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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Istanbul: Memories Of A City, a life part-visited
Near the opening of Istanbul: Memories Of A City, Orhan Pamuk suggests that "at least once in a lifetime, self-reflection leads us to an examine the circumstances of our birth", to examine family, identity and origins, perhaps to find if we might have deserved better. Thus this master prose applies his art, his skill to weave an intricate and detailed tapestry of a city...
Published on 25 April 2009 by Philip Spires

versus
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Istanbul: full in contradictions as a city and as a book!
When I bought this book, I thought it is a memoir where the story of Istanbul is told as a part of the author's life. However, when I started reading it, I found it something different. I do not know what the word that should describe this book is, but I did not find it a memoir or a story of a city.

The book holds all the contradictions that you see in...
Published on 9 July 2011 by aya


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Istanbul: Memories Of A City, a life part-visited, 25 April 2009
Near the opening of Istanbul: Memories Of A City, Orhan Pamuk suggests that "at least once in a lifetime, self-reflection leads us to an examine the circumstances of our birth", to examine family, identity and origins, perhaps to find if we might have deserved better. Thus this master prose applies his art, his skill to weave an intricate and detailed tapestry of a city with its history, customs, architecture and feel embroidered around the story of the writer's early years, spent in a domesticity somehow short of bliss. The book, no doubt, is an instalment, since it ends with the young Orhan Pamuk out of college declaring he wants to be a writer. There remains, therefore, a lot of story yet to be told.

There is a crucial concept, Pamuk tells us, needed to inform our experience of this place. It provides a clarifying lens that not only magnifies and intensifies, but also interprets. In Turkish it's called hüzün, which roughly translates as melancholy. But it is not the melancholy of melancholia. It is not unhappiness, and is far removed from depression or anything else clinical. Orhan Pamuk returns to this word and its meaning throughout the text, but usually to skirt around its core, to illustrate rather than define. As I read Istanbul, the more I was convinced I was dealing with an idea that spanned both humanity and humility along one axis, married with reflection and mortality along another.

The concept explains why this city, when seen through foreigner's eyes, has been either a comment on history, a judgment on squalor, or a romance on the exotic. Whether it's the engravings of Melling or the words of Flaubert, Western visitors have tended to exaggerate, to concentrate on things the locals take for granted, whilst ignoring those that fire them. Compared to local writers whose views are no less partial, it seems, the visitors tend to concentrate more on the picturesque, what can be observed and recorded rather than what can be felt or interpreted. Those born or living in the city are in contrast part of its fabric, conscious of its design, more able to follow a thread of meaning.

Pamuk follows such a political thread through his book. The country's modernisation under Ataturk is a constant theme. It was an ideology, Pamuk declares, that convinced his family that, as Westernised, positivist property-owners, they had the right to govern over semi-literates, and a mission to prevent them becoming too attached to their superstitions. Such acute and astute observation, laden with irony, is also revealed as having penetrated his own psyche. Elsewhere, he tells us that while he might remain uneasy about religious devotion, he, like the secular bourgeoisie in general, feared not God, but the potential fury of those who believed in Her too much.

He also, quite early on, introduces the reader to his suspicion, nay fear, that he himself has a duplicate existence in another place elsewhere in the city, perhaps in the same form, but with a separate, independent identity. Readers of Pamuk will notice here a theme that seems to pervade his work.

The city itself has had at least three separate identities, all played out by different occupants, their origins in a multiplicity of cultures and places. And so it may be with the individual. He did not choose to be born into this identity, this skin, this psyche. By chance he might have a religious fanatic, a merchant, a Sultan, a boatman or a moderniser as a father, and any of the same - less Sultan - plus more as a mother. He might have changed direction in his own life, have become the architect he aimed for, have been a painter, or might have even married the first love who modelled for his portraits. Throughout, he might have been someone else, or indeed have merely represented a type, a class, a privilege, a poverty. Are we discussing the individual, an individual, the writer, a writer or, as a generality, anyone who might or might have once lived in this place and thus adopted its identity?

