How Istanbul's Cultural Complexities Have Shaped Eight Contemporary Novelists (Byatt, Glazebrook, Atasü, Safak, Tillman, Livaneli, Kristeva, and Pamuk): Tales of Istanbul in Contemporary Fiction

By Karahan, Burcu | International Journal of Turkish Studies, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

How Istanbul's Cultural Complexities Have Shaped Eight Contemporary Novelists (Byatt, Glazebrook, Atasü, Safak, Tillman, Livaneli, Kristeva, and Pamuk): Tales of Istanbul in Contemporary Fiction


Karahan, Burcu, International Journal of Turkish Studies


Turkish Literature AYSE NAZ BALAMUR, How Istanbul's Cultural Complexities Have Shaped Eight Contemporary Novelists (Byatt, Glazebrook, Atasü, Safak, Tillman, Livaneli, Kristeva, and Pamuk): Tales of Istanbul in Contemporary Fiction (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2011), Pp. 364, $ 142.45 cloth

Since the publication of Orhan Pamuk's autobiographical memoir Istanbul: Memoirs and the City (2006) introduced elaborately written cultural, historical, and very personal stories about the city to the English-speaking readership and since Istanbul's selection as the European Capital of Culture in 2010, numerous works exploring the city from differing disciplines and perspectives have been published. Among them is Ayse Naz Balamur's How Istanbul's Cultural Complexities Have Shaped Eight Contemporary Novelists (Byatt, Glazebrook, Atasii, Safak, Tillman, Livaneli, Kristeva, and Pamuk): Tales of Istanbul in Contemporary Fiction which takes on the challenging task of studying the representations of Istanbul, both Ottoman and Republican, shaped by gender, globalism, nationalism, Orientalism, and religion in contemporary fiction of Turkish and non-Turkish writers. Although Balamur's book offers significant and valuable observations on some of the works and novelists, they are, unfortunately, buried under the technical and content-related problems surrounding the work. Because I sincerely believe that the title of a book is part of its content, and because a clear argument does not exist, I will try to address some of these issues focusing on the book's title.

The title, at first glance, strikes the reader as both awkward (it is uncharacteristically long for a work of this kind) and ambitious (undertaking the challenging task of revealing Istanbul as the formative force behind eight different novelists). The writer's choice of verb, "shape," immediately sets an expectation of reading not only about certain writers' works, for which Istanbul is known to be an indispensable feature, but also about some biographical information that would root those writers deep in the culture and history of the city. Orhan Pamuk, whose fictional world cannot go beyond the city limits of Istanbul and whose commitment to the city was noted even in the Press Release of his Nobel Prize Announcement, is certainly the first who comes to mind and rightly is featured with his autobiographical memoir, Istanbul: Memoirs and the City. A. S. Byatt, Philip Glazebrook, Julia Kristeva, and Lynne Tillman, on the other hand, are not known for being influenced by Istanbul, or any particular city, nor do they dedicate recognizable space to it in their works. The same statement can be easily extended to the Turkish novelists Erendiz Atasü, Zülfü Livaneli, and Elif Safak. Since no rationale is offered to support the selection of novelists or their works, you, as the reader, are left with many questions. For instance, I was distracted throughout my reading by the omission of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, whose romans-fleuves, especially A Mind at Peace, feature Istanbul both as an indispensable protagonist and an unchanging cultural background that constantly recalls the lingering status of the city between an Ottoman past and a Republican present.

The eight novelists in the book are categorized under four subject headings: "Istanbul Fantasies," "Istanbulite Women," "Istanbul as Contact Zone," and "Istanblues: The City as a Site of Nostalgia. …

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