Book review: Orhan Pamuk’s ‘A strangeness in my mind’

I would expect nothing less than to have burst into sudden tears of joy in an ovation upon the finale of the novel A strangeness in my mind, by the master, Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate.

The saga of Mevlut Kartaş— a boy who leaves his village for life in Istanbul with his father— spans 50 years witnessing the streets and the people of one of the world’s great cities relentlessly transform as he wanders at night selling boza, and wanders in his mind to reconcile a private and public life among the family and urban sprawl caught in the tangle of development; traditions old and new; the jealously and competitiveness of those he depends on; as well as the love letters written over three years to girl from his village with whom he elopes after only having  seen her briefly at a wedding. If, that is, the letters had actually been delivered correctly to her and not her sister, and he had married the right girl.

“I wrote the letters to you, and I wrote them with love,” said Melvut. Even as he pronounced these words, he thought of how difficult it was to tell the truth and be sincere at the same time.”

Only a master like Pamuk can so poetical weave together prose with the characters and narrators that often pop out to speak directly and frankly to their readers by a writer who can not only paint the mind at work but also the landscape and the people of the city that is his passion. Besides the vignettes of individuals encountered on the streets of life, it is the saga of a family: people who are loved even when they are not liked, because they are needed and accepted as they are, just as Pamuk accepts his complicated and complex city with great love despite the upheaval of modernity and the pressures of poverty.

Mevlut is the unsung hero in all of us, that somebody nobody will ever know, who is unambitious, only yearning to know what it is he is looking for, what it is that is missing. It was a great pleasure to watch him grow and transform like the city around him while holding on to something inside himself of which he will never let go.

“In a city, you can be alone in a crowd, and in fact what makes the city a city is that it lets you hide the strangeness in your mind inside its teeming multitudes.”

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A native of Chicago, Ricky Toledano has lived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for over twenty years as a writer, translator and teacher. [a]multipicity is multi-lingual collection of reflections through the humanities.

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