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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


A Mind at Peace

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar

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To purchase A Mind at Peace

Title: A Mind at Peace
Author: Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar
Genre: Novel
Written: 1949 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 447 pages
Original in: Turkish
Availability: A Mind at Peace - US
A Mind at Peace - UK
A Mind at Peace - Canada
A Mind at Peace - India
Seelenfrieden - Deutschland
  • Turkish title: Huzur
  • Translated by Erdağ Göknar

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Our Assessment:

B+ : evocative, but overwrought

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 15/10/2008 Wolfgang Schneider
The LA Times . 1/3/2009 Richard Eder
NZZ . 30/9/2008 Monika Carbe
Publishers Weekly . 8/9/2008 .
Die Welt A 4/10/2008 Kerstin Strecker
Die Zeit . 16/10/2008 Stefan Weidner

  From the Reviews:
  • "Der Roman ist weniger nach Maßgabe einer spannenden Fabel als nach musikalischen Prinzipien organisiert. Musik ist Katalysator seelischer Zustände; sie ist Mystik mit Tönen, soziales Ereignis und bevorzugtes Gesprächsthema. Wenn Pathos neuerdings wieder im Trend liegt, dann kommt dieser Roman vielleicht zur rechten Zeit an die deutschen Leser. Seelenfrieden ist kein perfektes Meisterwerk, sondern eine herausfordernde, mitunter sperrige, immer wieder aber auch faszinierende Lektüre." - Wolfgang Schneider, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "A Mind at Peace is far more elusive and diffuse than Pamuk's work. Much of it is difficult to gain access to for a non-Turkish reader, with its reams of talk about varieties of traditional music, and involved weighings of Turkish writers from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The translation suggests English spoken with a foreign accent, and it lurches with oddity. This of course is a difficulty; at the same time, it has the transporting quality of such an accent, imparting in the reader the heartbeat of an unfamiliar world." - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Hier wird ein Panorama Istanbuls und seiner Menschen in einem ruhigen Erzählfluss geschildert, der in seiner Bedachtsamkeit in vielen Passagen an Marcel Proust erinnert" - Monika Carbe, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Tanpinar's lyricism and resonant plot will leave U.S. readers wondering why they've had to wait so long to read this exquisite novel." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, einer der Gründerväter der modernen türkischen Literatur, hat mit Seelenfrieden einen unglaublich kraftvollen, poetischen und verstörenden Romans geschrieben." - Kerstin Strecker, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The central character in A Mind at Peace is Mümtaz, and for the most part his mind seems anything but -- indeed:

Anxiety in part constituted his inner self, that quiddity resting beneath the surface yet controlling everything.
       In times like these -- 1939, the world at the brink of war -- peace is hard to find. In Turkey, shifting ever farther to the West, yet clinging also to the East, the turbulence of the times seems even more pronounced.
       Mümtaz lost his parents when he was young -- in another time of violent restructuring -- , and was raised by his cousin İhsan and his family; when the novel opens İhsan is sick with pneumonia, symptomatic of the uncertainty and menace all around. This is a novel that meanders, and one that's more of ideas than action; İhsan's illness and Mümtaz's love-affair with Nuran (a central part of what plot there is) are as much excuses for grander pronouncements on the human and national condition as anything else. Tanpınar's work is a picture of contemporary Turkey (and, specifically, Istanbul) constantly turning in on itself, constantly trying to define this Turkey -- and its future possibilities.
       Mümtaz is working on a piece of historical fiction, set in the eighteenth century -- but, of course, harbouring; "elements of Mümtaz's own life". His concerns about it could apply equally well to A Mind at Peace:
There are too many digressions. I don't want it to be that way. Listening to you talk now, I sensed the need for an organization beyond the synthesis of an ordinary plot structure. Does a novel have to start at one point and end at another ? Maybe it's sufficient if the story line takes life itself as a framework, gathering it around a few characters.
       Maybe. But Tanpınar does not make it easy, especially for foreign readers; this is a novel that is through and through Turkish, and relies greatly on references to music, literature, and history. Even what is familiar -- and a great deal is, since it leans on Western music and literature -- can get lost in the connexions, and even what is carefully spelled out and explained can become overwhelming:
If Tevik represented the nineteenth-century Tanzimat era of reform, which set to work with lofty intentions and finished simply with a weakness for everyday pleasures -- he lived in the ease, nonchalance, and pilfered delights of that age -- then Yasar was more like the second constitutional period after 1908, and bore all of its instabilities. He displayed a bewildering idealism, fleeting feelings of inferiority, and rebellions that cast both off like one wave taking another's place; in short, he vacillated between ecstatic enthusiasm and immobilizing despair.
       Much of the talk centers around (national, though often in terms of cultural) identity, a concern reflected also in the characters' own uncertainty about themselves or their places. Indeed, there's little sense of certainty, and no absolute answers:
     "Okay them go ahead and define the 'Turkey' about which you speak."
     İhsan sighed. "That's the crux of the matter. Locating that ..."
     "At times I verge on answering this very question.
       Most of the main characters are intellectuals, with that usual intellectual problem of being too thought-focussed, and most of the novel does involve these mind-games (and a bit of romance, a different kind of mind-game, but in its emotional root not that far removed from their nationalist feelings) rather than action. They recognise it, to some extent:
The things we read don't lead us anywhere. When we read what's written about Turks, we realize we're wandering on the peripheries of life. A Westerner only satisfies us when he happens to remind us that we're citizens of the world. In short, most of us read as if embarking on a voyage, as if escaping our own identities. Herein rests the problem. Meanwhile, we're in this process of creating a new social expression particular to us.
       Tanpınar's works clearly means to provide an alternative: rather than a voyage, the book is completely centered around Turkey itself. It is also almost entirely inward looking, both in its personal stories, and also in how Turkey can be seen.
       A Mind at Peace can be frustrating reading. The language is often overwrought, with far too many passages such as:
This Bacchanal of Luminance, both its eulogy and its worship, was constituted by moments of bedazzlement and blaze in which the fire stirred and leapt into flames a thousand times over from its own ashes. It was a Mi'raj of Harmony made by the corporeal in concert with the soul -- such that one sensed the ascension without being cognizant of the heavens to be attained.
       Over more than four hundred pages such flourishes can get to be wearing .....
       The characters are fairly well-developed, from pensive Mümtaz (who blossoms when in love) to Nuran, who comes with quite a bit of baggage, to Suad -- a welcome antidote to Mümtaz, Suad identifying their different outlooks as: "You live through words. Whereas I want to fathom the meanings of words." But A Mind at Peace remains more a book of explanation and talk than of demonstration and action.
       Often marvellously evocative, A Mind at Peace is not an easy read, but one can understand the place it holds in Turkish literature.

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A Mind at Peace: Reviews: Other books by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Turkish author Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar lived 1901 to 1962.

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© 2009-2013 the complete review

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