Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories and the City represents the first twenty-two years of his life using various approaches from autobiographical details of his own childhood memories, photographs from his family album, newspaper articles, paintings and writings on Istanbul by luminaries from different walks of life. Pamuk, appears intermittently as both the narrator and author who narrates his experiences of the city.
The four famous Turkish stalwarts, Yahya Kemal, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, Abdulhak Sinasi Hisar and Resat Ekrem Kocu, played a prominent role in the creation of Pamuk’s Istanbul hence providing him with an Istanbul he has never seen. Throughout the narrative, he refers to various Turkish and foreign authors who have lived, visited and written about his city. Although they had different styles, what these writers had in common was the love for the city. All four were influenced by the French tradition and attempted to express their feelings for Istanbul using Western style of writing.
The writings of these four writers have provided Pamuk with the perspective of an Istanbul that he did not experience even though he has been staying there since his birth. These writers, who had witnessed the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of the Turkish Republic, aimed to reinvent the identity of their city. Their aim was to create an image for Istanbul to which the people of the Turkish Republic could relate. In their attempt to create a national image for their city, these writers went into the poor back streets of Istanbul. The ruins, poverty and neglect dominating those parts of the city functioned like witnesses of the adversities that the city and its people had undergone. The ruins of the Ottoman Empire were consoling memories, reminding the stalwarts and the people of the glorious days of the past.
It is by using the imagery of the ruins and hardship that they produced a new, relatable national image of Istanbul. The accounts of these authors were crucial because they enabled Pamuk to portray a “genuine” national image of Istanbul. The authors had the same idea in their minds but they could not have possibly showcased a genuine image which Pamuk could because it was more personal, original and home grown.
Antoine-Ignace Melling, Gérard de Nerval and Théophile Gautier are foreign artists who had visited and wrote about Istanbul. Their accounts play a very significant role in the creation of the Pamuk’s Istanbul, partially because they offered him a new vision of the city. Nerval in his book portrayed the city during the month of Ramadan. According to Nerval, Istanbul was a beautiful city if one managed to avoid the poor neighborhoods. Nerval claimed that ‘Istanbul, which has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, is like a theatre and best seen from the auditorium, avoiding the poverty-stricken and sometimes filthy neighborhoods in the wings’. For him, the city’s wings were places that needed to be avoided, while for Gautier...