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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 August, 2003, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
Sense of the City: Istanbul
The BBC is asking novelists who have a profound understanding of the city they live in to reflect on the fiction it has produced and the various works of literature set there.

Late-night trading in Istanbul
What you have to do is pull out your city, make it look and read like Paris or London
Orhan Pamuk is one of Turkey's leading novelists, whose books deal with themes of clashes between civilisations and the role of Islam. His latest book, My Name Is Red, is set in 16th Century Istanbul.

When I was writing my book I was thinking that probably critics would write "Pamuk did to Istanbul what James Joyce did to Dublin".

As I was writing, imagining the book as a modern, ambitious book, of course I had in mind James Joyce - what James Joyce did to Dublin.

To sum it up what he did for me was this: he considered his city, as I consider Istanbul, to be on the margins of Europe, not at the centre.

Of course if you lived in that corner of the world you would be obsessed with all the anxieties of nationalism - your country is important, your city is important.

So if you have that feeling then what you have to do is pull out your city, make it look and read like Paris or London - Balzac's Paris or Dickens' London - so that it will find its place in world literature.

Fish market, Istanbul
Living in big cities is living in a galaxy of unimportant, random, stupid, absurd images
City life, urban life, living in big cities, in fact, is living in a galaxy of unimportant, random, stupid, absurd images.

But your look gives a strange, mysterious meaning to these little details of streets, asphalt or cobblestone roads, advertisements, letters, all the little details of bus stops, or chimneys, windows.

All these things constitute a texture of a city, and each city in that fashion is very different.

You cannot give the image of a city with a postcard. But, in fact, with a taste from that texture, that is what I did.

The French author, Gerard de Nerval, who was a little depressive guy, a poet, came and wrote a big, thick, strange book called Voyage To Orient.

It is an ambitious, strange, sometimes coloured book, but some sections of it are wonderful.

Then his friend, Theophile Gautier, he wrote about Istanbul in an interesting manner.

But the best book written about Istanbul is by an Italian children's writer, Edmondo de Amicis - a travel book for grown-ups.

Istanbul resident
Most of the foreigners saw and paid attention to the exotic rather than the random
But it was so successful that it was translated from Italian into many languages - for example, his chapter about the dogs of Istanbul, or the streets of Istanbul - these are the best writers on Istanbul.

So many people came, but some of them missed the whole point.

Some of them got some of it, but most of the foreigners saw and paid attention to the exotic rather than the random. They missed the texture.

They paid attention to monuments and looked for the exotic and the strange, and, in fact, added a colour of their own, which sometimes is not there.

If you have a vision of a city as a main hero, characters, in a way, are also instruments for you to see the city rather than their inner depths.

And the inner depths of the characters are also deduced from the city, as in Dostoevsky.

Istanbul at dusk
You have all these perspectives moving around in the city and to imagine them in our mind's eye gives a correct and precise image of the city
Then it's impossible to distinguish the character from the city, the city from the character.

You have all these perspectives moving around in the city and to imagine them in our mind's eye gives a correct and precise image of the city.

There's another thing, and that is the sounds - things that you hear in each city that are different.

In western cities the sound of the subway or metro is very particular and it stays in your spirit and whenever you hear it in a film, suddenly all the memories of the city wake up in you.

In Istanbul it's the "vvvvoooooot" - sirens of the boats, the "chck" from the chimney, waves of the Bosphorus hitting the quays along with the seagulls and old-fashioned little boats - "putu putu putu" kind of thing.

These are the things that immediately, if I close my eyes and you give it to me in another corner of the world, make Istanbul suddenly appear in my mind's eye.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Orhan Pamuk
"If you lived in that corner of the world you would be obsessed with all the anxieties of nationalism"




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