Turkey’s Nobel laureate explains how he set out to write an epic of Istanbul in his latest novel, A Strangeness in My Mind – and why he’s confident the novel will survive in the age of box sets
The development of the novel is inextricably connected with the growth of modern cities, said the Turkish Nobel laureate at a Guardian Live event to discuss his latest novel A Strangeness in My Mind.
Cities give rise to novels, and novels in turn mythologise and further the growth of cities, he said, explaining why his own work returns again and again to Istanbul, the city of his birth, as both the primary location of, and inspiration for, his fiction.
The importance of street vendors and hustlers
In A Strangeness in My Mind, Pamuk set out to write “an epic of the city” spanning 40 years, told from the perspective of its ordinary, often forgotten, inhabitants: its street vendors, hustlers and slum dwellers.
While the narrative centres on one such figure, Mevlut Karataş – a yoghurt vendor and waiter by day, and a seller of boza (a low-alcohol drink) by night – it sustains a vast network of characters. Some of them make it, some of them don’t, romances blossom and wilt – or, in Mevlut’s case, turn into something else entirely as a result of mistaken identity.
“I wanted to tell the small, petty street history of this town,” said Pamuk, who conducted dozens of interviews with real-life boza sellers and street vendors across Istanbul. He added that some of their accounts found their way almost unedited into the pages of A Strangeness in My Mind, veering as it does between first and third person, fact and fiction.
Throughout the story, Mevlut wanders the streets of Istanbul at night, selling his boza, reflecting on, and occasionally overwhelmed by, what Pamuk describes as “the forest of signs and symbols” that defines the city.
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