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Pamuk's 'Istanbul' has a melancholic soul

Orhan Pamuk beautifully sums up his city in his book Istanbul - Memories of a City in one word: hüzün. As Pamuk describes it, the word is truly descriptive of his Istanbul, a sort of melancholy which is not altogether unwarranted, as he writes:

Istanbul does not carry its hüzün as 'an illness for which there is a cure' or 'an unbidden pain from which we need to be delivered': it carries its hüzün by choice.
What Pamuk has done in this book is captured the essential soul of the city of the great Ottoman Empire of yore. Yes, it is dilipidated, it is tattered and in ruins, it is even Westernising itself to keep pace with the world - but essentially, it is in a state of melancholy. Of the time gone by, taking with it the beauty of a culture that had fermented itself for so long. Yet, what remains now is a sort of rot, as symbolised in the wooden houses falling apart.

Even then, Pamuk professes his solidarity with the city he was born in, grown up and discovered his creative soul. He is at one with the city and accepts it unconditionally:

...I remember that I love this city not for any purity but precisely for the lamentable want of it.
In a style which is an outpouring of years of thoughts, Pamuk describes his exploration of every narrow lane of Istanbul and his attendant emotions with it. So much so, that the city's hüzün becomes his own, a combination of his personal losses and resignation. He describes hüzün as a 'collective melancholy' to which every resident of Istanbul is privy, and accepts as a not altogether unwanted heritage.

The most striking focus of the book, I feel, is how Pamuk so well understands that a city is not just the facade of its buildings or its roads or coffee houses - it is the living soul behind them. This reminds me of Salman Rushdie's Salim (in Midnight's Children) who felt that his fate was intertwined with that of his country. But in the case of Pamuk, it is far more believable (and understandable). His memories are not only straightforward, they are sincere and at times, touching.

Overall, Istanbul is a refreshing read. You get to know the city from its psychographic profile rather than superficial demographics.

Orhan Pamuk links:
Official site
Nobel Prize page
Book Review 7623625901463506332

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3 comments

junkunlimited said...

hi!!

"know the city from its psychographic profile rather than superficial demographics."

That was a splendid description that sums up the theme of the book hinting the author's affinity to the city!!
hey!!your reading habits are pretty impressive!!and ur writng skills too!i couldnt help myself praising it!!:)

gugan!!

Swati said...

hmm....I agree.
That was indeed a splendid description :)

hill goat said...

I feel it is Pamuk's writings (as well as his sketches) that are dipped in the huzun. He has this originally slow pace to describe Istanbul which moves with melancholy. and while one can differ with the view he presents, it is difficult to remain unimpressed.
When I snapped the book, I was more impressed by his description of Bosphorus and cobblestoned paths (like in Mumbai) than the huzun-filled evenings. Istanbul of today has a chirpy look in most of its modern buildings, seaside shacks and the 'western' part of the city than Pamuk paints.
(incidentally, i reached your blog via orkut)

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