This presentation will discuss the complex and ambiguous images of Istanbul in a work of contemporary Turkish fiction: Ahmet Ümit’s “İstanbul Hatırası” (A Memento for Istanbul) (2010). I will attempt to show how the author utilizes the literary representation of various architectural monuments and the historical figures who erected them to emphasize the city’s ethnic, cultural, architectural and linguistic complexity. I will explore that although the novel is fundamentally a contemporary murder mystery, in which the detectives stroll through the streets of urban city to find a serial killer, the portrayals of both Istanbul’s distant history during the Byzantium, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods and the protagonist’s memories of the culturally diverse neighborhood of his childhood occupy a substantial place. Ümit, a leading contemporary Turkish detective novelist, effectively uses this intermingling of a contemporary detective mystery with stories of the architectural history of Istanbul over centuries and the depiction of the old city during the protagonist’s childhood to challenge the dominant Islamic-Turkish representation of Istanbul in Turkish fiction. By doing this, A Memento for Istanbul provides profound insights into our understanding of Istanbul’s complex and multiple past through the author’s skillful blending of depictions of the contemporary urban city with those of the ancient capital. The novel thus informs the reader not only about the complexity, diversity and heterogeneity of historic Istanbul, but also appeals to the reader to preserve its cosmopolitan heritage.
Halim Kara is an associate professor in the Department of Turkish Language and Literature at Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, Türkiye. He has published articles in English and Turkish on various literary and cultural issues on Modern Turkish and Central Asian Turkic literatures. Other publications include a book entitled Osmanlı’yı Tahayyül Etmek: Tarihsel Romanda Fatih Temsilleri (Boğaziçi University Press, 2017). Kara also co-edited (with Olcay Akyıldız and Börte Sagaster) a book entitled Autobiographical Themes in Turkish Literature (Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, 2007). Kara’s current project focuses on modern literary historiography in Turkish literature.
The lecture will be in English.