Friday, March 04, 2011

Istanbul - the Old and the New

Istanbul is one of the most cosmoplitian and complex cities – the center of a country that is 98% Islamic yet increasingly famous for its watermelon martinis. Turkey's most cosmopolitan metropolis has more billionaires than any city other than New York, Moscow and London, and has streets lined with "Armani", "Gucci", "Vuitton" and "Dior". Istanbul is where the Islamic world meets the global order, serving as a bridge between Europe and Asia. I just finished reading my first book with its setting in Istanbul, The Museum of Innocence by Orahn Pamuk, and it's currently my "favorite" book. The ending, which you can only appreciate if you read the whole story, is so poignantt and beautiful, it takes your breath away. According to Pamuk, Istanbul's two identities grew from the division between the old (which is usually the local and the Islamic) and the new (generally the western and the secular). The old Istanbul, with its relics of the Ottoman Empire, can be a source of shame. In the Museum of Innocence, the obsessed lover of the beautiful but unattainable Fuson builds a museum to honor her and Istanbul. “While the West takes pride in itself, most of the rest of the world lives in shame,” the narrator explains. “But if the objects that bring us shame are displayed in a museum, they are immediately transformed into possessions in which to take pride.”

Other new books at APL set in Istanbul; most are set in the old Istanbul.

Oracle of Stamboul by Michael Lukas

Dervish House by Ian McDonald

The Sheen on the Silk by Anne Perry

The High City by Celilia Holland

The Bellini Card by Jason Goodwin

For a modern look at Istanbul, read about the internationally acclaimed visual Turkish artist Kurlug Ataman, who is having a temporary exhibit of 11 of his major works at Istanbul Modern, but it ends soon - March 6.

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