A Strangeness in My Mind

A Strangeness in My Mind

Book - 2015
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From one of our greatest, a panoramic new novel, his first since Museum of Innocence , bringing us into Istanbul's underground through the eyes of a struggling street vendor.
Mevlut, an Istanbul street vendor, has spent his whole life selling a local alcoholic drink. It is the 1990s, and although there were once thousands of boza vendors walking the frozen streets of the city, Mevlut now cuts a lonely figure on snowy winter nights. Falling deeply into debt, and desperate to marry off his incompetent son and satisfy his mistress, Mevlut turns to his old friend Ferhat, who collects payments on electric bills. The partners traverse the back streets of middle class neighbourhoods and shantytowns, venture into flats, shops and restaurants of the poor, relishing their power to punish cheaters and collect bribes. The dangers of Instanbul's underbelly eventually catch up with Mevlut, and he is attacked by a pack of dogs, hospitalized, robbed by bandits and beaten and threatened at every turn. Istanbul is exposed as a city with a rich and dynamic underground culture which seeps into its secular business centres and mainstream society. Mevlut serves as a flighty guide, occasionally attuned to the city's nuances, but with a wild imagination and insticts tainted by desperation.
Publisher: New York :, Alfred A. Knopf,, 2015
Edition: First American edition
ISBN: 9780307361264
0307361268
Characteristics: 599 pages
Additional Contributors: Oklap, Ekin

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RuthAlice
Feb 20, 2016

In A Strangeness in My Mind, as in his other novels, Pamuks returns to his constant theme of Turkey’s duality and its conflicts. He often says Turkey exists in two places at once—both European and Asian, modern and traditional, Western and Islamic, secular and religious. This time, his story revolved around the life of Mevlut Karats.

When he was twelve Mevlut left his Anatolian village where he was born and went to Istanbul to join his father, who like many in the impoverished village spent most of the year in the city to make money to support his family. Mevlut and his father Mustafa made their living selling yogurt and boza.

Boza is a constant throughout this book and seems a metaphor for Mevlut himself. It is a traditional fermented wheat beverage flavored with cinnamon and roasted chickpeas. Clearly, as a fermented drink it contains alcohol but the alcohol content is so low that even the strictest Muslims drink it. It is steeped in tradition, but allows people to flout the prohibition of alcohol. It is a fine balance. For Mevlut, boza is holy. He finds peace in the streets as he walks through the night, calling mournfully, “Booo Zaaaa.”

Mevlut falls in love with a young girl at a family wedding celebration. He saw her for a moment, the younger sister of his cousin’s new bride. He did not even know her name, but his other cousin Suleyman, gives him her name and even helps him through three years of secret-letter writing to court her while she matures and he does his military service. He even helps arrange their elopement. But, Suleyman has motives of his own and when Mevlut first sees his soon-to-be bride as they elope, he discovers that he has been writing to and is now eloping with the wrong sister.

But on that night, Mevlut says nothing and he find real happiness and joy, falling deeply in love with her. He never tells her he was tricked and she would have never known, except, years later, feeling peevish and cruel, Suleyman tells her that she was not the one Mevluk thought he was writing to, dropping the cruel virus of doubt into their happy marriage. For Mevluk, though, Rayiha is his true love and the only impediment to perfect happiness is the poverty and daily struggle to get ahead.

The strangeness in Mevlut’s mind is melancholy. It is somewhat odd to think of Mevlut as melancholy because he was a man made for happiness with an uncanny ability to be satisfied and pleased with his life. For him, his family were really all he needed to be happy, his family and the ability to support them. He was an agreeable man, some took his happy nature for innocence and naivety, but he was no holy fool. He perceived the shallow venality in others, he just did not let it bother him over much.

Mevluk is kind of like Turkey – a man in between. His family is conservative rightists, his best friend is a communist, he has a great admiration and fealty to a famed Islamist. He likes them all, he refuses to give any of them up for love of the other. He does not make a choice, he just goes about his business of making a life.

While this is the story of one man, Mevluk the boza seller, it is also the story of generations of several families, the story of Istanbul thoughout coups, upheavals, earthquakes, urbanization and westernization. It is massive, nearly 600 pages long. It is, however, easy to read, filled with humor and love. It will make you laugh and cry as Mevlut and his family struggle through all these changes, as Mevlut struggles to bring his public and private opinion together, to get the intentions of his heart and the intentions of his words to be the same, to find KISMET.

I loved A Strangeness in My Mind. Like everything Pamuk writes, the language is beautiful, with poetic lyricism joined with simple storytelling and gentle, kind humor. While his observations are sharp and his ability to find hypocrisy and corruption is endless, Pamuk always brings compassion and empathy to every character.

b
bookwormjeph
Dec 02, 2015

I have read a few of Orhan pamuk's novels over the last 3 or 4 years and have become a fan of his writings. They are tales of every day lives, the trials, the ups , the downs and the in between. He has a style that is beguiling, charming and draws you into the centre of the characters. I loved this one.

s
santiano9
Nov 23, 2015

While learning about daily life in Turkey was interesting and well described, the author lost me with overly long sections on the political life, Just not my area of interest. Got 100 pages in, but did not finish the book.

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