This week’s Maria’s staff pick: “A Strangeness in My Mind,” by Orhan Pamuk

by Meghan Doenges

A Strangeness in My Mind, by Orhan Pamuk

A nostalgically sweet novel, A Strangeness in My Mind is a story about the inevitability of change we all face as humans. It is a story about the unrelenting shift in Istanbul, Turkey, from an early 20th century community steeped in ancient traditions, to a fast-paced, modernized, hectic and corrupt city that has grown in epic proportions by the early 1970s. And finally, though the readers might not know it until the end, A Strangeness in my Mind is most of all a story about love and the unexpected ways in which it can shape our lives.

As the 2006 Nobel Prize winner, Pamuk’s work is unique in a multitude of ways designed to draw the reader in emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Pamuk challenges us to understand what protagonist Melvut calls “the strangeness in his mind” that has followed him all of his life; as the novel progresses, the reader begins to feel such a strangeness as if it is real. The strangeness consists of boza, a hot drink sold for hundreds of years in Turkey each night on the cobblestoned streets by those dedicated to make their way in the growing city. The strangeness is a confused elopement in which Melvut believes he is running away with a hauntingly beautiful girl encountered at a cousin’s wedding, only to discover too late that the woman he has been writing hopeless love letters to all along is actually her sister. The strangeness is the growing social intensity in Istanbul through complex political upheavals and religious persecutions. It is the one-room dirt floor shack that houses Melvut and his father that they have no real rights to and that could be “rightfully” taken from them at any minute.

It is a story told by Melvut, but also through the view of each intertwining character who at times decide to directly address the reader as the story begins to become even more tangible. It is no surprise Pamuk won the Nobel Prize, as he artfully weaves a complex history of a lesser-known place into a heart-wrenching story of its inhabitants. The reader will taste the cinnamon sweet of the boza through every page as Pamuk painstakingly illustrates what it means to be human, to always be moving forward and never back.

— Meghan Doenges


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