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Istanbul: Memories and the City

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  14,883 ratings  ·  1,436 reviews
A shimmering evocation, by turns intimate and panoramic, of one of the world’s great cities, by its foremost writer. Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul and still lives in the family apartment building where his mother first held him in her arms. His portrait of his city is thus also a self-portrait, refracted by memory and the melancholy–or hüzün– that all Istanbullus share: ...more
Paperback, 356 pages
Published July 11th 2006 by Vintage International (first published 2003)
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Average rating 3.79  · 
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 ·  14,883 ratings  ·  1,436 reviews

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(B+) 79% | Good
Notes: An effective, inviting blend of history and memoir. Though the word “melancholy” is overused to the point of cliché.
Jun 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing

Pamuk was already one of my favourite authors when I read his memoir of his beloved city - Istanbul - in conjunction with a family vacation there. What an amazing reading experience that was!

Imagine that old, old city, full of stories after centuries of human interaction, of cultural clashes and exchanges, of architectural wonders and wars of destruction.

And then imagine one of its most talented writers, a storyteller with the power of 1001 nights, telling the story of the city from his
It is just lucky that I happened to read Menocal's Ornament of the World just before this, as it perfectly prepared me for the psychological labyrinth that is this book. It introduced me to a beautiful, helpful image for Pamuk's creation- the "memory palaces" and "memory gardens". This is not an introduction to Istanbul, it is a memory palace worthy of the wildest child's fantasies that haunt this tapestry. Perhaps John Adams, the minimalist composer, put it best when discussing his piece On the ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
Istanbul, Hatıralar ve Şehir = Istanbul: Memories and the City, 2005, Orhan Pamuk
Istanbul: Memories and the City (İstanbul: Hatıralar ve Şehir) is a largely autobiographical memoir by Orhan Pamuk that is deeply melancholic. It talks about the vast cultural change that has rocked Turkey – the unending battle between the modern and the receding past. It is also a eulogy to the lost joint family tradition. Most of all, it is a book about Bosphorus and Istanbul's history with the strait. It was
It feels very odd to be writing this review now, sitting in a car on my way back home, feeling bored and tired for no particular reason. And out of nowhere this book- which I finished more than a month ago, and entirely gave up on ever being able to write a decent review about- comes to my mind unbidden, as though deeply connected with my present state of mind. This is going to be one of the most personal reviews I’ll ever write, but that’s merely because Istanbul: Memories and the City has ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Along with The World's Literature group, I have been reading a lot of books set in Turkey this year. Just check out what I've covered so far!

Istanbul: Memories and the CityBlissBirds Without WingsA Conspiracy of AlchemistsThe DervishSnowThe Dervish HousePurple Citrus & Sweet Perfume: Cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean

One of the best known Turkish authors has to be Orhan Pamuk. I've only managed to read one book of his so far, but there are many more on my to-read list to get to. I actually think reading this autobiography/memoir first will add some understanding to any of his books that I read in the future. It covers his childhood in Istanbul, up through his
Usman Hickmath
Apr 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Major part of the book describes what some poets, journalists and painters have written or painted about Istanbul during 19th century.

But, when I picked this one up after reading My Name is Red, the expectation was to know how Pamuk describes Istanbul and his life in that city, not what some 19th century unknown travellers and century old journalists with difficult names to pronounce had to say.

There were some interesting chapters, but we do not buy a highly priced book, printed on quality
Pamuk adds another layer to Istanbul’s proverbial description as “the bridge between east and west” by showing how the major Istanbul modernists – poet Yahya Kemal and novelist A.H. Tanpinar, new names to me, I have to follow up – derived a poetics of post-imperial ennui and urban decay from the melancholic image of their city recorded or dreamed by travelling French writers in the nineteenth century. “[T]he roots of our hüzün [urban melancholy] are European: the concept was first explored, ...more
Jan 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is the second book by Pamuk that I have read. I would like to point out that it seems that this book should be read either before or after The Museum of Innocence because I found myself making it notes of where the novel and this memoir collide.

