Finished reading Istanbul: Memories of a City by Orhan Pamuk, a book I almost abandoned on a couple of occasions, struggling with its insipid writing style. Through a series of thematic essays, Pamuk scrutinises Istanbul, his family and growing up in the city, through an engagement with the work of other writers, photographers and painters. There is just enough charm to impel, but hindered by a narrative crammed with an exuberance of ill-assorted facts.
Visiting Istanbul this month with my daughter provided just enough provocation to wade through the pages that resemble an exhibition catalogue. I’ve not read Pamuk before, and most of the book left me ill-prepared for the last half dozen chapters where the writing soars if not to sublimity, but definitely to a type of grandeur.
I finished Istanbul today because I felt like nothing else but reading in the garden, bathed occasionally when the sun shook off the clouds. I read Istanbul, with a Beethoven piano sonata in the background, the first book I finished reading this month and the first since Doctor Faustus. By the final pages I’d grown rather attached to Pamuk’s book, which like its eponymous city, makes few concessions to its readers.
I do believe this is one of Pamuk’s finest books and one that has inspired others to look at their own relationships with the cities that have formed them. Not all cities would be up to the challenge. I would suspect Istanbul is, for better or worse.
Whether it was intentional or not, the hodgepodge structure of the book matches the texture of the city well.
I thought for most of the book that I’d probably not read another Pamuk, but the last few chapters convinced me to pick up some of his other nonfiction, essays etc.
Pamuk is one of my favorite authors and this memoir was as good as his fiction both for me and our book group. Two of our members had visited Istanbul and had fascinating comments on this and The Museum of Innocence. Much as I like Pamuk’s writing I can see why this might pale in comparison with the great prose of Thomas Mann.
The comparison that comes most readily with Pamuk’s style is Haruki Murakami; in both cases their fiction is more plot-driven that I have a taste for, but I enjoy both writer’s way of viewing life, so have a sympathy for their non-fiction.