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June 19, 2017

Book Notes - Nicholas Bredie "Not Constantinople"

Not Constantinople

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Nicholas Bredie's novel Not Constantinople is a smart and moving debut.

Viet Thanh Nguyen wrote of the book:

"In spare, understated prose, our author captures the privileged aimlessness and corrupted romanticism of the contemporary white American expatriate. Bredie is a sly and unsparing writer for the post-Hemingway set, revealing a world of travel that is stripped of illusions and glamour."

In his own words, here is Nicholas Bredie's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel Not Constantinople:

"So it's sort of like House of Sand and Fog in reverse?" was one friend's reaction to the description of my novel Not Constantinople. "Maybe," I said. "But it's funnier, more political, and there's a romance/ break-up angle. And by in reverse, you mean it's set abroad?" So much for analogy. My uncle, a former Beirut correspondent, told my wife and I that we needed to abandon analogy when we moved abroad. Leave our preconceived notions about a place like Istanbul, and there were many, on the jet bridge. And if I had a dream request for readers of Not Constantinople, it would be the same. Yes there are strong themes of alienation and privilege borrowed from the tradition of expatriate adventures from For Whom the Bell Tolls through Leaving the Atocha Station, but also a conscious effort to undermine those themes. Yes there is a real estate plot, but its absurdity breaks more towards humor than pathos. Yes there's a love story, but the love that underlies the book is love for the city of Istanbul. It's moments like these when I'm grateful for music, happy home of negative capability. And so I've put together a little musical tour of the book. A notable, and intentional absence: no ‘They Might Be Giants,' no ‘Four Lads.'

Gaye Su Akyol :: "Uzat Saçını İstanbul"

The title of this track by the Turkish rock goddess translates roughly as ‘let down your hair, Istanbul.' It's a great image to begin with, an intimate request to be with the city. It reminds me of "The Maiden's Tower," a strange little lighthouse set in the southern mouth of the Bosporus. The tower is the mythical setting for the story of Hero and Leander, a seduction that goes wrong when Leander drowns trying to swim out to the tower to be with Hero. The tower is treated as a visual synecdoche for the city on t-shirts and such, but the tale of Hero and Leander might be more salient to understanding the city's charms and perils.

Fugazi :: "Cashout"

I've always dreamed of living rent-free. I think most writers who work other jobs to make rent share this dream, so real estate can be a bit of a preoccupation. I moved to Providence, RI just as the era of loft squatting was ending. Word was the daughter of a developer had attended a Lightning Bolt show, and told her father about all the kids living free in the abandoned factories of Olneyville. When I moved there, after living in a Brooklyn shoebox run by David N and the Brighton Beach mafia, the magnificent Fort Thunder loft had been reduced to a Shaws grocery. When I was in Istanbul watching magnificent old squats (I'd only later learn their owners were minorities driven from the city in mid-century pogroms) transformed to boutique hotels, I couldn't help think of the great unfairness tied up in real estate.

Beirut :: "Postcards from Italy"

Whoa, sonic whiplash. But imagine yourself being whisked away from your problems (fictional or otherwise) and on a road trip to Pomorie and Varna, Bulgaria. I'd highly recommend Bulgaria to anyone who likes a party, and pork products. In the novel it's a chance for the characters to breath a little freer, enjoy a little ‘travel,' a little ‘romance.' But of course it's going to end with someone pulling a knife on a prostitute.

Selim Sesler :: "Roman Lament"

Back in Istanbul, in 2008, the government demolished the neighborhood of Sulukule. Romni people had been living there, beside the Theodosian Walls, since the Byzantine era. An ‘urban development project' replaced their homes with ‘ottoman style townhouses,' another case study of rapacious gentrification. The Romani, always maligned for not settling down, were shipped to a distant suburb. A version of this event happens in the novel, and is memorialized here with this song played by the great Romani clarinetist Selim Sesler. I saw Sesler live at the roof-level club Araf in Istanbul, and I'll never forget hearing this looking out over the city lights scattered across the hillsides.

Tommy James & The Shondells :: "Crimson and Clover"

Just imagine listening to this song, stoned. You're in a garage owned by a Turkish motorcycle gang. But they are a cute motorcycle gang, I mean they are sitting around listening to Tommy James & The Shondells, drinking Efes beer and waiting for dusk to bbq some meatballs. Istanbul is a megacity, 14+ million people. Often this can feel suffocating, but it also makes spaces for all kinds of life to happen.

