The world of Patrick Modiano is one of loss and displacement. So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24) explores these themes in a slim 155 pages—taking us into the jogged memory of Daragane, a loner and life-long resident of Paris. The novel begins with a telephone call. Gilles Ottolini has recovered Daragane’s misplaced address book, in which he notices a name that also appears in Daragane’s first novel. But Daragane cannot remember the name, or his first novel. When he reads a densely-written dossier compiled by Ottolini, however, he discovers the murder of a distant acquaintance, and becomes immersed in long forgotten memories. As Daragane reads, he finds himself skipping sentences, enacting the selective and seemingly random way memory works. While this masterful novel has the lightness of a dream, it is deeply affecting, as vivid dreams often are. Focusing on abandonment—abandonment by one’s memory and the abandonment of loved ones—the book leads to a stunning and painful climax that calls into question the nature of identity itself.
With The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk took fiction one step further than usual by building an actual structure—open to the public—to house real objects his invented characters might have used. His eighth novel gains a similar richness by putting its fictional elements into the documentary trappings of timelines, family trees, and an index, as well as letting the characters interrupt the narrator to add and revise details, as in an oral history. The multi-layered A Strangeness in My Mind (Knopf, $28.95) starts as a fairy-tale love story that soon fractures and takes decades to resolve. The book is also an intimate love letter to Istanbul, charting events from the 1950s to the present. While Istanbul may be the main character, the focus is Mavlut Karsas, one of the many poor villagers who come to the big city to seek their fortune. If that means financial security, Mavlut never quite attains it, and after twenty years he feels “still a stranger” in Istanbul. But he works hard, loves his family, and likes to watch people and try to guess their stories. His own includes many set pieces of Turkish cultural history, including topics like matchmaking, headscarves, the role of street vendors in urban life, and the long saga of boza, an ancient drink Mavlut sells every winter, topping it with chickpeas and cinnamon, and holding the perennial debate over the extent of its alcohol content; such things stabilize both the characters and their city as they go through times of often turbulent change.