Istanbul was a Fairytale
First published in 1999 in Turkish, İstanbul Bir masaldı won Turkey’s prestigious Yunus Nadi Novel Award in 2000. The novel is not one story but a collection of related stories told in first person by a nameless author in the lyrical style of classic Yiddish literature. Most of the stories feature outcasts of Istanbul’s society: foreigners, Jews, women disappointed in love, and men searching for meaning in life. Levi writes with a reflective melancholy that evokes Isaac Bashevis Singer and Isaak Babel, but he’s also been compared to James Joyce for his ex-pat-like ruminations on his homeland. In an interview on French television two years ago Levi said, “It’s impossible to describe living in Istanbul. One must experience it!” Levi does not try to describe Istanbul. He invites the reader into the lives of 47 characters so the reader can feel the city. Levi said of Istanbul, “It is a vibrant city of immigrants. At the same time it is a historic city, very traditional.” Levi captures the vastness and complexity of Istanbul through his characters, but always the main character in this novel is the city itself.