A Strangeness in My Mind
This is a great work of literature (winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize). Although the subject matter is mundane - the life of the yogurt/boza seller Mevlut in Istanbul - Pamuk uses this ordinary backdrop to compose a moving meditation on loneliness in the modern world. The novel is also a timely read in light of the recent attempted coup in Turkey, exploring the complex interactions between religion, industrialization, family, love, sex, marriage, morality, education, the army, nationalism, communism, ethnicity, poverty, alcohol, and the urban/rural divide. "A Strangeness in My Mind" is a sweeping narrative that spans crucial decades in Turkey's development and gives readers a way to empathize with the ordinary people of Turkey in a way that no other medium can.
From a somewhat more dispassionate economic perspective, what struck me most about the book was the consequences that a lack of formal property rights and the corruption of the government bureaucracy had on the development of essentially a tribal Mafia system and pervasive fraud. Mevlut interacts with both and Pamuk does a humorous but thoughtful treatment of these aspects of life in Turkey.
I can't quite bring myself to give this book 5 stars although it probably deserves it. Following an impoverished yogurt seller around for hours is fascinating, but it's not really my idea of a 5-star book. That said, it was a fantastic leisurely listen on my cross-country road trip and it spawned an excellent discussion about family relationships in our book club meeting last night.
The audiobook narration by John Lee is great too - the subtle differences in his voice give distinct personalities to each of the many characters in the book and makes it much easier to keep track of what is going on.