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Love letter to the ordinary: Michele Magwood reviews Orhan Pamuk's A Strangeness in My Mind

A city and a mood take centre stage in Orhan Pamuk’s new novel, writes Michele Magwood for the Sunday Times

A Strangeness in My MindA Strangeness in My Mind
Orhan Pamuk (Faber & Faber)
***** (5 stars)

Melancholy is Orhan Pamuk’s ink, it colours his canvas and his writing and in Turkish there is even a name for it: hüzün. In A Strangeness in My Mind he turns his eye once again to his beloved Istanbul, not the Westernised, bourgeois side we saw in The Museum of Innocence, but the lowly working class scrabbling for a life in the city. And though the story is, as always, steeped in hüzün, it is poignant rather than sad, affectionate rather than despairing.

A Strangeness in My Mind is a great baggy saga of a book, a boiling, teeming tale spanning four decades. It is the story of Mevlut Karatas, amiable boza seller, a man heroic in his equableness and simple honour.

Boza is a fermented wheat drink that dates from the Ottoman era, traditionally sold by vendors walking the streets at night. It was once sold along with yoghurt, with customers dropping baskets down from their apartments to be filled by the vendor from the pans on their wooden yokes, but times are changing and now yoghurt is sold in glass cups in shops. Mevlut, who sells chicken and rice on the streets by day, insists on continuing his boza rounds at night, his plaintive call an echo of the past, a symbol of something lost and a time past. It is the one constant thing in his life, anchoring him to the streets and neighbourhoods amid tumultuous change in the city.

He arrives in Istanbul at the age of 12 from his village in Anatolia, following his father to the city to join him selling yoghurt and boza. They live in a one-roomed slum house with a dirt floor and a long drop. They are part of an extended clan, and Pamuk summons a vast chorus of voices to tell Mevlut’s story. He begins the saga in the middle, with our constant hero’s courtship and elopement with a village girl.

He spots Rayiha at a family wedding; exquisite and demure, she is just 13 years old. For three years Mevlut writes her chaste letters, encouraged by his cousin who delivers the letters to her. Having had only a glimpse of her face, and bound by strict conventions of decency, he doesn’t have much to go on. His ardency is comical. “Your eyes are like ensorcelled arrows that pierce my heart and take me captive,” reads one letter. She never replies, but cousin Suleyman is adamant that she, too, is in love with Mevlut, and helps them to run away.

It is only when they have boarded a train bound for Istanbul in the dead of night that Mevlut discovers he has eloped with an older, less attractive sister. He comes to realise that Suleyman, of course, wants the younger girl, and has tricked him. Mevlut being the man he is, he simply accepts his fate and he and Rayiha build a deeply loving marriage. This is the axle around which the story turns.

Backwards and forwards Pamuk moves, from Mevlut’s poor childhood to his old age, through his dead-end jobs as an ice-cream seller and car guard, his abandoned school days and brief flirtation with communism. We see him as a proud and gentle father, an honest citizen, an innocent optimist. At the same time we watch his relatives growing richer through corrupt deals, feel the frustration of women tethered to hearth and shabby home, and we witness the city ballooning. Not the tourist city of the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace: this is a city of skyscrapers and tenements, with buildings hastily thrown up and new bridges being built across the fabled Bosphorus.

The story bulges with encyclopedic detail, of food and politics, religion and customs. There are squabbles and blood feuds, matchmakings and scandals, crippling setbacks and cheering successes. It is a splendid, 600-page soap opera.

More playful and tender than Pamuk’s previous novels about Istanbul, A Strangeness in My Mind is undoubtedly his love letter to the city. In this tale of a hapless Everyman, Pamuk shows that even ordinary lives can be epic.

