A Strangeness in my Mind

Max Liu in The Independent:

OrhanOrhan Pamuk is becoming that rare author who writes his best books after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Whereas many writers, such as Alice Munro and VS Naipaul, received the top honour near the ends of their careers, Pamuk was only 54 when, in 2006, he became Turkey’s first Nobel Laureate. That left him plenty of time to add to his achievements, and his subsequent output, which includes his epic novel The Museum of Innocence (2008), is warmer, funnier and more beautiful than the works that preceded it. And yet I still know a surprising number of readers who find Pamuk’s writing dense and emotionally cold. I read him for the first time on a visit to Istanbul and admit that, at first, I was more enchanted by the city than by the prose. I’m glad I persevered, though, because Pamuk reminds me that the truly rewarding writers aren’t necessarily the ones we like immediately. When I learned three years ago that Pamuk was writing a long novel about 40 years of history, witnessed through the eyes of an Istanbul street vendor, the prospect sounded as delicious as a glass of Turkish tea. Now I’m pleased to report that the results are magnificent. If you haven’t enjoyed Pamuk’s books in the past then A Strangeness in My Mind might well be the one that wins you over.

Like James Joyce, Pamuk holds a looking-glass up to his city. Set between 1969 and 2012, his new novel describes the dizzying period when Istanbul’s population increased from three to 13 million. Weaving his way through this mutating landscape, where old meets new and east meets west, is Mevlut Karata, who, aged 12, migrates with his father from rural Anatolia. Mevlut sells yogurt, rice and boza (“a traditional Asian beverage made of fermented wheat, with a thick consistency, a pleasant aroma, a dark, yellowish colour, and low alcohol content”). He wanders “the poor and neglected cobblestone streets on winter evenings crying ‘Boo-zaa,’ reminding us of centuries past, the good old days that have come and gone.” At his cousin Korkut’s wedding, Mevlut is transfixed by the bride’s sister.

More here.