Leader of the Pack

Istanbul Gathering
by Roddy O’Connor
Çitlembik


Many of us who lived in Istanbul in the good old days, (the Sixties and Seventies), have always hoped that someone would immortalise the town we remember by writing the great Istanbul novel. There were enough writers among our crowd here in those times, Turks as well as expatriates, some of whom, like Geoffrey Wolf and Asa Baber, would later write novels set in other places, but never in Istanbul, though form the younger generation Maureen Freely stole the lap on us in her Life of the Party, more aptly titled in its Turkish translation as Eglence Bitti (The Party’s Over).

But now that the party is long over, someone from our gang has finally come through with the novel we have been waiting for, and this is Roddy O’Connor with his Istanbul Gathering, subtitled “A novel of contemporary Lives in an old town”.

Like all of us who left Istanbul, or tried to leave, Roddy kept dreaming about the old days, and he has now distilled his memories, like the famous Hill Cocktails of Robert College, pouring them out for us in Istanbul Gathering, an intoxicating book.

Survivors will have fun recognising the various characters - until we realise that the madman misbehaving so outrageously at Taverna Bohem is our former, unreformed self. All but one of the nine chapters are named for characters in the novel, the exception being “Bonjuk”, the meyhane in Beyoglu where everyone is gathering for a reunion to welcome back Andrew Malone (also known as Balone, Maloney, the Malone Ranger and Miss Maloney Hearts), the protagonist to whom the first, middle and last chapters are devoted.

Malone has been gone from Istanbul for twenty years, and the other characters, including his former wife Sylvia, are looking back into the night of time as they move in their separate ways to Bonjuk, where the old gang will be together again, if only for a few hours. Everything they think and do on their way is set against the background of Istanbul, whose powerful presence is always there, particularly for Malone in the opening lines of this moving, funny and beautifully written novel:

“You’re home again, old stranger, he thought, you’re home again.

“For how else to express the exhilarating rush he felt as he stepped from the bejewelled and aromatic corridor of the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and into the sunshine blazing along the esplanade in front of the Yeni Cami and over the Galata Bridge, the ferry landing at Eminönü and the lower reaches of the Golden Horn, the distant Asian shore of the Bosphorus lost in a fiery glare. Oh, to be in Istanbul now that April’s here, for as sure as it was April, here he was, as if by the act of willing it, and the twenty long years dividing him from this city and his youth had vanished at a stroke and he found himself again as if completed in this vibrancy of life…”

That’s how it was, and how it still is, and Roddy O’Connor has caught it on the wing.

Other Highlights from Cornucopia 27
  • Drama in the Round

    Robert Ousterhout, who fell in love with the Kariye Camii, the Church of the Chora, 25 years ago. Here he makes an impassioned case for preserving this 14th-century masterpiece.

  • Travels with Turhan

    Brian Mathew pays tribute to the late Turhan Baytop, Turkey’s pre-eminent botanist


  • Fine fast food

    Most fast food is heavy, greasy and bad for your health. Güllaç pancakes, by contrast, are beautiful organza-thin leaves, light as a feather and made from the simplest ingredients. What’s more, they keep for an age. Berrin Torolsan sees the best gullaç in the making


  • Parallel Lives

    Both were ambitious men with a penchant for poetry who suffered extremes of fortune. David Barchard charts the ties between two dominant figures in nineteenth-century Turkey, the British Ambassador Stratford Canning, and the Ottoman sultan Mahmut II


  • Grape Expectations

    Wine is now the most popukar alcoholic drink on the planet, says Esat Ayhan, ‘and we in Turkey are benefitting from this positive wind.’ Owner for the past twenty-two years of a fashionable Cihangir şarküteri, stocking everything from De Cecco pasta to bacon and paté, Esat Bey took the opportunity to expand its renowned La Cave wine section into an entire floor devoted to the grape.

  • Beaufort’s Hunt

    Francis Beaufort’s epic 1812 survey of Turkey’s southern coast and its classical sites sparked a European treasure hunt. It also very nearly cost him his life. By Nicholas Courtney with photgraphs by Kate Clow and James Mortimer



  • Wish you were here

    Max Fruchtermann (1852 –1918) was the publisher who took the postcard to Turkey and thereby took Turkey to the world. His cards sold by the million. Mert Sandalcı – historian, archivist and librettist – has assembled thousands of these cards into three mammoth volumes. Elizabeth Meath Baker leafs through their pages.

  • The Birth of the Big Apple

    Wild apples, with their pink or white blossom in spring, are still a common sight in Turkey. They are collected in the autumn, when they ripen, and preserved for winter.
    More cookery features


  • The Platonic Bowl

    The pots of Alev Ebuzziya Siesbye have an ideal serenity and timeless beauty, as visitors to her retrospective in Istanbul have discovered. But their cool simplicity belies the passion that goes into creating them. Alistair McAlpine met the artist in Paris.


Buy the Book
Buy the issue
Issue 27, 2002 Sublime Simplicity
£12.00 / $16.53 / 63.20 TL