Follow Michele Magwood on Twitter @michelemagwood

Read: Michele Magwood Visits Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence in Cukurcuma, Turkey

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Kom vier Italiaanse intermezzi: Reissketse deur André Pretorius met Johan Rademan by Morgenster

Italiaanse Intermezzi met André Pretorius

Italiaanse intermezzi: ReissketseNaledi nooi jou om te kom luister na Johan Rademan in gesprek met André Pretorius by die bekendstelling van sy boek Italiaanse Intermezzi: Reissketse.

Met hierdie boek bring Pretorius die leser van aangesig tot aangesig met die vele gedaantes van Italië, ‘n land vol skoonheid en teenstrydigheid. Hy swig voor die wondere van die menslike gees in Rome en Venesië, maar hy verdwaal ook langs die agterpaadjies van Sicilië en die Abruzzi. Hy proe smake – balsemiek, Parmaham – uit die hande van dié wat hierdie sakramente van lewe vir hulleself gemaak het. Hy bejeën heiliges en pouse eers met verwarring en dan met ontsag vir hul heerskappy van die Italiaanse wese.

Lees: Ontdek Italië soos nog nooit tevore met Italiaanse intermezzi: Reissketse deur André Pretorius

Die geleentheid vind plaas op Donderdag, 18 Februarie 2016 om 18:00 vir 18:30. Wyn en ‘n ligte vingerete sal bedien word.

Sien jou daar!



Create some quality memories with Family Walks in Cape Town by Tim Lundy

Family Walks in Cape TownStruik Travel & Heritage is proud to present Tim Lundy’s latest book, Family Walks in Cape Town:

For families who enjoy the outdoors and who relish the beauty of the Cape Town environment, this book details 30 short walks in the Peninsula, grouped into five broad areas: Central Cape Town, Atlantic Seaboard, South Peninsula, Southern Suburbs and Northern Suburbs.

Richly illustrated with photographs, it offers for each route:

  • Clear, colourful, engaging route map and detailed route description
  • Directions to the start and approximate time and distance
  • Effort required; whether the route is pram-, wheelchair- or dog-friendly
  • Points of interest and ideas for fun and relaxing activities

Accessible, informative and ideal for families of all sizes and ages, from the very young to the very old, this book will be valued by Cape Town residents and visitors alike.

About the author

Tim Lundy is an accredited mountain guide and a volunteer with the Wilderness Search and Rescue unit. Together with his father and legendary hiking author, Mike Lundy, Tim has helped establish many local hikes and walks. His favourite walks are those he does with his young daughter, along the same trails he discovered as a child with his father.

Related story:

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Ontdek Italië soos nog nooit tevore met Italiaanse intermezzi: Reissketse deur André Pretorius

Italiaanse intermezziItaliaanse intermezzi: Reissketse deur André Pretorius is nou beskikbaar by Naledi:

André Pretorius is verlei deur Italië toe ’n Romeinse meisie hom in 1992 op ’n warrelwindtoer deur Rome geneem het. Vier jaar later het hy die land deurkruis met ’n universiteitsvriend, ’n rugsak en ’n tweemantent. Sedertien het hy teruggekeer op die spore van komponiste, kunstenaars en selfs Afrikaanse digters.

In Italiaanse intermezzi bring hy die leser van aangesig tot aangesig met die vele gedaantes van hierdie land vol skoonheid en teenstrydigheid. Hy swig voor die wondere van die menslike gees in Rome en Venesië, maar hy verdwaal ook langs die agterpaadjies van Sicilië en die Abruzzi. Hy proe smake – balsemiek, Parmaham – uit die hande van dié wat hierdie sakramente van lewe vir hulleself gemaak het. Hy bejeën heiliges en pouse eers met verwarring en dan met ontsag vir hul heerskappy van die Italiaanse wese.

Oor die jare verander sy reisgenote – van daardie universiteitsvriend tot sy verloofde en uiteindelik sy kleuterseuntjie – en elke keer is sy blik anders. Uiteindelik staan hy saam met die leser verwonder oor ’n aangrypende land met dikwels verrassende eggo’s van sy eie Afrikaanse wortels.

