Orhan Pamuk, who spoke at the Committee on Global Thought’s event, Conversations on Memory: Literature, Neuroscience, History on November 19th, 2013, discusses his upbringing in Istanbul and development as a writer in an article for the New York Times.
Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul
By Joshua Hammer – January 31, 2014
New York Times
On a windswept afternoon in mid-December, the writer Orhan Pamuk stood in a leafy square around the corner from Istanbul University, absorbed in a 40-year-old memory. He walked past parked motorcycles, sturdy oaks and a stone fountain, browsing through secondhand books in front of cluttered shops occupying the bottom floors of a quadrangle of pale yellow buildings. Sahaflar Carsisi, Istanbul’s used-book bazaar, has been a magnet for literary types since the Byzantine era.
In the early 1970s, Mr. Pamuk, then an architecture student and aspiring painter with a love for Western literature, would drive from his home across the Golden Horn to shop for Turkish translations of Thomas Mann, André Gide and other European authors. “My father was nice in giving me money, and I would come here on Saturday mornings in his car and fill the trunk with books,” the Nobel Laureate remembered, standing beside a bust of Ybrahim Muteferrika, who printed one of the first books in Turkey — an Arabic-Turkish language dictionary — in 1732.
“Nobody else would be here on Saturdays. I’d be haggling, talking, chatting. I would know every clerk, but it’s all changed now,” he said, referring to the somewhat touristy atmosphere and the disappearance of characters he’d come to know, such as a manuscript seller who doubled as a Sufi preacher. These days, he said, “I come only once a year.”
Mr. Pamuk was born about three and a half miles from the market, in the prosperous Nisantasi neighborhood in 1952, the son of a businessman who frittered away much of his fortune through a series of bad investments. Mr. Pamuk grew up surrounded by relatives and servants, but quarrels between his mother and father, and the ever-present sense of a family unraveling, cast his youth into uncertainty and periodic sadness.
For most of the six decades since, Mr. Pamuk has lived in Istanbul, both in Nisantasi and nearby Cihangir, alongside the Bosporus. His work is as grounded in the city as Dickens’s was in London and Naguib Mahfouz’s was in Cairo. Novels such as “The Museum of Innocence” and “The Black Book” and the autobiographical “Istanbul: Memories and the City” evoke both a magical city and a melancholy one, reeling from the loss of empire, torn by the clash between secularism and political Islam and seduced by the West. Most of Mr. Pamuk’s characters are members of the secular elite, whose love affairs, feuds and obsessions play out in the cafes and bedrooms of a few neighborhoods.
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