I’m sure why I waited this long to read Orhan Pamuk’s memoir about his life and the city that shaped it, but I’m glad I did. After living here for a cumulative year and a half (between my two stints here) I’ve also grown to feel connected to Istanbul and share both in its beauty and sadness. This paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the book befittingly.
“I’ve never left Istanbul – never left the houses, streets and neighborhoods of my childhood. Although I’ve lived in other districts from time to time, fifty years onI find myself back in the Pamuk Apartments, where my first photographs were taken and where my mother first held me in her arms to show me the world…
Conrad, Nabokov, Naipul – these are writers known for having managed to migrate between languages, cultures, countries, continents, even civilisations. Their imaginations were fed by exile, a nourishment drawn no through roots but through rootlessness; mine, however requires that I stay in the same city, on the same street, in the same house, gazing at the same view. Istanbul’s fate is my fate. I am attached to this city because it has made me who I am.
Flaubert, who visited Istanbul a hundred and two years before my birth, was struck by the variety of life in its teeming streets; in one of his letters he predicted that in a century’s time it would be the capital of the world. The reverse came true: after the Ottoman Empire collapsed, the world forgot that Istanbul existed. The city into which I was born was poorer, shabbier, and more isolated than it had ever been its two-thousand-year history. For me it has always been a city of ruins and of end-of-empire melancholy. I’ve spent my life either battling with this melancholy, or (like all Istanbullus) making it my own. ”