Traditionally let’s start from the title: Istanbul. In the fumes of urban absurd. I know, it’s an awful translation, but that’s all my brain can do today. I got this book from my mum. We went together to Istanbul in 2012 and it was a fantastic trip, we both fell in love with the city and at the same time were a little intimidated.
The book is a bit chaotic portrait of the city. It made me realize how rapidly Istanbul grew. London has always been a big city and it is growing fast, but Istanbul exploded, from a population of just over a million in 1945 to 15 million at the end of 2018. Since 1990 the city population expanded 2.5 times. So clearly part of the book is about how the infrastructure just cannot keep up and how crowded the city is.
Wielgołaska loves Istanbul, with the love one has for any big city – more like love-hate. Appreciating and revelling in the scale and possibilities, but also being annoyed by all the things that do not work in large cities. As I read the book the things Wielgołaska described as specific to Istanbul often actually rang a bell, so I’m leaning towards the opinion that they are common for such large cities.
We first get a tour of the centre, from a perspective of a local person and then we are taken for a trip throughout the neighbourhoods that are rarely visited by tourists. This was an interesting part, to see how the city changes, how people try to find a livable space, even though there is hardly any space left. We get to see gentrification, which works the same way in every place in the world. Wielgołaska also relates her conversations with people, giving us a bit of insight into why they came and why they are staying in the city.
The book often gets quite sentimental which didn’t work well for me. Some of the things that are described as beautiful or ‘interesting’ are actually bad, ugly and wrong. Also in terms of language, I was not blown away, as we often come across cliches like ‘interesting ugliness’. So, in all honesty, I do not recommend this book, even if it gets translated to English at some point. One good thing about it is that it was short.