A Mind at Peace by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar
Tr. by Erdağ Göknar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This lyrical evocation of Istanbul on the eve of the second world war may help us understand this increasingly important country, Turkey, now again —as it was in the time of A Gift for the Sultan — playing a key role in relations between Christian Europe and the Muslim East and North Africa. It is experienced through eyes, ears and mind of a young man especially sensitive to the terrible conflicts of its recent past, the city's two-faced identity (looking toward Asia and toward Europe), the country's economic backwardness, the beauty of the Bosphorus and of the homes, some splendid, some ruinous that border it, the sharp class divisions and the powerful ties of family. The young man is Mümtaz, orphaned in the war against the Greeks in 1923 and now, in 1939, 27 years old. Besides the city itself and its music, especially the traditional türküs and Ottoman classical music, the chief influences on him are his much older cousin İhsan, his professor and his guardian since his early ophanhood; Nuran, a beautiful divorcée with a lovely singing voice, two years older than Mümtaz, who was his fiancée in the previous summer but now has abandoned him and left him hopelessly forlorn; and Suad, another cousin, terribly smart, cynical, and tormented. Their conflicting passions and their doubts are a gigantic, complex metaphor for Turkey itself.
The translation is elegant, though the translator has a penchant for some unusual English words ("luculent" is a favorite) and resorts often to the Turkish words in the descriptions of boating on the Bosphorus and other passages. It is a moving and ambitious book, that can be appreciated by any reader but will be most fully appreciated by those familiar with the music that Tanpınar evokes almost throughout.
Here is an example of a mahur, sung by Ahmet Kaya. Perhaps my Turkish friends can suggest other (or more) appropriate examples.
Ahmed Hamdi Tanpınar (1901-1962) is an author we should get to know better.
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