A Strangeness In My Mind, Orhan Pamuk, author, John Lee, narrator, Ekin Oklap, translator

This tale revolves around three families: Mevlut’s father Mustafa’s, Mustafa’s older brother Hasan’s, and Rayiha’s father, Crooked Neck  Abdurrahman’s. Although this story is written from their many different points of view, and it follows the lives and schemes of these men and their children, this is really the story of Mevlut over a period of almost half a century. A series of lies and deceptions sets this tale into motion. The first deception involves Mustafa’s brother, Hasan, and the family land that he deceitfully used to arrange the marriage of his son Korkut to Crooked Neck’s daughter, Vediha. The second involves Hasan’s son Süleyman and his falsehearted treatment of Mevlut regarding Crooked Neck’s daughters Rayiha and Samiha. The novel takes place in Turkey and along with Mevlut’s life, the reader bears witness to the changes in politics, government and civil rights that occurred during the four and a half decades in which it transpired from some time in the year 1968 when 12 year old Mevlut and his father move to Istanbul, through 2012, when Mevlut has revelations about the love of his life and his eternal need to sell Boza.
When the story began, we learned that helped by his cousin Süleyman, Mevlut believed he was eloping with the girl of his dreams, Samiha, the girl with the dark eyes that he fell in love with at first sight, at Korkut and Vediha’s wedding, the young and beautiful girl that he thought he had been writing love letters to over the past few years. We discovered that instead, Korkut’s brother, Süleyman, had actually tricked Mevlut into eloping with the older and plainer sister, Rayiha. Compassionate Mevlut discovered that there was, after all, an inner beauty as well as an outer beauty, and he honored his end of the bargain by marrying Rayiha, choosing not to humiliate her or to break her heart, and he proceeded to fall deeply in love with her. They were suited to each other perfectly. The time was September, 1982. The novel then continued, moving back and forth in time until decades later, in 2012.
Mevlut’s father, Mustafa, was a street vendor who sold yogurt by day and Boza by night. Boza is an ancient, thick, pudding-like traditional beverage of the Ottoman Empire. Mustafa made Mevlut his own stick with which to carry the jugs across his shoulders, and often, in the evenings after he had done his schoolwork, he was allowed to sell Boza with his father. Mevlut loved their time together. When he grew up, however, he disappointed his father by becoming a Boza seller too, giving up on furthering his education. As the technology and changes in the politics and government occurred, the reader watched the effects these outside forces had on Mevlut and those with whom he interacted. Corruption was rampant and lying and conniving appeared to be the norm, in all walks of life, with the most cunning and greedy bullies getting away with taking advantage of their neighbors and fellow employees. The terrible poverty forced people to do what they must in order to survive, even resorting to stealing electricity for their homes and cheating one another. Some women began to resent the power the men had over their narrow lives, and they sometimes schemed in order to gain some little bit of independence, even just to enable them to leave their own homes freely.
In spite of the changes around him, Mevlut somehow managed to hold true to the basic values his father had taught him. He always looked backwards in time and yearned for the old ways, for his former, more simple life. He did not engage in crafty activities. He felt little envy or greed. In spite of all his hardships, his faith remained. On occasion, he visited the Holy Man for advice, but he did not pray regularly. He maintained his ties to the past by selling his Boza every night. It brought him contentment. The call of the Boza seller was a traditional sound that roused residents, and they would shout from their windows to invite him; they were overcome with a feeling of nostalgia for this ancient custom that he loved so much and vowed to continue all the days of his life. In addition to selling his Boza, however, it was sometimes necessary for him to hold other jobs as the world around him changed and commercial competition made it less profitable to simply sell his Boza. At times, among other things, he was an electrical inspector and a building manager, positions often fortuitously secured for him by friends and family.
The book described Istanbul’s growing pains as the government changed, as religion became a more important part of its function and as technology affected the more mundane existence of everyday life with television, multi-floored apartment buildings, better transportation, improved services and electric power, and other assorted developments that came as a natural byproduct of the country’s entry into modernity. Mevlut continued to prefer the grass to the concrete, the family and friends to the strangers, and simplicity to the complexity of modern day life. While progress improved his daily life, it created distance and troubles between people. There seemed to be a growing culture of corruption. Little lies led to bigger ones. Small tricks led to greater deceptions and sometimes life became more dangerous. All authority seemed to be a bit corrupt and success went to the most devious, power hungry among them.
The author painted a picture of Turkish life as Istanbul morphed into a more modern city, while at the same time, he illuminated Mevlut’s constant desire to keep his world the same. The modern world, with all of its benefits, did not really intrigue him. Because he had walked the streets singing out Boza, and because he had entered the homes of strangers, he bore witness to the political and religious changes taking place as Turkey moved more and more into the modern world. He also witnessed the corruption, the betrayals, the bullies, the gangs, the lying and the deceitful behavior that were the negative side effects of this modernizing, as people driven by greed and a desire for power often resorted to unethical behavior. He too, had ample opportunity to get richer and engage in dishonorable behavior, but he resisted temptation, maintained his father’s values and steadily plodded along, never wishing to hurt or cheat anyone. He saw the way in which the ancient ways and the modern began to coexist, sometimes comfortably and sometimes in chaos as one group or another tried to gain the advantage. He preferred the old ways to the new.
In the end, Mevlut always wondered if the strangeness in his mind simply existed in his head or was in the world around him .The philosophy of the Holy Man, expressed in the words imparted to Mevlut, when he visited with him to seek his help, were prescient. He said, “It does not matter whether your heart intends to pray, the most important thing is to truly pray”. I believe that Mevlut realized that he may have intended to love Samiha in his heart, but he truly loved Rayiha!
The story played out very deliberately and methodically, in an easy going manner that matched Mevlut’s personality. It was neither exciting nor dull, but slow and steady. Sometimes there was a bit too much detail;   the descriptions of a particular moment in time, down to the food being eaten, became tedious. Although the audio was read well by the narrator, I would suggest the print copy over the audio since the foreign words and names were not easy to understand.


About omasvoice

Who am I? I am you. I am everyone out there who loves to read and discuss and voice an opinion!
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