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Istanbul: Memories And The City

By Tom Pryor

Orhan Pamuk


While many novelists are indelibly linked to the cities they immortalize in print—think Joyce’s Dublin or Borges’ Buenos Aires—few actually sit down to write a true memoir of those cities. But Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk (Snow, My Name Is Red) has done exactly that with this dark elegy to his hometown. Pamuk was born in Istanbul in 1952, into a once-prosperous middle class family. As he recounts the breakdown of his extended family, all claustrophobically packed into the same communal apartment building, he spins his tale outward to encompass a feeling of collapse that extends to the whole city and, finally, to the old Ottoman Empire itself, which is the ghost that still haunts Istanbul. Central to Pamuk’s account is the feeling of hüzün, a very Ottoman form of melancholy that hangs like a pall over the city. While Memories And The City is often bleak and suffused with a funereal tone, Pamuk’s writing is masterful and transforms the melancholy into a meditation on life and the permanence of all things.