Imperial melancholy

Ironically, it was on the way home from Athens that I finished reading Orhan Pamuk's (*1952) celebrated book Istanbul - Memories of a City. I can tell you without exaggerating that this is the most absorbing book I've read in some time. It is an autobiographical record of the author's youth & coming of age in a city torn between the memories of past imperial grandeur and its somewhat dingy & peripheral present. The pervasive mood is that of hüzün, or melancholy, that is a consequence of this contrasting experience, combined with modern Turkey's thrust towards westernisation.

If the English translation (Maureen Freely) comes even close to the original, then the language alone truly deserves of the Nobel Prize. Pamuk's prose is rich, dense & precise, yet descriptive to the point of being voluble. Unfortunately, careless editing disturbs that favourable picture too often.

For me, this book offers important insights into modern Turkey's Befindlichkeit, at least so far as that of its urban, westernised elite is concerned. Anatolia is virtually absent from Pamuk's book, whereas predominantly French authors & artists appear to have had a downright formative influence. It is a revelation to observe the apparent impact of the decline of the Ottoman empire on everyday life, even half a century after the fact. My theory is that this may be due to the relatively early & painful loss of an old empire following WWI, which evidently was an extraordinarily traumatic experience compared to that of other European "competitors".

Highly recommended reading! I am looking forward to seeing Istanbul again with new eyes in March.

No comments: