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A Mind at Peace Hardcover – 30 Dec 2008

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 447 pages
  • Publisher: Archipelago Books; First edition (30 Dec 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0979333059
  • ISBN-13: 978-0979333057
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 3.6 x 20.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,678,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar has been noted as the most prominant Turkish novelist of the twentieth century. Born in Istanbul, he traveled widely in Anatolia before returning to Istanbul in 1919, after the First World War, to study literature with the poet laureate Yahya Kemal. Deeply influenced by Paul Valéry and Bergson, Tanpinar created a cultural universe in his work, bringing together Western forms of writing and the sensibilities of a decadent Ottoman culture. He taught aesthetics, mythology, and literature at the University of Istanbul. Erdag Göknar is assistant professor of Turkish Studies at Duke University. He holds an MFA in creative writing and a Ph.D. in Near and Middle East Studies. He received, with Orhan Pamuk, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his English translation of Pamuk's My Name is Red in 2003. He is also the recipient a Fulbright fellowship and an NEA translation grant for A Mind at Peace.

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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By D. Abbott on 3 Feb 2010
Format: Hardcover
I had never read anything by Tanpinar before picking up this book in an Istanbul bookshop. Now I want to read everything he's ever written! For those who know Istanbul, it is a panegyric of the Bosphorus. For those who don't, there are many interwoven stories, but the one which remains with me is the meeting of two hearts, two souls over a piece of music. Tanpinar's lyric descriptions helped me understand Turkish classical music for the first time. I have already returned to re-read the sections on music and have no doubt I will re-read the book someday (something I almost never do). A Mind at Peace belongs with the "great books" of world literature. The physical book itself is lovely, the paper quality made its pages a pleasure to turn. I don't know Turkish well enough to comment on the translation itself, but the English was mellifluous and a great pleasure to read; sometimes near the borders of French-English, I do know French and wondered at times if the translator was a product of the Istanbul or French French-Turkish school system. There were unfortunately some small editing errors that might have been avoided. The book lacked two things, in my opinion. First, it needs a "list of characters" at the beginning, with the sex of each character stated, to aid those who are not familiar with Turkish names. I have thought of giving this book as a gift, but would create a list to tuck in the front, or for use as a bookmark, were I to give it to friends who know nothing of Turkey. Then, again for those unfamiliar with Istanbul, a map of the Bosphorus, with place names mentioned, or even of Istanbul with all place names pointed out, would be helpful to the reader.Read more ›
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By vivien turner on 2 Dec 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Glimpses or a sensitive and lyrical book but very difficult to read possible translation issues.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 9 reviews
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
A lyrical novel of Istambul 20 May 2009
By las cosas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Orhan Pamur speaks of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar as an essential part of his sense of Istambul. Based on his descriptions of Tanpinar in his book Istambul, I was excited to read this translation of Tanpinar's masterpiece.

The physical book is extremely attractive, even sensual. With an old photo on the cover of several rowboats on the Bosphorus you are being introduced to the world within the book's covers. Elegant endpapers, thick off-white paper, and an unusually square shape to the book all present a pleasant, inviting physical object. Archipelago Books, I publisher I'd not encountered before, did an excellent job (though their editor missed a few too many errors).

On opening the book the first thing you notice is the lack of any notes, introduction, or even an index to the various Parts of the book. This is puzzling, and unfortunate. The dust jacket provides a few sentences on the author and this work (in addition to a few sentence plot summary). And even those sentences tell us little. What does it mean to say that this book is "a Turkish Ulysses"? The book deserves a wide readership, beyond the niche of people already familiar with this author. And that readership needs at least some minimal sign-posts to help navigate this dense examination of Istambul's intellectual, philosophical and moral dilemmas at the start of World War II. One method would be an introduction explaining the dynamics of Turkey at that time, and explaining Tanpinar's place in that debate. Another would be to provide a few footnotes, or end notes, explaining certain words or concepts unlikely to be understood by the average English speaking reader. For example, the debate over whether a character is mevlevi or bektashi was completely lost on me. How about you?

