Saturday, July 23, 2005

Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk

Turkish novelist Pamuk, who is a pretty solid candidate for a future Nobel Prize, subtitles this nonfiction book "Memories and the City," and indeed it is a biography of Istanbul, one of the greatest cities in the world, much more than it is a biography of Pamuk. I had a lot of personal connections to the book's content, which circles around the idea that as the center of a lost empire, Istanbul and its citizens are in a permanent state of nostalgic melancholy, but I also found the book an interesting companion piece to Pamuk's fiction. Writers might find it interesting to read the novels Black Book and My Name is Red and then read this book in order to see how Pamuk has used his observations about place (in particular the emotions connected to place) in his fiction. I'm a sucker for writers' autobiographies, but I am glad this wasn't a book about writing (not until the last lines does he even acknowledge that he is a writer). Rather than hearing more on technique (of which I've heard and said quite a bit), I found it inspiring/enlightening to hear fresh ideas on place--to think about how a city can have a personality--and then to make my own judgements about how to apply that to fiction.

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