Negotiating Istanbul


Jan|Feb 2010 contents
Gazette Home

All Things Ornamental



INTERVIEW Ben Yagoda G’91 on Memoir: A History

REVIEW Only a really bad headache? A Brain Wider Than the Sky

PHOTOGRAPHY Force of memory. The Art of Caring

EXCERPT Istanbul to West Philadelphia. Cultures in Counterpoint

EXCERPT An accidental family. What Else But Home

REVIEW Seeds of selfhood. The Smile at the Heart of Things


A singular first-person sampler.

After a recent spate of memoirs by Penn alumni crossed the Gazette’s transom, we decided to take a look, via excerpts and reviews, at a modest cross-section, encompassing a broad range of styles and subject matter.

Starting off, and bringing it all together, is an interview with Ben Yagoda, author of Memoir: A History—which is exactly what it sounds like, yet somehow more. The memoirs themselves range from a life spent with migraines, to the life journey of a museum curator, to the cultural odyssey of a Turkish-born Jew who came to the United States as a young man, to Michael Rosen’s What Else But Home: Seven Boys and an American Journey Between the Projects and the Penthouse, whose subtitle gives a pretty good hint of the content. We’re also including some striking images from the “Remembering” chapter of The Art of Caring: A Look at Life through Photography, compiled by Cynthia Goodman.



NEW Gazette blog:






Among the several self-published memoirs we received is Cultures in Counterpoint: Memoirs of a Sephardic Turkish-American (Xlibris, 2009). The author, Bension Varon Gr’67, is a Turkish-born Jew who emigrated to the United States in 1960 after the collapse of his family’s business in Istanbul. Settling first in West Philadelphia, where he earned his PhD in economics at Penn and worked at the Population Studies Center, Varon went on to a 30-year career at the World Bank. But his memories of Turkey are particularly pungent—and often wry, as the following vignette suggests.

I was not unhappy in the army. Like every Turk, I had taken for granted as a youth that I would one day serve, but to do so as a reserve officer turned what had been a traditionally feared experience for all into a benign, even positive one. I was, in fact, pleased and even proud to serve, and so was my father, as the following incident demonstrates. During one of my visits home, a petty thief broke into our apartment in the early hours of the morning and stole my father’s wallet out of his coat pocket. Although the money lost was minor, my father was outraged. He promptly told me to put on my uniform and go to see the district’s Komiser, or Chief of Police. Here was a man culturally programmed as a Jew to avoid talking to a policeman, let alone a Police Chief, telling me to go to complain to the Komiser! He must have waited for such a day all his life. I knew better, though. I put on my uniform, walked twice around the block, and told my father that everything would be taken care of.

  ©2010 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 12/22/09