The Circle (New Novel) in Turkish

“My sadness for all things lost, my sorrow
for an Istanbul and Beyoglu lost,  but exist  in my memory.There were
moments  I was feeling  I was at the edge of a real and non real
world.

As for the novel. I loved, as already I mentioned, the setting, the
way Defne moves in time, her language, her writing,  her characters.
The loneliness of Mr Perikles, the way he realises the truth about
himself.  He is an old man,  he knows it, but not in his heart,   he
falls in love, he believes in life.  The grandeur of humans!”

Stella Vretou, Author

The Circle can be read as an elegy to bygone Istanbul.  The main character of the novel, a Greek-Rum Istanbulite in his mid-seventies, named Periklis Drakos, embarks on writing about his life, his dreams, and reckonings through the pen of his young neighbor Leyla.  The opening of the novel bears witness to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Periklis, who has fallen for Leyla, is confined to the Circle Building, an old building in Istanbul’s cosmopolitan Beyoğlu neighborhood, where Periklis was born and grew up.  Isolated from the world, save a few neighbors with whom he still interacts, he turns his attention to the architectural and decorative details of the Circle Building, such as the leaded glass windows, floor mosaics, the antiquated elevator, and the shadowy corners.  The novel conjures up the past through these material details as well as the depiction of the interiors.  The ornaments adorning the building and the old-fashioned furniture point toward an irretrievable past, and they imbue the narrative with subtle nostalgia and melancholy. 

At the same time, the name “Circle,” evokes the circular structure of life, a revolving or return to the beginning.  While one thread of the narrative gives testimony to the early weeks of the pandemic, another thread represents the radical transformation that Istanbul has undergone in the twentieth century:  as a result of this process, the neighborhoods, demographic texture, and culture of the city gradually changed, leading to a visible decline. 

In the present time of the novel, the urban gentrification movement of the twenty-first century is about eradicating the old identity of Istanbul.  Seen against this backdrop, Beyoğlu, or Pera– as the neighborhood was called in the past—, considered the heart of Istanbul’s lost multicultural life, emerges as a major character of the novel.  With its architecture and social fabric, the site becomes the central metaphor for the transformations Istanbul has experienced since the last century.  As a novel of decline, The Circle has an aged man as its narrator.  Clearly, due to his long life span, the narrator has lived through and retained in his memory the city’s past.  However, this choice implies more: Periklis is the hero who, despite the urban decay, and despite having been subjected to the politics of oppression and intimidation due to his minority identity, has retained his integrity.  Not only does he stand upright but is surprised to find himself falling in love with the much younger Leyla at the threshold of his seventy-fifth birthday. Through its multilayered dimensions, The Circle presents a reflection on home, belonging, memory, and identity. 

It is a novel of friendship, passion, resistance, and hope, as it is a narrative of melancholy and mourning.  The novel is inspired by Marquez, Nabokov, Kafka, Proust, and Pamuk, and at times we can find subtle greetings sent to these beloved writers. 

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