The Value of Life

I recently finished the Man Booker International Award short list-er, A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk. This book was a big one. It’s a little over 600 pages, pretty small print, and for some reason is extra large.  This book took me about 3 weeks to read, which is crazy long for me. And during that three week span, I spent a lot of actual time reading this book. Now that I’ve dissuaded you from reading this book, let me actually tell you about it.

This book follows Melvut, first a boy then a man living in Istanbul. It’s literally his life story. And he did not live a very big life. Melvut was from a small village in Turkey. He went to live with his father in the city to make money to send back to his family in the village. They worked as street vendors. Melvut was supposed to go to school to be a doctor, but it’s hard to focus on your studies when you’re literally walking the streets all day and night for your food. Melvut drops out of school and continues to work as a street vendor. He gets wrapped up in some communist politics; he sees a pretty girl at a wedding; he writes her letters while he does mandatory military service. He runs away with the girl after the military service. He finds out its the wrong girl. He marries her anyway and falls deeply in love having 2 daughters. His wife dies at 30. He struggles to make money. He eventually married her sister (the girl he actually thought was pretty). They live in a little one room house. Then a high rise is built and they live there. The end. 

That was a pretty dense paragraph, but I wanted to show you the potential futility in the book. If you’re someone who really enjoys immersing themselves in cultures, this book would be write up your alley since it follows Turkey through the modernization of the 21st century. If you’re not one of these people, you might be missing the exciting and eventful plot. But what does that mean for our lives? Unless you are one of the lucky ones who has an opportunity to influence the masses and do historic things, you will probably lead a little life. I lead a little life; where I hold a modest job, have a couple dozen followers, and the ability to see my friends who live close. In a lot of ways, I live a life like Melvut does in the novel.

In the novel, Melvut felt as though he had a strangeness in his mind. Although throughout the book, I’m not sure that was proven as fact. I think he just had the same ambitions and failings that a lot of people had and continue to have. While I was reading this novel, I felt a kinship with Melvut. I wanted him to be happy, and I wanted safety for his family. I was frustrated when he felt like he had his back to the wall, and was joyful when he got a break from his suffering. The elegance with which Pamuk wrote (and Oklap translated) Melvut’s life carried over very well into English. Even though I was not familiar with Turkey at all, I still felt transported to Melvut’s time, as he walked the streets of Istanbul selling boza. It is clear why Pamuk won a Nobel Prize in literature. And I am grateful that Pamuk brought such life and importance to Melvut. And, in his own way, is letting us each know living a little life is okay.

Until Next Time World…

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