A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk

A Strangeness in my Mind Orhan PamukTranslated 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.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk

  1. walttriznastories

    One of my favorite authors. Try his novels, Snow, The Silent Museum.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tanja

    I read Snow and Istanbul a few years ago and I enjoyed both of them, especially Istanbul. I had a bit of trouble understanding Snow because I didn’t know much about Turkey then, but perhaps I’ll understand it better when I reread it one day. You shoud check them out.

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  3. I have this on my tbr pile….

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  4. 600 pages – too daunting. I enjoy The Museum of Forgotten objects (I may have title wrong) and also Snow, but I’ll be giving this one a miss.

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  5. I have read a couple of his books and am interested to read this was as it was intended as more of a cultural study than his prior works. I am surprised that it has been Long-Listed. Mr. Pamuk is well acquainted with U.S. and international audiences aside from the Nobel Prize. He teaches at Columbia University in NYC.

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    • That’s interesting, I’ve heard that Pamuk has written some non-fiction about Istanbul which I would like to read at some point.

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      • Yes he principally writes about Turkey and Istanbul in particular. I am interested in reading this book as his intent is to create “working class heroes” without reference to middle an upper classes. He believes literature has focused on the working class on vis-a-vis the working class. He also wanted to explore for readers, Turkey beyond Istanbul. I know this because I saw him at a book reading and he expanded upon this theory. Personally, I don’t think he is a very likeable guy, although I have found the two novels I have read to be interesting. There is a socio-political tinge to his writing, which has found him at times to be on the “out” with the governments of Turkey. He also does not like how literature is taught at Columbia, but still accepts the checks. I assume he has the economic means to walk away, whether he is right or wrong. Not a great writer if you are seeking literary fiction, but interesting to read if you like foreign literature and culture.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting review! I have read My Name is Red and agree with you about his writing style – it’s a chunk of a book but the light style helps. With that one, it felt like travelling back in time, so evocative were the descriptions. Plus there is an interesting structure (multiple narrators), a murder mystery, and a strong female lead. Great author. Bronte

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  7. I read ‘The Museum Of Innocence’ a few months back and loved it. It enticed me to want to read more by Pamuk. I have the book ‘Silent House’ in queue and will likely move on to ‘My Name Is Red’ after that. I like the writer’s style and prose. ‘Museum’ is a very enjoyable read.

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  8. My favourite Pamuk novel is Snow. His previous novel, The Museum of Innocence, was terrible – I’ve started this and it certainly seems to be better than that.

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  9. It’s interesting how many of us (those who have commented) like Snow, which is certainly the case with me. Loved that book, could barely finish The Museum of Innocence, and this one was fine. No need for 600+ pages, though, in my opinion. Even though I enjoyed what he learned at the end.

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  10. I was planning to read Kar (Snow) first, but will start with The White Castle, as my written Turkish may not yet be up to it. Then I willl move on to ‘A Strangeness in My Mind’ and comment here (if you are on GoodReads, I’ll try to find your reviews there as well).
    Best,
    Shira
    3rd of February, 12017 HE

    Liked by 1 person

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