Thus lives, like places, are to be interpreted, reinvented by the eyes that view them. A writer, perhaps, invents nothing in his fiction, the production of which becomes merely a search for the self who, by accident of history, becomes fixed in an individual that remains, inevitably, in a state of change. This beautiful, moving book, one hopes, is just the start of an autobiographical project. Like life itself, I anticipate a future whose attainment I possibly might live to regret. Hüzün.
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57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Penetrating, insightful and a little gloomy, 26 July 2006
I didn't quite know what to expect of Istanbul, having read all of the author's fiction. I suspected it might be a little strange, and rather melancholic. Pamuk's study of his home town turned out to be a non-linear, dip-into read. It is engrossing and lyrical and a great testament to Pamuk's writing that it doesn't come across as self-obsessed or egomaniacal as Pamuk is clearly fascinated by his family/family legacy. In a more self-indulgent writer this could be rather irksome, but in Pamuk's (and translator Maureen Freely's) hands it becomes seductive and soothing. I spent time in Istanbul in the late 80s and I never really got the hang of the city, didn't understand how/why it worked. I wish this book had been around then as I would approach the place completely differently.
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130 of 137 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly Enchanting!, 28 May 2005
By 
Andrew Howell "andyhowell3" (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Istanbul (Hardcover)
Ekren Koçu devoked most of his life, between the 50's and the 70's, to compiling an encyclopedia of Istanbul. For Orphan Pamuk, Koçcu failed in this life-long task because it was impossible "to explain Istanbul using western 'Scientific' methods of classification. He failed in part because Istanbul is so unmanageably varied, so anarchic, so very much stranger than western Cities: its disorder resists clasification". Intrigued? Then this is a book for you.
This book is very a personal reflection on the author's notion of Istanbul - as much an idea or concept as much as a place - developed during his childhood and adolescence from the 50's through to the 70's.
We start with the author's first memories: the tall house entirely occupied by one (fascinating) extended family; his father and brother, inheritors of his grandfather's fortune, determined to fritter it away in one business disaster of the next; his long suffering mother; his father possessed of an almost fatal attraction for other women; and his grand mother, the true matriarchal anchor of the family. We end, in the 70's, with a row between Orphan and his mother and the book concludes with Orphan's declaration that he is going to be a writer. And in between we are treated to a wonderful exercise in writing and remembrance.
We begin to understand Istanbul as Orphan did himself. An important feature of his childhood were the black and white films that he was taken to as a young child. As an adult Orphan sees Istanbul, exclusively, in black and white. And the text is accompanied by a whole series of atmospherics black and white photographs. As the text unfolds we begin to understand that this is a great time of change for the turks, when political leaders looked to the west for progress, but where - for most people - notions of east and west was pretty meaningless. Istanbul was Istanbul, a world within itself, indeed, we learn that the author has never lived anywhere else and has never felt the desire to do so.
As the story progresses the story of his life is interspersed with chapters that talk about history and tradition. We learn about great Turkish thinkers, writers, poets and philosophers. We see Istanbul through the eyes of successive generations of western visitors, Flaubert and Ruskin amongst them. And we learn of a new nation beginning to build a new identity in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman empire.
This is a fascinating story rendered even more impressive by the wonderful style of the writer. We live with him through family disasters, through his teenage love of painting (only Istanbul of course) and through the trauma of his first love, a story which superbly illustrates the real limits of life that faced talented - or wealthy - Istanbulus in the post war years.
Pamuk's Istanbul is a fascinating place and this book is a fascinating book, not least becasue he avoids so many of the western clichés which seem to have defined how even Turks think and write about their home. What we do appreciate here is the uniqueness of Istanbul.
For Parmuk the most defining notion of Istanbul is, Hüzün, a kind of turkish melancholia, but a melancholia that is distinctive to this place, a collective condition rather than the individualstic notion of, say, French tristesse.
Hüzün dominates this book but not in a sad or overpowering way. It just makes Istanbul seem very different and a very individual place.
This is great reading and - as I said above - very stylish writing. In many ways it reminded me of W.G.Sebald although I can't quite understand why, although it is clearly as honest and individual as his best work.
This book is one hell of a treat; indulge yourself!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Istanbul: full in contradictions as a city and as a book!, 9 July 2011
When I bought this book, I thought it is a memoir where the story of Istanbul is told as a part of the author's life. However, when I started reading it, I found it something different. I do not know what the word that should describe this book is, but I did not find it a memoir or a story of a city.

The book holds all the contradictions that you see in Istanbul. Despite all the colours, joy and beauty you find there, you still feel some sort of sadness. This book describes this sadness over the Ottoman Empire, you can feel this `melancholy' as the word used in the book in each chapter of it, in the author's childhood, in other writers' books about Istanbul, in the paintings described in the book, even in the family relations with others and the westernization process of Istanbul. You can feel the love this author holds for his city to the degree that the sadness he feels for it covers every aspect of his life.

The book describes in depth what has been written about Istanbul. It analyses the Western view of Istanbul and the Istanbullus' view of their city. It is true that outsiders see the city from a different point of view. What attracts them is different than what attracts you as a local citizen. It is surprising - and it is true till this moment- how cities like Istanbul try to satisfy the West. If something is not considered western- or does not get acceptance from the West, it is changed immediately. That is why many of the city's `pictures' or `traditions' were replaced by others.

The last section in this book is the part which can be considered a memoir where the writer starts writing more about his life, and not about his views of other authors or painters.

It is a good book to be read if you know Istanbul as it gives you a different perspective.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely Book, 18 Dec 2007
An unusual and insightful guide to what remains for many a mysterious city. At the same time, a personal memoir that is wry, moving, and original. I feel as though I now have a good friend to whisper in my ear as I navigate the streets of Istanbul, no longer clueless.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars decay and (introverted) passion, 6 May 2011
By 
rob crawford "Rob Crawford" (Balmette Talloires, France) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
Perhaps it is true that you either love Pamuk or don't. I find that once I adapt myself to his style, what he is offering is simply wonderful. You carry your expectations to a book, and with Pamuk I never know what to expect. This memoir is a description of his native city and his family, as a gateway into the mind of an unusual autodidact, extremely introverted and melancholy, yet passionately committed to his art.

These three levels are the core themes of the book, which plays lots of games with its structure and images that readers can unravel if that is their bag. First, there is Istanbul - a character in the book, just like his mother and brother - a city that is in decline from its glory as the Ottoman Empire's capital city. From the heights of sophistication and colonial richness, it has entered the modern age as a decapitated giant of ruins with a crumbling (and extremely present) past. One of Pamuk's favorite childhood pastimes was to watch old Pasha mansions burn down, another was to watch disasters on the Bosphorus. But the feeling of decay and loss pervades everything, seeps into the heart of everyone, esp. the author. He breathes this decay with a never-ending fascination and love, finding in poverty and even mediocrity a key to his own identity.

The second level is his family, which is squandering its wealth from the previous generation and squabbling over a painfully unbalanced marriage. It is a mirror of the decline of the city, of course, and Pamuk must decide what to do. That is the third theme, which brings it all together: how he can carve out a role for himself as an artist, in a society that has little place for them. In addition to European writers, Pamuk focuses on a few artistic Turks, but again, they are not what you'd expect: writers who published virtually nothing in their lifetimes, even an encyclopaedist, who stops at the letter K. Again, the descriptions are as astonishing as they are understated, a window into a developing talent and alien world.

Finally, the book is packed with wonderful photos, engravings, and paintings. I wish they were of higher quality than in my edition.

There is a political subtext to it, of course: Ataturk's secular revolution is woefully incomplete: while the empire is gone, nothing has risen that can quite take its place. What you get is a half-formed society, extremely sad at its decline, but somehow proud and contented in its particular melancholy, or Huzun. The expression of this is absolutely wonderful and vivid, yet understated and infinitely subtle.

This is what this book said to me. I got a feeling for Turkey that was completely unexpected, and it will fuel my own passion for history for years. That being said, this book is not for everyone. It is about the life of the mind in a place that many will find obscure and depressing. Also, Pamuk is so introverted that many readers will not identify with him. And his style is extremely quirky.

Warmly recommended. I got a wonderful sense of the passage of history and human struggle and identity unlike anything I have ever read.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Istanbul for insiders, Istanbul for outsiders, 9 Nov 2009
By 
back to basics (Glasgow - Scotland) - See all my reviews
Orhan Pamuk began as a painter, and then trained as an architect, before taking up novel writing. Both skills are at the core of everything he writes - he's expert at evoking a portrait, or a mood, or a scene. And then, everything is carefully and beautifully and often surprisingly structured.
ISTANBUL is by far his most immediately accessible book for anyone like me, who can only ever feel like a visitor, even in a country so welcoming as Turkey.
The architechtural principle it's built on is simple and straightforward. I suppose you could call it something like "double perspective". It alternates between chapters that examine particular ways Istanbul has been described, whether by foreigners or by Turks with an angle to their vision. And then it interlaces chapters that trace a developing awareness of the city on the part of someone born and educated there: Pamuk himself. Sometimes the outsider view amplifies and extends the insider perceptions, and illuminates what he can't immediately see, whether because it's lost, or is concealed. Sometimes the insider view shows up the limits of older classical accounts - the insider introduces mood and portraiture that's absent from, say, an encyclopedia. But in this point-counterpoint, every element is at once vivid and thoughtful, and the shifts in vision convey how nothing ever stays everyday or ordinary.
Pamuk's marvelous novels tend to be built on rather more complex and challenging principles, and in them he does reach stranger peaks of emotional intensity this beautiful book never attempts. That said, it's far and away his most welcoming book, a perfect place to begin, whether you want to know more about cities in general, or about the extraordinary city that is now Istanbul, or just want a gentle introduction to lead into the intricate fictional worlds this challenging writer has built.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An original insight into Istanbul, 3 July 2007
By 
M. Torun (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Having spent much time in Istanbul and being a fan of the city, I wasn't sure what to expect from this book initially. However, I found the author's insight into the city intriguing and enticing. His poetic style of writing, as he parallels the story of his family's misfortunes to the misfortunes of Istanbul, brings the reader to delight in the melancholic beauty of this city.

Whilst his understanding of Istanbul is sometimes too reliant on his own experiences for the reader to fully appreciate, his style of writing nevertheless allows you to enjoy this as a great alternative guide to the city.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great read, 25 July 2014
By 
Gogol (England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
I must say I really enjoyed this book. I have read a few of Pamuk's books in the past and found them very one dimentional, almost as though he is writing to a standard form with a sole purpose to sell books rather than to convey a story. This book is very different, its personal, Pamuk delivers a lot more of himself in this book and for that reason its much more of a fascinating read.

Pamuk talks about his life and I am sure there are moments in it he would rather not discuss with the outside world. The endless break ups of his parents, their arguments, the suspicion of another woman. True Pamuk is from a very well off family but he also talks about the dwindling family fortune, the endless arguments about the distribution of the family wealth. Pamuk also gives an interesting insight into a Turkish family secular and modern and how they see themselves in the modern Turkish republic.

The fact that Pamuk talks of Istanbul much before the development that has taken place over the last 20 years also makes this a great read. For anyone who has been to Istanbul in those days will know the change is remarkable and Pamuk does capture much of what old Istanbul was. All in all I really enjoyed this book and recommend it.
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52 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars melancholy splendour, 1 Jun 2006
By 
Helen Barnes (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is one for fans of Tarkovsky, Pessoa and Calvino, and other poets of nostalgia. It is as much about the invisible cities of the author's own imagination as the real (although largely vanished) Istanbul he describes, and which are depicted in the (gorgeous, grainy, black and white) photographs in the book. This Istanbul is a place you too will come to inhabit, whether you've been there or not, and which will stay with you, like James Joyce's Dublin. Magical.
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