This book but Orhan Pamuk, of whom I am a fan, is long and slow and if you’re new to Pamuk then I suggest you read one of his earlier books before this one. My Name is Red is excellent but The Black Book or Snow would be okay, too. There is little plot in A Strangeness in My Mind, it’s mostly a character study of the protagonist and possibly Istanbul itself. But it really all comes together in the end. Most of Pamuk’s more recent books have a tone of what is called “hüzün” in Turkish, a kind of melancholy. It’s most prevalent in Pamuk’s non-fiction book Istanbul: Memories and the City, but it’s also heavy in the novel, The Museum of Innocence as well as A Strangeness in My Mind.
******* A Strangeness in My Mind By Orhan Pamuk Translated by Ekin Oklap 2014 / 624 pages Read by John Lee 21h 56m Rating: 9 / 21st century lit *******
A young man named Melvut arrives in Istanbul from a smaller Turkish city in 1969 at the age of 12 and lives there until 2012 when he’s 55. During this time he marries and has daughters and continues to live in the city, witnessing the changes. The city generally grows and grows but also goes downhill into a big, vibrant and corrupt, modern city while Melvut muddles along, selling his homemade boza, a grain based alcoholic drink, and doing other things while raising his daughters.
The story is told from variety of 1st person views as well as a 3rd person point of view. The first person points of view include those of Melvut and a few relatives so the reader gets Melvut’s input about his occupation and marriage as well as those of his wife, father and a couple cousins – also, there may be some differences which work into the themes or shows that the characters are somewhat unreliable.
There are themes of change and differences in people, and of acceptance and aging and forgetting and faith and so on as Melvut’s life goes on. Kismet (fate) and memory are always a part of it.
One long plot/idea which threads its way through the book at times involves a letter Melvut wrote to Rayiha, his first wife at the beginning of their courtship. Was it really intended for her, or was it intended for Samiha, her more beautiful sister and his second wife? Was there some confusion at the time of writing? It all winds up at the end – in its own strange way. There are many things contributing to the strangeness in Melvut’s mind. The ending is really lovely.
It took me a long time to get this read – I bought it in April of 2020 and it’s now January 2021. (Cutting myself some slack, this isn’t the kind of book that’s going to grab your attention during times of troubles – and 2020 was a time of troubles.) The narrator in the Audible version, John Lee, does an excellent job but I both read and listened – sometimes I needed to see how a name was spelled. Other times I wanted to go over a nicely written passage again and maybe highlight it. Also, there are a few nice little graphics strewn around as well as an index of characters, a chronology and a reading guide.
If this is your thing go for it. And enjoy Pamuk’s other books, too.