In an old mansion in Cennethisar, a former fishing village near Istanbul, a widow, Fatma, awaits the annual summer visit of her grandchildren. She has lived in the village for decades, ever since her husband, an idealistic young doctor, ran afoul of the sultan’s grand vizier and arrived to serve the poor fishermen. Now mostly bedridden, she is attended by her constant servant Recep, a dwarf—and the doctor’s illegitimate son. Despite mutual dependency, there is no love lost between mistress and servant, who have very different recollections—and grievances—from the early years, before Cennethisar grew into a high-class resort surrounding the family house, now in shambles.
Though eagerly anticipated, Fatma’s grandchildren bring little consolation. The eldest, Faruk, a dissipated historian, wallows in alcohol as he laments his inability to tell the story of the past from the kaleidoscopic pieces he finds in the local archive; his sensitive leftist sister, Nilgün, has yet to discover the real-life consequences of highminded politics; and Metin, a high school nerd, tries to keep up with the lifestyle of his spoiled society schoolmates while he fantasizes about going to America—an unaffordable dream unless he can persuade his grandmother to tear down her house. But it is Recep’s nephew Hasan, a high school dropout, lately fallen in with right-wing nationalists, who will draw the visiting family into the growing political cataclysm issuing from Turkey’s tumultuous century-long struggle for modernity.
The novel is structured quite interestingly. Every chapter is narrated by one of the 5 main characters' perspective, which means that you always get a different view of the story. My favourite was probably Recep, who starts of narrating the novel. Pamuk represented his loneliness quite well and I like his stream of consciousness. In the opening chapter, Recep sits in a bar and I found the situation described very realistically. Often scenes in novels are realistic but still maintain this "fictional" aspect. These seemed very lifelike. The same counted for Fatma Hanim, who narrates second. I loved her descriptions in the second chapter of wandering through her house, thinking about how none of it would change if no one ever touched it.
As I already said above, Pamuk's writing style is very realistic. I did some research after finishing the novel and he said that most of the details in this novel, the stories, the settings, were from his childhood. The characters are his childhood friends or family members. I think it makes a lot more sense that when an author writes from memory. He is more likely to write, perhaps romantically. These are memories he writes from so they are both realistic, but also there always seems to be a positive twist to them. I also really liked how Pamuk presented Turkey's 'struggle' by introducing Hassan. Although he is in love with a girl, his beliefs, and hers, are more important.
I give this book....
I really like Pamuk's writing style. Because they all are interior monologues, written in stream of consciousness, the reading is much easier than I feared. I loved learning more about Turkey and its history because it is one of those countries I don't know a lot about. I realize this review hasn't exactly been extensive, but I highly recommend the novel to anyone.