Tuesday, January 5, 2016

a strangeness (3)

Journey into "strangeness"

Travelling back in time to bygone centuries: in his new novel, "A strangeness in my mind", Orhan Pamuk relates a Turkish family saga in the manner of a collage through a first-person narrator who is in perpetual dialogue with the reader.

The novel spans a period of 30 years and relates the histories of the Aktas und Karatas families. They are related through the two brothers Hasan and Mustafa, who move to the Istanbul districts of Duttepe and Kultepe from the central Anatolian town of Beysehir in the 1970s.

The novel's main protagonist is Mevlut, Mustafa's son. He grows up living with his father in Istanbul, where he attends school, although he leaves without any qualifications and goes to work as a street vendor selling yoghurt – first with his father and then, after his father's death, alone.

Mevlut first encounters Samiha, a girl with beautiful eyes, at a wedding. He writes letters to her for years until he receives a message that she is ready to embark upon a relationship with him. But when it is not Samiha who turns up to run away with him to Istanbul but her sister Rahiya, who has been receiving the letters in error, Mevlut realises there has been a mix-up. This has been caused by his cousin Suleyman, who's keen on Samiha himself. When he absconds with Rahiya, Mevlut begins his journey into "strangeness", a feeling that comes over him again and again and serves as a motif running through the entire novel.

Rahiya leads a contented life with Mevlut, although they are poor. They have two children. Rahiya dies when attempting to abort her third child herself. Years later, Mevlut marries Samiha. She turns out to be more obstinate and less sympathetic than her dead sister. As Mevlut walks the streets night after night selling his wares, he finally realises how closely bound up with the city he is, and that Rahiya meant more to him than anything in the world.

Pamuk tells this family chronicle in the manner of a collage, through a first person narrator who is in perpetual dialogue with the reader. Flashbacks and vox pops reminiscent of a reportage in which the characters tell their story and comment on it, lend the saga a certain dynamic.
Torn between the village and the big city

Alongside Yasar Kemal, Orhan Pamuk is one of the most influential Turkish authors of the 20th century. Some critics in Turkey believe that Kemal would have been a more deserving Nobel laureate than Pamuk, who won the award in 2006

In his past novels, Pamuk skilfully equated his "bourgeois" characters with the decline of the former capital Istanbul and the sense of huzun, or melancholy. In contrast, in his new novel, the emotional life of his protagonists and the fact that they are torn between home village and metropolis remains rather superficial in the depiction. But in this novel too, Pamuk's strength lies in the description of Mevlut's feelings as he wanders through the sombre streets: his inner turmoil, a sense of belonging to the city on the one hand, and of constantly searching for something on the other – between reality (the happy life he is leading with Rahiya) and fantasy (what might have been, if Samiha had received the letters and eloped with him).

Pamuk himself has made reference elsewhere to the consciously deployed intertextuality of his post-modern writing style. Thus, the basic mood of the protagonist, strangeness (tuhaflik), is perhaps to be understood as a reference to garip (or: peculiar poetry) – the lyrical genre that was typical of Orhan Veli, one of the best-known urban poets who repeatedly focused on the sense of alienation in the streets, the ambivalent feeling of the poet towards his urban surroundings.

At the same time, Pamuk's migrant story is reminiscent of the poetry of Turgut Uyar, just transposed into the grand form of narrative prose. Uyar's poetry tells of the migrant who – like Mevlut – is swallowed up by house fronts, billboards and anonymity, and who always carries a sense of isolation within him.

The story is embedded in Istanbul between the years 1969 and 2012, with all the fast-paced developments and profound changes that took hold during this period. It is the stage for political developments such as the polarisation between ultra-nationalists and leftists, waves of migration, illegal real estate business and the extinction of old professions such as that of the street vendor peddling yoghurt.

from here, Qantara.

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