To say that Orhan Pamuk’s “A Strangeness In My Mind” is one of the best written and enjoyable books I have read all year is overshadowed by my embarrassment that it is the first of the Nobel Prize winner’s novels that I have read. Believe me I will be going back and devouring all of them.
A Strangeness In My Mind is the story of Istanbul, its traditions, politics, history and evolution over more than a 45 year period as told through the eyes and lives of Mevlut Karatas and his family. Mevlut’s life began in 1957, in a small Turkish village where he lived with his mother and sisters. Mevlut’s father had gone to Istanbul with his brother, Mevlut’s uncle, to make his fortune. In 1969, at the age of 12, Mevlut joined his father in Istanbul, went to school and learned the trade of selling yogurt in the streets by day and boza (popular fermented beverage) in the streets by night. Mevlut’s school experience in Istanbul was a difficult one. Poor students like Mevlut were not well treated by educators and ultimately Mevlut dropped out.
Mevlut’s uncle had experienced enough financial success to bring his wife and three sons to Istanbul and to build a house while Mevlut’s father lived in a one room dwelling and was only able to bring Mevlut to Istanbul, but not his wife and daughters. Mevlut’s father was very envious of his brother and did not want Mevlut to develop a close relationship with his cousins or aunt and uncle. Ownership of land in those days was very loose and Mevlut’s father’s relationship with his brother deteriorated over land disputes and envy.
Despite his father’s admonishments, Mevlut became fairly dependent on his cousins throughout his life. At his cousin Korkut’s wedding, Mevlut falls in love with the younger sister of Korkut’s bride. With the help of his cousin Suleyman, Mevlut courts the younger sister through numerous love letters and ultimately, contrary to custom and acceptable religious behavior, elopes with her. From there begin many surprises.
Throughout the book Mevlut has many jobs, including street vendor, cafe worker, parking attendant, cafe owner, and tea seller. Through his various jobs and his constant struggle with poverty we learn about Istanbul’s cruelty, class distinctions and corruption. The corruption he encountered took many forms, including residential theft of electricity, cafe workers theft from owners, bribes to government officials from street vendors, and gang activity in all aspects of Istanbul life and trade.
Despite his many jobs, Mevlut always goes back to selling boza on the streets of Istanbul at night. Through his travels on the street we learn about the history of Istanbul and its politics, its ultimate development into a large city and movement away from tradition and we meet interesting characters along the way. Selling boza was almost a religious experience for Mevlut. “…every time he shouted ‘Boo-zaa’ into half-lit streets, he wasn’t just calling out to a pair of closed curtains that concealed families going about their lives…he was also reaching into the world inside his mind…he would discover the world within his soul reflected in the shadows of the city.”
“A Strangeness Inside My Head” is a grand combination of family saga and intrigue combined with Turkish history and tradition, that draws you in to a different time, place and world and makes you wonder whether the world you thought you understood before you started the novel is real. Its almost 600 pages seem too short and certainly left this reader wanting more. You can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11163985__Sa%20strangeness%20in%20my%20mind__P0%2C2__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold.