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Maureen Freely on translation, Istanbul and Orhan Pamuk in NYRB


Don’t miss Archipelago translator Maureen Freely’s beautiful essay “Seeing Istanbul Again” on the New York Review of Books’ blog.

Ara Güler/Magnum Photos
Ara Güler/Magnum Photos

Years later, when I was translating Orhan Pamuk’s memoir, Istanbul: Memories and the City, I would read his passage on childhood daydreaming and feel the chill of recognition. Orhan the little boy would often be parked with his sedentary grandmother for whole mornings. He would sit on a straight-backed chair and construct elaborate (and elaborately) other worlds, from which he could emerge instantly, just like that, should his name be called, knowing that when he was once again free to return to those worlds, they would be there waiting for him, just as he’d left them.

I felt the same way whenever I was summoned back to the everyday after a few hours of translating. I could close the door on the world of the text, knowing that it would be exactly the same when the time came to return to it. What I felt next was not very different from what Orhan had felt as a young boy, after days and days in his grandmother’s salon, with its heavy, impenetrable drapes. Stepping back out into the bright sunlight, we were both momentarily blinded.