I've never been to Istanbul, but now I want to go. What Pamuk does is not only describe his family but a city as a conflict between East and West. While it is not something that my own western city feels, it is somewhat akin to the feeling that
Aug 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a duel memoir, that of the author’s first twenty years of life and that of Istanbul during the same period. Pamuk has a poet’s voice. By that, I don’t mean that he uses flowery or metaphoric language, but rather that he has the ability to conjure the abstract into palpable form: the atmosphere of a neighborhood, the bonds in a family, the mood of a people. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book that lacked any plot or narrative tension. I must have been in just the right mood.
Jun 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: started
There's really no nice way to say this. One of the deservedly obscure authors he spends a chapter praising is described as being some kind of pedophile. This isn't a pretend metaphor in Lolita, this is Pamuk's loving description of a nobody. If that's not enough, his best description of Istanbul, one of the largest cities today, and, more importantly, in history, is mopery about his apartment and decaying wooden houses near it. To spend a day in the tiny English section of a large bookstore and ...more
Sidharth Vardhan
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The sufi poets often compare their love for God to that of legendary lovers like Laila-Majnu and Heer-Ranjha for each other. This love which is just a painful longing (all those love stories are of star crossed lovers) for something worth annihilating oneself for - is called 'Huzun'. Despite its being melancholic, they still prefer having it - having an unrequited love is better than having none.

Writers, the ones I like, often have little such love for God. Some of them seem to searching for
May 10, 2013 rated it did not like it
Were Orhan Pamuk active on Twitter back when he was writing Istanbul: Memories and the City he could have saved himself and his readers a great deal of time and frustration by simply distilling this work down to "Boo fucking hoo #firstworldproblems" and leaving it at that.

Instead, we're left to slog through four hundred pages of angsty ennui which purport to represent the zeitgeist of a city that mourns the days it stood at the center of the world but in fact do little more than chronicle the
Feb 01, 2008 rated it did not like it
This was not, first of all, the book I espected it to be. It was not truly an autobiography of the author, who gave nothing at all away, at least in the context of the west (perhaps it would shock conservative Turks that he apparently had a sexual relationship with a girl as a young man, but I don't know what Turkish mores are, so I shouldn't judge) and gave away little in terms of the city that he was supposedly also biographying. It gave tantalising hints of things, and there were potential ...more
Apr 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finished
The most enchanting thing about this book is its symmetry. He opens with a statement that from a very young age he suspected that somewhere in the streets of Istanbul, there lived another Orhan so much like him that he could pass for his twin, even his double. In the last chapter, his father apparently led a double life just like in his imagination.

Pamuk manages to intermingle the story about Istanbul and himself - reflecting each other along the way. The writing style is mostly visual - his
Ayu Palar
Mar 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
About a year ago, when I was brainstorming the topic for my master’s thesis, I stumbled upon the idea of space and identity relationship. Since then, I’ve always been interested in how space and place can affect the formation of one’s self. Reading Istanbul has strengthened that particular idea. Not only describing the physical condition of Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk also wrote about his love-hate relationship with the city. Istanbul isn’t just his home; it is the city that always inspires him.

Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
English version

my first Orhan Pamuk's and not my taste at all.
It's a mixture of autobiography, history, literature and endless self pitty .

A book that makes me want to visit Istanbul just to walk around and see the sights that Pamuk describes and develops in this book. Reading his prose is an experience of “painterly” writing, where you cannot help but have a vivid image in your head of the surroundings and atmosphere conjured up with the words. But it is also a portrait of a sensitive young boy coming of age in a place and time where the borders between worlds are unpredictable. Not only are the Western and Eastern worlds in ...more
Nov 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk is the right book for those who want to get close to the culture of the city through a poetic narration and an array of beautiful black and white pictures which can reveal its hidden spots and soul. Pamuk give us an evocative reading of the city. A reading which is both personal and illustrative and where melancholy plays a fundament role along with the vital energy and the will of exploring.
Michael Finocchiaro
A beautiful memoir and nostalgic look at Istanbul, this book is very readable and poetic. It is also an autobiography of the author's childhood and the emergence of his desire to be a writer and how that is tied to his sense of melancholy. Literary references abound and helped me appreciate the uniqueness of Istanbul and its part in history. It is probably a must for the next time I get to Istanbul with the time and luxury to explore and dream like Orhan.
Kyriakos Sorokkou
A few thoughts of mine, while reading this book:
İstanbul / Κωνσταντινούπολη
yalı / γιαλός
köfte / κεφτές
Karagöz and Hacivat / Καραγκιόζης και Χατζηαβάτης
puşt/ πούστης
Greek and Turkish language have many things in common.
Greeks and Turks have more things in common that differences but it's always the differences that are visible on the surface.
Pamuk's Istanbul is (as described in the book) a melancholic city, a grey city, a city caught between the west and the east, a city I wish to visit
Mar 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-east
Before I read Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul several of my friends told me how much fun they had visiting the city with its historical palaces and fabulous mosques. I wanted to visit the street markets and the seasides. I've read enough history about Byzantium and the Ottomans to whet my interest in the ruins of empires gone by.

