Strangers in a strange land: Jewish memories of Istanbul in the memoirs of Roni Margulies
This essay investigates the role of Istanbul, and of drastic urban change, in the shaping of a particular form of autoethnograpy, and, reciprocally, the role of life writing as a particular constituent of the city’s urban imaginary. The focus is the upscale cosmopolitan neighborhood of Nişantaşı, as seen largely through Jewish eyes, in the memoirs by the dissident writer and poet Roni Margulies: Jews Go Wild on Sundays [Margulies, Roni. 2006. Bugün Pazar Yahudiler Azar [Jews Go Wild on Sundays]. Istanbul: Kanat.], and My Family and Other Jews [Margulies, Roni. 2018. Ailem ve Diğer Yahudiler [My Family and Other Jews]. A published poet, journalist and member of the Turkish Workers Party, Margulies has been active in Turkey as a public intellectual. His memoirs are poetic, political, and humorous. They combine literary sensibilities with political commitments, addressing multiple tensions that have molded his identity as a Turkish Jew. The focus on Jewish lives provides a kaleidoscopic perspective to the city, the neighborhood, and to the practice of writing from the periphery. Retrospective but not nostalgic, Margulies takes issue with the notions of home and homeland, revealing the complexity of affinities. Margulies’s memoirs help reconsider the parameters of autoethnography, a mode of reading that questions not only the links between the auto and ethnos, but also the hierarchies between minor and major, center and periphery.