The novel starts "(City of Two Continents, August 1939)". And that could also be the one sentence summary of the novel. Turkey and its citizens are about to be plunged into WWII, a Western war that is very on the periphery of its interests, history and consciousness. But what is consuming the characters in this novel is the doppelganger of living in the past and the present, in the East and in the West, in two continents, two realities.

The novel is told using both the first and third person views of the main character, Mumtaz. And even the third person observations are claustrophobic, told from a ground level prospective never far from the immediate observations of Mumtaz, a young writer and intellectual who "does" essentially nothing during the 1939 focus of the book. He thinks, observes, feels. His love for Nuran, his hatred of yet attraction to Suad, the filial love and respect for Ihsan...these are drawn out in long, complex worlds of emotion that slowly built and deepen as the novel progresses.

But the central character in this novel is Turkey, Turkish, Istambul and the Borphorus. What do these things mean to a well educated, not-poor (I'm not sure what "class" these intellectuals belong to...but few have a conventional job) group of largely male intellectuals? The answer is a deep ambivalence. They live in a city of past architectural glory, the capitol of a vast empire. And while they are part of that heritage, they are also drawn to the present, to the Western. This is most often described in descriptions of music. Some of the most lyrical parts of the book describe Turkish classical music, the sound of the ney while a singer intones verses composed for various sultans. And while this is being lyrically described Mumtaz will realize that he is actually thinking of a Beethoven sonata. Quoting a Farsi couplet the discussion will veer to French symbolist poets. But oh the longing, the sorrow, of those couplets:
The days foreshortened, aged men in Kanlica
Conjure memories of past autumns one by one.

By the end of the novel you are left with a deep understanding of the longing felt by Mumtaz, to be his own person, not dragged down by the weight of his history and culture, yet aware that without those things he would be empty. "The vast fallout of two centuries of disintegration and collapse, of being the remnants of an empire and still unable to establish our own norms and idioms."

So why only 4 starts (and actually I would give it a 3.5)? Because of the lamentable translation. My definition of a good translation is one I don't notice. And this fails my test miserably. There is little plot in this novel. It is a closely observed study, and by necessity that means a book that is slowly, closely, read and observed. The lyrical content simply must be accompanied by similar prose or the image is shattered. On every page the reader encounters a variety of translation ticks: the hackneyed phrase, the unnecessarily complex words, the odd spelling, the anti-lyrical and the weird.

Hackneyed: hither and yond, oft times, by and by, by and large, truth be told, kith and kin, hale and hearty, sing a ditty, let the cat out of the bag, a slave of his baser desires.

Big words: in one paragraph we encounter quiddities, haecceities and ideational.

Odd spelling: phantasy and magick [each used many, many times].

Anti-lyrical: "Ihsan's personality was more agreeable than those personae of his preconceptions might have indicated" "exercise her volition to live apart" "the verdure assaulted one's casing of skin."

Weird: "at whiles." Synonym for periodically or at times. And used way too often!

So maybe Tanipar is addicted to archaic spellings, has a huge vocabulary that he throws around, is addicted to hackneyed phrases and the translator is merely following the original. Maybe, but adding all of these quirks together, if the translator has merely followed the original, this book would not be "the greatest novel ever written about Istambul," quoting Orhan Pamur.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A Mind at Peace 1 Feb 2010
By Patrick Oliver Kelley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a novel more in the spirit of a wm Faulkner novel than a Robert Graves piece. Why did I expect more war than personal, romantic intimacy? Frankly, I wonder if the translator has ever been in Turkey for any period of time. Imagery is good, but for me the translation is 'too high brow' maybe I should have tried to read the original Turkish, before turning to the English version because much of the English seems too 'unTurkish.' So much of what is translated seems more an invention of the translator than the intent of the author. I am soldering on reading the book because of the unique subject and unique period it encompasses.
Hope I am not offending anyone, but it's my review
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Appalling Translation 1 Jun 2012
By Plain English - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Too bad. The novel itself is probably very good, but the translation is appalling. After slogging through the first five pages I opened another 10 at random: not one was without failure, How could the NEA, which gave the translator a grant, approve this?

e.g. Mumtaz had not set out on a substantial walk.... first line

...he'd while away the measure of the week ... second sentence

An entire household slept and woke with the remorse of Ihsan's affliction. 4th sentence

Not one of these is standard contemporary English, either American or British. It's not that they can't be understood, it's that we have to compensate while reading, like carrying a shifting heavy sack while walking.

