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PAMUK, Orhan

A Strangeness in My Mind

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For one and half school years, between sixth and seventh grade, Mevlut worried constantly about where to sit in the classroom. The inner turmoil he endured while grappling with this question was as intense as the ancient philosophers' worries over how to live a moral life. Within a month of starting school, Mevlut already knew that if wanted to become "a scientist Atatürk would be proud of," as the principal liked to say, he would have to befriend the boys from good families and nice neighbourhoods, whose notebooks, neckties, and homework were always in good order. Out of the two-thirds of the student body who, like Mevlut, lived in a poor neighbourhood, he had yet to meet anyone who did well in school. Once or twice in the school yard, he'd bumped into boys from other classes who took school seriously because they, too, had heard it said, "This one's really clever, he should be sent to school," but in the apocalyptically overcrowded school, he had never managed to communicate with these lost and lonely souls who, like the quiz team, were belittled by the rest as nerds. This was partly because the nerds themselves regarded Mevlut with some suspicion, as he, too, was from a poor neighborhood. He rightly suspected that their rosy worldview was fatally flawed: deep down, he felt that these "clever" boys, who thought they would become rich one day if only they could learn the sixth-grade geography textbook by heart, were, in fact, fools, and the last thing he wanted was to be anything like them.

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