Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Saga, a Tour, and a Tour Guide: A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk

I have a couple of other reviews to write, but those are for a book I reread and one I bought, so I'm prioritizing and posting this one first...

Going into this book, provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review, I was both intrigued and apprehensive.  I've read Pamuk's works before and found them both a thing of beauty and quite a bit of work.  Luckily, in this case the beauty wins out.

The words "epic" and "saga" both leap to mind as descriptors and not solely because of the book's hefty size.  This is the story of a life.  Melvut is many things.  He is the son of a man who can never quite reach financial success and who holds a grudge against his brother (Melvut is a nephew caught in between) for a business slight.  Melvut is a husband who sent many beautiful letters to a woman he met for an instant and whom he steals away with the help of his cousin.  He is, briefly, a soldier serving out a required stint in the military.  He is a doting father.  And Melvut is a business-man who, despite dabbling in many arenas, is always most at home selling a traditional drink on the nighttime streets.

This is also, on a deeper level, the story of Istanbul.  We see the city and its surroundings evolve from an early land grab to a modern metropolis.  We see power and politics, both mixed with religion and regional loyalty.  The city is almost a second protagonist and it grows up right alongside Melvut.

This is a book that takes commitment, but also rewards it.  The reading isn't as hard as some of Pamuk's other works, at least as I remember them.  There are a LOT of characters, but a family tree and even an index can help (the index is off in the advance version and even in that form it helped by linking names to other characters, issues, and events).  I tend to like books about characters, but this felt much more like a book about place developed through a main character.  Although I certainly wouldn't call Melvut the man irrelevant, he felt more like an entryway into a world and a set of eyes for the reader to borrow.

Readers need to be prepared to dive in and pay attention.  This isn't an airplane read (meaning distractions should be minimal), but it doesn't feel like homework either.  A solid four stars, perhaps even 4.5 of 5.