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It is 1975, a perfect spring in Istanbul. Kemal, scion of one of the city's wealthiest families, is about to become engaged to Sibel, daughter of another prominent family, when he encounters Füsun, a beautiful shopgirl and a distant relation. Once the long-lost cousins violate the code of virginity, a rift begins to open between Kemal and the world of the Westernized Istanbul bourgeoisie - a world, as he lovingly describes it, with opulent parties and clubs, society gossip, restaurant rituals, picnics, and mansions on the Bosphorus, infused with the melancholy of decay - until finally he breaks off his engagement to Sibel. But his resolve comes too late.
For eight years Kemal will find excuses to visit another Istanbul, that of the impoverished backstreets where Füsun, her heart now hardened, lives with her parents, and where Kemal discovers the consolations of middle-class life. His obsessive love will also take him to the demimonde of Istanbul film circles, a scene of seedy bars, run-down hotels, and small men with big dreams doomed to failure.
In his feckless pursuit, Kemal becomes a compulsive collector of objects that chronicle his lovelorn progress and his afflicted heart's reactions: anger and impatience, remorse and humiliation, and daydreams that transform Istanbul into a cityscape of signs and specters of his beloved, from whom he can now extract only meaningful glances and stolen kisses in cars, movie houses, and shadowy corners of parks. A last change to realize his dream will come to an awful end before Kemal discovers that all he finally can possess, certainly and eternally, is the museum he has created of his collection, this map of a society's manners and mores, and of one man's broken heart.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Rebecca Lindroos on 03-06-10
one of the very best I've ever heard
That's not an exaggeration. This is one of the very best audio books I've ever listened to and I've listened to hundreds. (Okay, so I'm a Pamuk fan, too.)
True, the book is not about heavy plot or action or even suspense. It's about a man's obsessive search for his past (Istanbul) with the major themes being the role of women, love and loss and guilt and social class- change. In a sense it's about
The first person protagonist is not a particularly likable guy - he's rich, spoiled, selfish and hypocritical. He's engaged to a woman of his own class but has a totally illicit affair with his much younger and very beautiful cousin. The affair, while fairly short-lived, obsesses him for the rest of his life even though she disappears completely for awhile. At the point of the novel's main frame he's constructing a museum of artifacts based on his love. There are ways it's really comparable to Proust or Nabokov but Pamuk is totally fresh and new.
The narrator, John Lee, is pitch perfect - there were times when I just closed my eyes and listened to the rich prose.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
By S. Weaver on 03-29-10
a remarkable achievement
The main character is not likable, and I never could decide whether or not Pamuk wanted us to like him, which is part of what made the book so hypnotic. It's rare that you get a beautifully drawn character that sits on a razor edge of moral culpability without easily tumbling to either side. I think that's what I liked most.
And of course . . . there was John Lee. He is amazing. I listen to books just because he's the narrator. He somehow manages to avoid sounding pedantic when trying to get accents and pronunciations just so, which is a tricky thing to do.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful