cover image A Strangeness in My Mind

A Strangeness in My Mind

Orhan Pamuk, trans. from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap. Knopf, $28.95 (624p) ISBN 978-0-307-70029-2

This mesmerizing ninth novel from Nobel laureate Pamuk (Silent House) is a sweeping epic chronicling Istanbul's metamorphosis from 1969 to 2012, as seen through the eyes of humble rural Anatolian migrant workers who come to the increasingly teeming metropolis in search of new opportunities in love and commerce. Though relayed through different points of view, the fable-like story's chief protagonist is the ruminative Mevlut Karatas, son of a cantankerous peddler of yogurt and boza (a thick, fermented wheat drink), who carries on his father's trade despite its fading popularity. The book includes a dip into Mevlut's childhood in Central Anatolia and his move to Istanbul with his father when he is 12. He later meets the beautiful Samiha at a wedding and is tricked by his cousin into eloping with Samiha's less attractive older sister, Rayiha. Mevlut and Rayiha have a happy marriage nonetheless and raise two daughters as he tries to gain a foothold in business. Mevlut's progression from na%C3%AFve, perpetually searching wanderer to a more fulfilled and wizened soul, despite his mostly unsuccessful attempts at getting a leg up financially, is laid bare. His walkabouts and skirmishes with his family are engrossing, but what really stands out is Pamuk's treatment of Istanbul's evolution into a noisy, corrupt, and modernized city. This is a thoroughly immersive journey through the arteries of Pamuk's culturally rich yet politically volatile and class- and gender-divided homeland. (Oct.)