ORHAN PAMUK’S new novel, “A Strangeness in My Mind”, has been six years in the making. A quiet saga of migrant experience, it follows an easy-going if somewhat melancholy fellow, Mevlut Karatas, from his arrival in late 1960s Istanbul to his coerced relocation under the ruling Justice and Development party’s urban- transformation projects of the 2010s.
Looking this time through an outsider’s lens, Mr Pamuk once again explores the familiar themes from his previous novels: the social and cultural complexities and personal histories that have shaped Istanbul into the multilayered city it is. “A Strangeness in my Mind” traces the lives of the Aktas and Karatas families from central Anatolia over five decades as they adjust to living in the slum outskirts of 1970s Istanbul. The protagonist, Mevlut, sells yogurt in the street by day, boza—an Ottoman fermented wheat beverage—by night. He clings to his boza profession with an air of sanctity, yet can only observe as his clientele and his friends (Istanbul house guards, Anatolian kitchen boys and Greek dowagers) dwindle into a thing of the past. As time, politics and social change wash over him, his one constant is his wife Rayiha: a marriage of happy accident as his real love interest when he was young lay elsewhere.
The rich backdrop to Mevlut’s fumbling efforts at “making it” in the big city is Istanbul’s changing landscape. As Anatolian cultures slowly displace the Greek and Armenian heritage that was part and parcel of old Istanbul, tensions flare among the new migrant communities of left-wing Aleviite Kurds and Turkish nationalists. Mr Pamuk also nods to the building boom that created so many construction millionaires out of migrant families who unofficially claimed land in the suburbs through speedy makeshift builds and questionable documentation. He chooses multiple perspectives over moral judgment, which allows him to focus on the inner lives of his characters as they shape the city that, in turn, shapes them. Some of the most memorable chapters are interior monologues from women who, every day, must negotiate defiance and deferral to their men and their in-laws.
Although the migrant experience opens up a new literary vista for Mr Pamuk, he largely returns to what he does best: exploring the inner turmoil of his characters against a background of huzun, the strangely pervasive melancholy of Istanbul, and coaxing these fragments into a textured and rewarding narrative.
from here, the Economist.