Orhan Pamuk is from Istanbul and is one of Turkey’s best-known authors. In 2006 he won the Nobel Prize in literature, making him Turkey’s first Nobel laureate. His novels focus on Turkish characters, and the beauty found in their everyday lives.
We both recently read two of Pamuk’s books: A Strangeness in my Mind, and The Red-Haired Woman. Both of these books take place in Istanbul, from the latter half of the 20th century up until today. Pamuk has this incredible ability to go from writing about the specifics of an hour in a day, to covering many years in just a few pages, all without losing his readers.
If you have an interest in learning about Istanbul’s culture, A Strangeness in my Mind would be a good place to start. No prior knowledge is needed, as Pamuk eagerly describes every interesting aspect of ordinary life in Istanbul. He depicts in great detail some of Turkey’s cultural practices through his protagonist Mevlut, a yoghurt and boza seller.
Pamuk explores the importance of food in Turkish culture; the thought and effort that go into preparing a single meal through vivid, almost palatable imagery. This practice is also an important part of social life in Istanbul, and Pamuk makes these connections in the most beautiful way.
While relationships are present and important in A Strangeness in my Mind, they are more prominent in Pamuk’s most recent novel The Red-Haired Woman. In this novel, themes and ideas from the traditional Greek tale of Oedipus the King are present. Again, he sets up the novel so that anyone can understand the plot, and no prior knowledge of the Greek story is needed.
Pamuk artistically entwines the story of Oedipus with his own character Cem, revealing parallels and differences between the two as the book progresses. Even though the story of Oedipus has been told many times before, Pamuk still manages to fill this book with unpredictability and tension. It’s absolutely fantastic.
If you find yourself reading books that seem to trace similar storylines, featuring similar protagonists, Pamuk’s novels will break that cycle. His stories are unique, his characters are believable and the books are endlessly fascinating and bizarre.
These books have inspired us to have a deep interest in Turkey’s culture, especially the incredibly dynamic and diverse fabric that makes up the city of Istanbul. Either of these books will make you feel as if you’re walking the streets of Istanbul with Mevlut or Cem, away from the stressors of your student life — the perfect way to travel without spending a dime, or leaving your bed.
Both of these books can be found at the Halifax Public Libraries or at your local bookstores. A Strangeness in my Mind can also be found at the University of King’s College library.