A typically thoughtful essay by Orhan Pamuk on his relation to Turkish literature and to books:

I regret that I have not been able to shake off the enlightenment idea that books exist to prepare us for life. Perhaps this is because a writer’s life in Turkey is proof that they are. But it also has something to do with the fact that in those days Turkey lacked the sort of large library where you could easily locate any book you wanted. As for books in foreign languages, not a single library had them. If I wanted to learn everything that there was to be learned, and become a wise person and so escape the constraints of the national literature – imposed by the literary cliques and literary diplomacy, and enforced by stifling prohibitions – I was going to have to build my own great library.
Between 1970 and 1990, my main preoccupation after writing was buying books; I wanted my library to include all the books that I viewed as important or useful. My father gave me a substantial allowance and from the age of 18 I was in the habit of going once a week to Sahaflar, the old booksellers’ market in Beyazit. I spent many days in its little shops, which were heated by ineffective electric heaters and crowded with towers of unclassified books; everyone from the shop assistant to the owner, the casual visitor to the bona fide customer, looked poor. I would go into a shop that sold second-hand books, comb all the shelves, leafing through the books, and I would pick up a history of the relations between Sweden and the Ottoman empire in the 18th century, or the memoir of the head physician of the Bakirköy Hospital for the Insane, or a journalist’s eyewitness account of a failed coup, or a monograph on the Ottoman monuments of Macedonia, or a Turkish précis of the writings of a German traveller who came to Istanbul in the 17th century, or the reflections of a professor from the Çapa Medical Faculty on manic depressive disorder; and, after bargaining with the shop assistant, I would cart them all away.

Thanks, Jeremy!

(Anyone interested in modern Turkey should read the long, informative, and in places incendiary article by Perry Anderson in a recent LRB.)


  1. Welcome — I wrote about the essay here. He has a lot to say about both collecting books and Turkish identity, much of it collected in Other Colors; I think this essay brings these two themes together in a beautifully terse way. I’ll take a look at that Anderson article, thanks for linking it.

  2. Not only is it thoughtful, but it’s also informative. Sahaflar Çarşısı will be my first stop on the next trip to Istanbul.

  3. I went there when I visited Istanbul and got an excellent Turkish historical atlas.

  4. Don’t forget this companion piece by Perry Anderson.

  5. I really liked both the Perry Anderson articles, despite disagreeing with various details of both of them. They are really worth reading, if your exposure to Turkish history is as language-oriented (perhaps to the exclusion of too much) as is mine.

  6. Murat Belge, who features in the second Anderson essay, is profiled in a short piece in The New York Times today. It’s a somewhat weird piece.

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