Translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap, ‘A Strangeness in My Mind’ by Orhan Pamuk tells the story of Mevlut Karata, a yoghurt and boza seller who lives in Istanbul. Melvut arrives in the city at the age of twelve in the late 1960s with his father from a poor village in Anatolia. He later elopes and marries Rayiha despite a case of mistaken identity in which he believed his love letters were being delivered to her sister. Over the course of four decades, he observes the political upheavals in the city and also experiences many personal challenges.
‘A Strangeness in My Mind’ is the first book I’ve read by Pamuk who is one of the most well-known authors on the Man Booker International Prize longlist having won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. At nearly 600 pages, it is much weightier than any of the other titles nominated this year and I felt a bit daunted by its length at first. However, I found Pamuk’s writing style to be lighter than I had been expecting. He appears to be very conscious that he is now writing for an international audience, judging by the numerous explanations of Turkish customs and politics for the benefit of Western readers who might be less familiar with the history of Istanbul. This isn’t something I’ve really noticed in the other Man Booker International Prize longlisted titles I’ve read so far and it reflects the wide recognition Pamuk’s Nobel Prize win has brought him.
‘A Strangeness in My Mind’ is a sprawling epic in length and scope. It is as much about the huge amount of social change in the city of Istanbul as it is about Mevlut’s personal story and family life. As you might expect from this type of saga, there is humour, tragedy and everything in between in both the everyday and momentous events in Mevlut’s life as he tries to find his place in the world. Although ultimately an affectionate portrait of Istanbul, Pamuk also shows the less salubrious sides of life in the city and pays particular attention to the consequences for women in society.
The storytelling itself is cleverly done through the multiple voices of Mevlut’s extended family as they frequently contradict each other and themselves. However, in terms of style and subject matter, I don’t think ‘A Strangeness in My Mind’ is as innovative as other Man Booker International Prize longlisted titles I’ve read, particularly The Vegetarian and The Four Books, and I’m not sure if it will make the shortlist. Perhaps it isn’t the best novel to start with if you are new to Pamuk’s work like me – if you’ve read any of his other novels, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.