Analysis Between Two Books: Istanbul, Memories of a City and Tokyo Stories: A Literary Stroll - Literature Essay Example


            This paper is a comparative study of two books.  It is a piece of work that presents the researcher’s comprehensive analysis of the anthological selections: Pamuk’s Istanbul, Memories of a City and Roger’s anthology of Tokyo Stories.   The researcher attempts to compare and contrast the different characters’ relationship as regards to their environment and focuses on the influence of the said environments to the characters.  It includes in depth study of the characters’ perception of the urban spaces where they inhabit and examines features that are universal to them.  The paper also intends to examine the world view of some of the characters in relation to the concept of modernity.


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The Stories and the Characters

            Rogers (2002) in the 18 literary pieces of varied forms most of which are biographical sketches and fiction is successful in presenting not only the panoramic view of the city of Tokyo and what the city could offer to the people but he was also successful in drawing a clear picture of the dark side of what the city has brought to the people through the stories that portrayed different life styles, different moods, and different perceptions in the different parts of the city of Tokyo.  The stories described how some people lavish in nightclubs and bars; how others spend their time in department stores; and how most of the people live in homes of working class neighborhood.

            Brennan (2004) in his review of the book made an excellent description of what the readers could gain from the anthology.  He said that the reader is provided with various insights into the people of Tokyo and the effect of the city upon these people and the society.  Accordingly, the reader is provided with knowledge to come up with something of a psychological profile of Tokyo itself.   Brennan thus states that the different stories provide deep understanding on the struggle of the inhabitants:

Tokyo Stories leaves the image of a resilient city that is built of and on ruins.  There is mostly subdued physical and psychological violence to the place, coupled with anarchic liberalism that runs through the interior, sexual and social lives of the inhabitants.  (Brennan, 2004 p. 127)

Despite of the fact that the book, Tokyo Stories, is divided into four quarters, the central theme of depression and melancholy cannot be taken for granted. All of these stories support the objective of the editor to bring to the readers the effect of urbanization to the working class of Tokyo who are suffering from indignation, political oppression, and economic deprivation amidst the so-called urbanization and modernization of the society. Thus, the proliferation of negative emotions such as melancholy and depression that was apparent to the people during the time.

Istanbul, Memories of a City on the other hand is a self-written account of the life and experiences of Orhan Pamuk who was deeply melancholic about the cultural changed that he himself had to contend with along with his family in Turkey.  Pamuk stressed the pains and the effect of the struggle of the people against the battle of tradition and modernization.  He wrote the book during the time of his depression over the things that had happened to his personal life.  He was in deep emotional stress because of many professional and personal problems: his divorce with his wife, his sick, dying, and philandering father, his beautiful and sad mother, his old brother.   The book indeed is an account of Orhan’s personal memories of Istanbul as Stocke (2006) wrote:

Pamuk’s portrait of Istanbul remains intimately connected to his family and their bourgeois middle class life.  From there is spills along the shores of Bosphorus where the family summered and finally into every work and cranny of the great and sprawling city. (Stocke, 2006).

Apparently, both Tokyo Stories and Istanbul, have kept on intertwining the personal memories of the writers and the cultural heritage and preservation of their respective cities. It can be read from the book that both authors have been struggling in seeing how modernization has affected the lives of their own fellowmen and the geography of their cities. Changes are apparent. In Tokyo Stories, the changes have been predicted and depicted due to war and constant bombings in the struggle for freedom from oppression not just from foreign invasions but also to the own hearts and emotions of the people. The battle like what is shown is not merely from the external environment but also from the inside. One of the questions that need an answer is whether or not they will succumb to the changes in the society and political stubbornness or remain to what they have been all along even if there is no happiness.

On the other hand, it can be seen that while the Tokyo Stories apparently speaks of the external war between people and their environment in relation to the changes which can be negative and positive, Pamuk had written stories that depicts the war between and among people with their own interest as well. Melancholy has been present in the writings but such is brought only by the complications in life. It is more of a battle between inner emotions that has been triggered only in so far as the complications in the society are concerned such as the change in leadership and political administration coupled with decline in power and influence among others. That very same thing has been expressed in Tokyo Stories but the attack and the manner of writing has been different.

Characters’ Relationship to their Urban Environments

Stocke in her review of the anthology, Tokyo Stories, wrote that Pamuk’s book was written following the Western writer that is why the book was compared to Marcel Proust, Jorge Luid borge, and Italo Calvino and the book indeed was successful in reshaping the city to match what he had envisioned of Istanbul:

He rides in a fancy western car with his friends to the shores of the Bosphorus to watch a lovely wooden yali, or Ottoman seaside home, burn to the ground, thrilled by the awful spectacle. Or he wanders past ornate palaces that once housed Pashas, who in the latter days of the Ottoman Empire tried to westernize their dress and surroundings. (Stocke, n.d.)

It is however, evident that in spite of the many changes the city and the people are undergoing, the writer’s hometown remains unable to bring happiness.  Pamuk could not be happy in Istanbul.  This is what Stocke also commented in her review:

Pamuk’s hometown is rarely consoling; it is more often troubled and malicious, its voice muffled and its colors muted by snowfalls that happen more often in the author’s imagination than in real life. (Stocke, n.d.)

