Istanbul Istanbul, (250 pages), is Burhan Sönmez’s third novel (2015).

It is the story of four prisoners in the underground cells of a center for torture in Istanbul. When they are not being subjected to torture, the four tell one another stories about Istanbul to pass the time. The underground narrative gradually turns into the narrative of the above ground. Initially centered around persons, the novel comes to focus on the city of Istanbul. There is as much suffering or hope in the Istanbul above ground as there is in the cells underground. 

Like the Decameron tales, the novel is comprised of ten chapters. Each chapter is narrated by one of the occupants of the cell respectively.

– “Istanbul is a city of a million cells and every cell is an Istanbul unto itself.” In every piece, person and event, the novel evokes Istanbul as a city in its entirety.

– A novel that appears political but in reality is about love. That appears to focus on the stories of individuals but in reality is about the city of Istanbul.

– Whereas conventional novels about Istanbul divide time into past and future tenses, Burhan Sönmez’s novel divides it into “time below ground and time above ground.” In the tradition of the modern novel, it draws strength from the conjunction of and tension between time and space.

– Turkish literature’s historical perception has divided time into two: the past and the present. Space, too, has been divided. Burhan Sönmez now unites time and space in Istanbul Istanbul. Undivided time becomes undivided space.

– Each chapter opens on a story. As the novel nears the end, the various stories and inner monologues relayed can be observed to overlap.

– The stories are generally humorous. Laughter is a balm in the face of pain and fear.

– In the setting of rampant torture and death, very little torture is overtly described. The mood rather than the display of suffering is sensed. The aim is to make manifest the power of human imagination and desires.

– Rather than capital production, the focus is on the city’s spatial and spiritual reproduction in the direction implicated by Althusser and Manuel Castells… the city of Istanbul is the reproduction site of pain and misery and melancholy and hope. 

– There are two Istanbuls, one below ground and one above. Yet in reality both are one and the same.

“Classical in structure and profoundly moving, this novel will, I predict, itself become a classic.” (Rosie Goldsmith, Eurolit Network)

Istanbul Istanbul is a harrowing, riveting novel, as unforgettable as it is inescapable.” (Dale Peck, the author of Visions and Revisions)

“A wrenching love poem to Istanbul told between torture sessions by four prisoners in their cell beneath the city. An ode to pain in which Dostoevsky meets The Decameron.” (John Ralston Saul, the author of Voltaire’s Bastards)

“Sönmez believes in the liberating power of literature.” (Joshua Bruce Allen, the Guide Istanbul)

“Sonmez’s words are conquering the whole world.” (AND Kronos)

“Around Sönmez can be seen a constellation of literary worlds that includes Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Turkish author Tanpinar, Tolstoy, Wittgenstein, the Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad.” (Fabio de Propris, il Manifesto)

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