Orhan Pamuk is a recipient of the Noble Prize for Literature. His new one A Strangeness in My Mind was in the running for the Booker Prize 2016 but eventually lost out to Han Kang’s The Vegetarian. I was walking around in Kinokuniya at Bangkok and was enchanted by the interesting title but the thickness turned me off. Then I read the synopsis and I knew I was going to buy it to read it immediately.
All through the week I started on the tome of a book, I read the opening paragraphs and told my students the heartfelt premise of the story. Then when I came into class every week the kids would ask me how it ended and what happened to the characters. Listen to the premise and see if it grabs you. If it does we must be kindred souls.
At a family wedding Mevlut catches sight of a girl with whom he falls in love. After three years of a secret courtship of letters passed via his cousin, she agrees to elope with him, and on a dark night the two come together for the first time. As they rush to catch a train to Istanbul, Melvut realises he has been misled – she wasn’t the girl he was in love with. All this time his cousin has given him the wrong name on purpose and he has been writing to another girl. Right there under a street lamp at the train station, Melvut knows the die is cast and the situation will determine the rest of his days. Does he leave her there or does he board the train with her? At this point I would ask the kids if they were Melvut what would they do. Which is a greater feeling – to love someone or be loved by someone?
Over the course of just over 700 pages I was treated to a magnificent sprawl of a sweeping epic. Get ready to fall in love with an everyday street vendor whose cries of “boza” will echo down the corridors of time. I absolutely adore the female characters; each one has a warm beating heart and they feel so authentic. Pamuk’s narrative is ambitious and hits the spot. Think of Mulvet as a Forrest Gump as he transverses through historical moments in Turkey. If you intend to visit the country one day read this mesmerising book and mourned the passing and be enchanted by a city that continues to change.
There are millions of books out there. Some will thrill you, inspire you, make you laugh, even make time stand still, but there are not many books out there that the moment you close the last page a membrane of deep sadness would envelope you like you have lost a close friend. But yet you still feel grateful for the time you have spent with this bosom buddy. This is that book for me. I doubt I will read a better book this year.