A Strangeness in My Mind


“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.” ― Orhan Pamuk, A Strangeness in My Mind

Recent events in Turkey prompted me to write this review. Istanbul is a city that stirs great emotion for me. And Turkey a country I dream of exploring. I hope, with all my heart, that lunatics – be they politicians or extremists – will not destroy that dream. And above all, that peace returns to the beautiful people of Turkey.

Orhan Pamuk's book, A Strangeness in My Mind, spans over four decades, from 1969 to 2012. Told through the eyes of a street vendor selling yoghurt and boza (a Turkish drink of fermented wheat), Mevlut it describes the transformation of the city as political clashes and military coups shape the country.

Born in a poor village in the province of Konya, Mevlut moves to Istanbul with his father at the age of 12 where they share a single, dingy room in one of the cites ever expanding ghettos. Here Mevlut's story of failed attempts at schooling, business, and politics begins. He and his father aren't able to save money, build a home, or bring his family to Istanbul, like his cousins. And one can't help but feel compassion for him.

When he attends his cousin's wedding, Mevlut falls in love with a young girl. Enraptured by her beautiful eyes, he spends three years writing her letters, professing his love. He entrusts the letters to his cousin Suleyman, who ultimately helps the couple elope. As they flee through the night, Mevlut realises that the girl whose hand he holds is not the girl he had fallen in love, but her older sister. Scared and embarrassed, he says nothing and accepts his fate. He marries Rayiha and pushes the beautiful Samiha from his mind.

The title is taken from Wordsworth's The Prelude, on what the poet called "spots of time": those moments we return to throughout our lives that "nourish" and "invisibly repair" us. As Mevlut wanders the ancient, narrow streets of Istanbul, fearful of the street dogs, he returns to that spot of time. A spot of time time that sees him wondering who his beloved really is.

For Aphraella who gave me my "spot of time" in Istanbul.