But Pamuk has painted such a grim, dirty, and poor city that it left me wondering if my friends visited the same town. Dirt and crumbling mansions. Crashing pollution. Fires.
Oct 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

(Sorry for the English.. This was originally written for the book discussion here )

This is a very rich book.. Rich in emotions, sadness, life, even references!
It takes you deep into the streets of Istanbul, the real Istanbul, not tourist's Istanbul.. It will make you fall in love with Bosphorus, and feel the great attachment of the people of Istanbul to it.. Like it's somehow the main pillar or their very own existence.. I really understood this "dependence" feeling that author was talking
Jun 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Pamuk's nonfiction work, filled with memories from his childhood and life in Istanbul, is beautiful. It is not just a homage to this brilliant city, but to its people and culture and history and way of life. The chapters don't just chronicle Pamuk's mischief while growing up or his first loves and family tensions, it also discusses--at length--writers and artists who have been just as in love with Istanbul as Pamuk himself. It touches upon Istanbul's past and its resilience; its view from ...more
Czarny Pies
Oct 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes to read books about reading books.
Recommended to Czarny by: Selection committee for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
This book is great fun that is sure to please any Good Read member as people who join Good Reads enjoy books more than anything else. The memories of a football player are about kicking a ball if you are European or butting your head against other heads if you are an American. However, the memoires of an author are about reading books and what can be more interesting than that - reading about reading.

Pamuk's Istanbul will give the greatest pleasure to those who know French literature as it is
Adrian Buck
Dec 03, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: trav-cult
I misunderstood the subtitle; I didn't realise this was one set of personal memories, I thought it would be about how collective memory creates our ideas of a city. As it is, a sort of combination of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Magic Prague it doesn't succeed as either. I learnt neither very much about Istanbul nor about Orhan Pamuk.

Istanbul is the only Muslim city I have spent any time in, and my abiding memory is how much a stranger this made me feel; the absence of women at
Oct 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, türk-lit
It's amazing how the writer brilliantly recounted the story of the city in his autobiography:

"I have described Istanbul when describing myself, and described myself when describing Istanbul.."

One can seldom walk in Istanbul now without thinking of the details he put in this book.

"Notions of beauty or of the landscape of a city are inevitably intertwined with our memories: This book is the product of that exchange."

And it was not just how this was the least boring literary autobiography
Dec 08, 2015 added it
Shelves: memoir
Turns out that Orhan Pamuk, the Middle East's major proponent of cryptic, melancholy fiction can produce equally cryptic, melancholy memoirs. Pamuk's Istanbul isn't sunshine and minarets and kebabs like you'd imagine-- it's gloomy winter nights, half-demolished Ottoman houses, sunken ships, and interminable desperation due to its location between continents. Like Pessoa in Lisbon and Borges in Buenos Aires, Pamuk inverts the common image of Mediterranean life, and tells his story as a lifelong ...more
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
A toweringly Gothic, heartbreakingly melancholic, love letter to the city of Istanbul, as it existed both in actuality and the backward-focused mind's eye of the author.

If I had any personal connection to the city at all, if I'd even visited it onceuponatime, this would have been an unquestionable five stars, such was the naked evocative power of this memoir.

Even as it stands however, I challenge anyone to read this and not wish to run off immediately and see it for themselves. I'll have to
Jun 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, own-books
In this work of Pamuk I see myself more vividly....

A must read for those who love history and for those who have experienced Hüzün.

Highly involving, entertaining and thought provoking. Wanted to give it 6 points.

It's a great work from a great author.
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Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul in 1952 and grew up in a large family similar to those which he describes in his novels Cevdet Bey and His Sons and The Black Book, in the wealthy westernised district of Nisantasi. As he writes in his autobiographical book Istanbul, from his childhood until the age of 22 he devoted himself largely to painting and dreamed of becoming an artist. After graduating ...more
“The first thing I learned at school was that some people are idiots; the second thing I learned was that some are even worse. ” 362 likes
“Life can't be all that bad,' i'd think from time to time. 'Whatever happens, i can always take a long walk along the Bosphorus.” 72 likes
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