 In the same way that Tokyo Stories too speak of desolation and sadness.  The first story Mire is told be a narrator whom Rogers describes as “anxious, distracted, and depressed.”  Like Pamuk, Kajii, the author of Mire also lived an unhappy and isolated life and died at a young age of 31 because of tuberculosis.  If  Pamuk was desperate and was frustrated with the philandering of his father, Kyusako, the author of Terrifying Tokyo,  speaks of his frustrations and sadness.  His father had influenced most of his decisions in life.  In his story he portrayed his fears and apprehension of urbanization and modernization which many think simple and inevitable, however, the effect of such to the tradition and culture of the people is yet to be felt.  Kyusako felt that he was ignorant and illiterate about the life in the city.  This is stressed even in the first part of his literary piece:

Whenever I go up to Tokyo after I’ve been away for a while, I find myself flustered and alarmed and gradually growing more terrified.  When I am out in the countryside, I fancy myself something of an expert in the city but when I am actually in the city, I am to my surprise, often the source of amusement for everyone. (Rogers, p15.)

            Kyusako believes that urbanization is a rat race struggle between different groups of people.  His extreme fear of what modernization and colonization bring is expressed in the following lines:

Tokyo was Japan’s area in the struggle for survival, yet when I looked at it form that perspective, it appeared that the struggle for survival was beyond even flood time and had evolved into horrifically deceptive battle that was foreign both to humanity and God.  (Rogers, p. 17)

In Pamuk’s anthology, worldliness is also expressed and though Pamuk, did not fear of colonization and never thought Istanbul as a Western colony, his stories speak of globalization, cultural imperialism, and economic change.  Some critics realized how Pamuk was blinded with the glitters of what the Western civilization offered to his country.  He cannot see any “harm done by the Western representations of Istanbul (Laschinger and Blaxell 2008, p4).”  Yet globalization and colonization is a glaring reality that is affecting the economic and political of the people of Istanbul.  This was also seen by other critics as expressed in the following lines taken from Laschinger and Blaxell (2008):

Heavily loaded with orientalist inaccuracies, these writers’ texts are not only documents of cultural imperialism but also of economic change at a time when imperialist finance capital penetrated Ottoman Turkey, literally turning the Empire into a raw-materials-supplying semi-colony of the expanding European Economy. (Laschinger and Blaxell, 2008, p.4).

Pamuk insists that they were never colonized yet it was obvious in his travelogue that many of the native writers were influenced by the Western writers to which he believes doing disservice to his country.  For Pamuk relationship with the Western was a brutal give and take relationship:

It was a brutal symbiosis: Western observers love to identify the things that make Istanbul exotic, non-Western, whereas the Westernisers amongst us register all the same things as obstacles to be erased from the face of the city as fast as possible. (Pamuk, 2005, p. 218)

            As to the concept of difference between the natives and the Western colonizers, Pamuk did not deal with the differences.  He instead scrutinizes how the people of Istanbul became victims of oriental representation.  He detests how Kemal and Tanpınar portrayed Istanbul as the city of terror and grief taken away from them:

The Istanbul in which they lived was a city littered with the ruins of the great fall, but it was their city. If they gave themselves to melancholic poems about loss and destruction, they would, they discovered, find a voice all their own. (Pamuk, 2005 p.101)

            Rogers and Pamuk may have lived differently but their subjects are the same.  Their selected stories reveal the devastations colonization and modernization bring to the culture of the people.  It was the reverse of the prediction of Flaubert that would be the capital of the world:

The reverse came true: after the Ottoman Empire collapsed, the world almost forgot that Istanbul existed. The city into which I was born was poorer, shabbier, and more isolated than it had ever been its two-thousand-year history. For me it has always been a city of ruins and of end-of-empire melancholy. I’ve spent my life either battling with this melancholy, or (like all Istanbullus) making it my own. (Pamuk, 2005).

            In Rogers Tokyo Stories, Natsume  also made a similar description of the loss of a place she once knew.

Time has its power.  Last year on a walk towards Takata I found myself passing through the area and saw that my old home has been torn down and that a new rooming house was built in its place.  And a pawnbroker stood nearby now.  A spare fence enclosed the front of the pawnbrokers and shrubbery had been planted behind it.  Three pine trees had been pruned so severely they looked almost defused which made me feel I had seen them before.

            Indeed, the two anthologies having been compared and contrasted present the same theme.  What is universal to the stories is the sadness of the characters for losing their tradition and their customs because of colonization, modernization, and globalization.  It speaks of the so-called progress and development resulting to struggle and pain by the inhabitants who could not complain much but are affected as they are torn away not only from what they have perceived but for what they have always been and for what they have always believed.


Brennan, Michael. 2004. Book Review: Tokyo Stories, A literary stroll. NUCB JLCC,  6 (1): 127-130.

Laschiger, Verena and Vivian Blaxell. 2008. “Worldliness in Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories of a City. (Accessed April 25, 2009).

Pamuk,. Orhan. 2005. Istanbul, memories and the city.  London: Faber and Faber.

Rogers, Lawrence. 2002. Tokyo Stories, A literary stroll.  USA: University of California Press.,M1 (Accessed: April 24, 2009).

Stocke, Joy. n. d.   Istanbul, memories of a city.  Wild River Review. (Accessed April 24, 2009)

Wikipedia. Istanbul, memories of a city. Istanbul:_Memories_of_a_City.  (Accessed April 25, 2009)

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