The worst part is that this publication means that we won't see another, we hope well done, translation for 20 years or so.
Atmospheric but little action. 12 July 2014
By Jonathan P. Hodgson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Most of what happens in this novel is conversations. There is a wedding that in the end does not take place and a suicide -- neither bride no groom. The result is very atmospheric but with not much action.
A Mind at Peace 8 April 2014
By Steven Davis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"What is it that should be done?" This is the central question of A Mind at Peace at both the public and personal levels. The novel is set on the eve of World War II in Istanbul, Turkey. Its protagonist, Mümtaz, is a young, unmarried academic and would-be novelist. He is principally occupied at the moment, however, with caring for his older cousin İhsan who suffers from what appears likely to be a fatal case of pneumonia. İhsan had been Mümtaz's guardian and mentor ever since the latter's parents died as a result of the Greek invasion of Anatolia in 1919--events which Mümtaz recalls at the beginning of the novel.

Mümtaz also reflects ruefully upon his recently broken love affair with Nuran, a divorced woman slightly older than Mümtaz. In the long walks he takes to escape from the sick room, every sight and sound seems to recall the times he spent with Nuran.

After this prologue, the novel shifts back a year or more in time to Mümtaz's first meeting with Nuran. It is a relationship we know is doomed to failure, but not how or why. In the meantime, the two lovers, enraptured with one another, spend many idle hours in all seasons exploring their city--from palaces to bazaars, from waterways to ancient ruins. Eventually Mümtaz even wonders "Do we love each other or the Bosphorus?"

On a par with their passion for Istanbul is the pair's enthusiasm for traditional Turkish music. There are lengthy discussions about it, as well as sessions where Nuran's uncle, a noted vocalist, and his friends perform for guests. (It's a shame that the novel couldn't have included a CD to satisfy readers' inevitable curiosity about the folk music described in such rapturous terms.)

Notwithstanding the love story and travelogue, A Mind at Peace is essentially a novel of ideas. It is August 1939, and the world is obviously on the brink of another great war. The Turks have no reason to expect that they won't be involved, but should they just let the currents of history carry them into another bloodbath? What is the responsibility of the individual, especially of the intellectual, at times like this? After long talks with his cousin, Mümtaz asks himself: "Maybe İhsan does have a point! This society wants ideas and maybe even a struggle out of me. Not romantic posturing! But to achieve this end must I forget about Nuran?"

There is obviously much of Hamlet's "To be, or not to be..." in Mümtaz's dilemma. Readers of Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities will also find themselves on familiar ground with a protagonist full of ideas but lacking in direction. In contrast to Mümtaz there is Suad, a key character introduced fairly late in the novel, who is his mirror image: a man of intellectual attainment but impulsive, irresponsible, self-indulgent and proud of his Sadean amorality. Nuran, in contrast to both of these men, is centered on her feelings, her family, and her cultural roots. In the author's words, "Nuran depended on a minimum level of selfhood. She lived through her milieu."

A Mind at Peace is a great novel that brings forth ideas of epic scale out of an intimate story, and does so against an unforgettable historical and cultural backdrop. The principal characters, notwithstanding their penchant for philosophical abstracts, are convincingly complete and complex. The author's prose, beautifully translated, has an evocative and lyrical quality in keeping with the musical theme running through the novel. Here, for example, is a passage describing Nuran:

"Not a single spot existed on her small face with which he wasn't familiar. For Mümtaz, her face became his panorama of the soul: the way it blossomed to love like a flower, closed definitively upon a despairing smile--the metallic radiance burning in her eyes asquint--and not least of all the way her face changed by degrees like a daybreak over the Bosphorus.... With a look, she dressed him up and stripped him down, at one moment turning him into a pitiful, forsaken malcontent with no recourse but Allah, and at the next into the very master of his fate."

For both its profound discussion of ideas central to the human condition and its vivid portrayal of a place, a time and a people, A Mind at Peace is highly recommended.
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