‘n Lewendige boek vol skoonheid, hartstog, inligting, fyn waarneming en sterk persoonlike opinies, en dis hoekom ons reis. – Nataniël

Dit is iets unieks, ’n ongewone reisboek, nie ’n Baedeker of ’n Michelin of ’n André Brink nie, maar ’n hoogs persoonlike ervaring wat op twee of dalk meer vlakke afspeel … Vir my maak dit die boek een van die leeswaardigste reisboeke in Afrikaans – een van die heel beste Afrikaanse reisboeke wat ek nog gelees het, in dieselfde klas as ‘n Uys Krige, André Brink, Ernst van Heerden of WEG Louw. – Danie van Niekerk, oud-hoof Tafelberg uitgewers

Oor die outeur

André Pretorius het sy eerste treë op Marble Hall in Limpopo gegee, maar sedertdien ver genoeg geswerf om die etiket “reisskrywer” om sy pols/tas/nek te hang. In ’n vorige lewe was hy ’n buitelandse verslaggewer vir Suid-Afrikaanse koerante en radiostasies. Sy twee bundels reissketse, Iets ver en nuut en Eilande en enklaves, is goed ontvang. Hy het die afgelope twintig jaar in onder meer Londen, Brussel en Hongkong gewoon en is tans tuis in Cambridge, Engeland.


Kalk Bay Books understands readers - Luke Alfred

The Art of LosingWhen the Lions Came to TownLuke Alfred, renowned sports journalist and author of The Art of Losing: Why the Proteas Choke at the Cricket World Cup and When the Lions Came to Town: The 1974 Rugby Tour to South Africa, recently paid a few visits to Kalk Bay Books in Cape Town, one of the country’s best loved bookshops, and found it to be one of the finest out there.

Alfred supports his argument by listing, and explaining, the reasons readers read and visit bookshops. Kalk Bay Books, according to him, understands this and presents itself as both a place “with a sense of self and of humour”.

“What academic monographs and run-of-the-mill reviewing fail to do is to take us into this place – part fantasy, part reverie, part stunted friendship – at the very core of how readers read.

“We read soulfully, vulnerably, and the bookshop in Kalk Bay seemed to acknowledge this, resisting the temptation to link the experience of selecting a book, buying it and taking it home to read with any other form of consumption. Here we had a strong black with a dash of milk and one sugar,” Alfred writes.

Read the article, then start planning your trip to Kalk Bay to experience this remarkable bookshop for yourself:

My family and I found ourselves in Cape Town’s Kalk Bay for the holidays. As well as the village’s many delights — the Olympia Café and the decadent seals twirling in the harbour — Kalk Bay possesses a fine bookshop.

If it is not independent of ownership, it is certainly independent of spirit. During several immersions there, I found myself wondering about the shop’s range and atmosphere, realising that as well as the staff clearly being readers and loving books, the shop pedalled a view of the world.

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Image courtesy of SA Venues

It's not Table Mountain that makes Cape Town beautiful, it's the people - Nechama Brodie

What makes Cape Town such a magnetic destination?

Nechama Brodie recently answered this difficult question during an interview on Expresso with Leigh-Anne Williams when she was invited to talk about The Cape Town Book.

The Cape Town Book“I think everybody pinpoints the mountain, because it’s so dominant on the landscape and people who’ve grown up in Cape Town will relate the story of their own geography in relation to the mountain. Particularly people whose families were move from the city centre to the very far outlying areas where they went …” the author said.

However, she doesn’t necessarily agree: “I think what defines Cape Town is the people who live here, and when you start understanding how many stories there are … Cape Town hasn’t got one story. Its got tens and hundreds of stories, so when you start talking to people, those threads that I said make up those tapestries of histories, when you start looking at the individual stories within that – that’s when you really see how beautiful Cape Town is. That’s when Cape town becomes friendly. It’s not just beautiful, it’s the people.”

Watch the interview to find out more about Brodie and her new wonderful book, which introduces readers to this way of thinking about the Mother City:

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