it is necessary to go deep into the worldviews and art opinions of each of the three suspected miniaturists – “Stork”, “Olive” and “Butterfly”, testing their loyalties and beliefs. It is impossible not to get swept away by this novel of great insight and intelligence. My Name is Red is like a rich, tightly-woven exotic tapestry whose secrets lie in elaborate details, red herrings and in the depth of the soul of its maker, celebrating the beauty, imagination and intelligence of ancient artworks and methods of painting. Continue reading “Review: My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk” →