Erkin Koray :: "Yagmur"

This classic of Anatolian Invasion psyc-funk gives you a perfect taste of street level melancholy in Istanbul. Orhan Pamuk may have patented ‘huzun' as the feeling of sadness that might overcome you as you move through the Istanbul's back alleys, "crumbling buildings and phantom minarets," but Koray's bent notes and driving beat bring me back to that feeling that the city is a series of dead ends.

Pavement :: "AT&T"

There's a break-up in the book, whether Publisher's Weekly likes it or not. This is probably the second best break-up song in my humble opinion, after Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, it's Alright." It's a song that is, as much of the Pavement repertoire, emotionally all over the place: elated, regretful, uselessly self-conscious. In the end you just have Malkmus screaming and then saying, "The story it goes and a distorted ghost, distorted ghost." What more is there to say?

Iggy Pop :: "Fall In Love with Me"

If the alienated expat male had an anthem, this would be it. I can just picture Jake Barnes singing it just off stage to Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises. "White wine and you/ A table made of wood/ And how I wish you would/ Fall in love with me." Pure Hemingway. Luckily in the hands of Iggy Pop, everything cuts both ways. Is he being serious? Is he making a joke of this whole seduction? Without giving away too much of the novel's twilight half, these are the kinds of questions a reader might ask too.

Les Mis Original London Cast :: "Do You Hear the People Sing"

From the personal to the political: sometimes an event can overtake a story even when that story is anticipating it. The story of the Taksim Gezi Park protests is a story of real estate and development with such a strain of absurdity it could only happen in Istanbul. The government gave license to a private developer to replace Gezi Park, a small, sleepy if central park in the city's downtown, with a shopping mall. But the developer could only get around the city's green-space preservation laws by appealing to the city's historical preservation laws, making the mall in the form of the Ottoman artillery barracks which the park had replaced in the 1940s. You can't make this stuff up. The park became a rallying cry for Istanbullus who had become tired and wary of the city's crazy development, which occurred hand in hand with increased political control. So in May of 2013 the park was occupied in protest of its development, and all the development bulldozing people's right to freedom of expression along with the urban space. About mid way through the occupation, a group of protesters sang this tune from Les Mis for the benefit of the BBC (see it here Unfortunately for Istanbul, and for Turkey at large, the Taksim protests turned out to have more in common with June Rebellion of 1832 as portrayed by Victor Hugo than anyone could have wished.

Aynur :: "Keça Kurdan"

Some folks say they don't like political art, whatever that means. But take this song by Aynur, ‘Kurdish Girl.' Simply by singing it in her native language, the song was treated by the Turkish government as a recruiting tool for the Kurdish separatists. The song was banned in the Kurdish regions of Turkey for a year. Listening to it is an act of defiance, a small one. I include it as the penultimate track as a way to foreshadow the novel's final turn, where the alienation and aesthetics of expatriatism melt away.

Selda :: "Dostum Dostum"

It's hard for me to write about this song, such that it could replace this entire playlist, or my entire book. It's a song of friendship and loss, written by the Alevi poet Pir Sultan Abdal in the Sixteenth-Century. A friend of mine in Istanbul would sing it after long evenings of drinking Rakı, the Bosporus flowing silently just out of sight. Here it is sung by the unmatched Selda Bağcan, condemned by the post-1980-coup government in Turkey to 500 years in prison for her political songs. To me it evokes all these things at once: friendship, loss, history, the politics of resistance, and ultimately the feeling of being in Istanbul. If my novel could do half that for my readers, I'd count it a success.

Bonus Track—Baba Zula and Brenna MacCrimmon :: "Cecom"

This version isn't on Spotify, which is a great excuse to watch it on Youtube. This is the last scene of the Fatih Akin's great Istanbul music documentary Crossing the Bridge: the Sound of Istanbul. The song is the perfect expression of the setting, a boat set in the middle of the Bosporus with the sun in the west. One lyric translates as "I would be a seagull," which is the perspective every Istanbullu wishes for. To take in the whole of the city's beauty from the air. Humans will have to settle for Akin's helicopter shots, which do a great job of showing the place off.

Nicholas Bredie and Not Constantinople links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

also at Largehearted Boy:

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