He never stopped writingby David Tonge / April 28, 2017 / Leave a comment
It is a bitter pleasure to read John Freely’s Stamboul Sketches today. The tussling café minstrels, the street markets selling a bric-à-brac of broken dolls and 19th-century instruments of dubious purpose, the ramshackle wooden houses, the 1950s Chevrolets rollicking over the cobbled streets, the gas lamps, the dusty antiquarian bookshops, the ducks’ eggs offered when chickens’ were not available, the street of the dwarf’s fountain—he saw them all, wandering the corners of the crumbling city with his wife, three press-ganged children and colleague Hilary Sumner-Boyd.
John had total recall of places and people, and an innate empathy for others which made his stories so compelling. His ancestors came from the Dingle Peninsula, the western-most rocks of Ireland and a hidden bastion of a Homeric tradition of bards and their stories, never written but learnt by ear through the generations. Hilary knew about historical research, but John could write, first rolling out their jointly authored Strolling through Istanbul, then distilling the offcuts into his Stamboul Sketches. But the more he brings that İstanbul to life, the more he underlines that it is as lost as the various empires that have risen and fallen in this city. This last half-century has destroyed a whole way of life. And now John too has gone.