Our Turkish students often ask us for novel recommendations. We find there is nothing better to motivate them then English language books set in Turkey. Some of these are famed Turkish novelists that have been translated. Others are original pieces of English language literature set in Turkey. There is a wealth of literature to pick from. You can spend an entire four year university degree studying the genre, but we’ve tried our best to pick our favorite five books!
#5 Orhan Pamuk – The Museum of Innocence
From the Nobel winning author (Snow and My Name Is Red), comes an amazing depiction of Istanbul. The protagonist, Kemal, takes a tour of “the other” Istanbul and delivers one of the most powerful English language books set in Turkey. Middle class families, seedy dive bars, Istanbul film circles, and so much more. All the while he collects pieces of treasure throughout his travels around our beloved city. Better yet, if you are ever in Istanbul, you can check out the real life museum of Innocence (in Beyoglu) created to showcase the pieces found by Kemal in his travels around Istanbul!
#4 Louis de Bernières – Birds Without Wings
The novel is set in a small village in southwestern Anatolia in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. Birds without Wings tells the history of the fall of the Ottoman Empire and emergence of the modern Turkish state through the eyes of a village. The battle of Gallipoli takes place halfway through the novel. The village includes Muslim Turks, Greeks, Armeinans and Cricassians. A fine example of historical fiction dealing with one of the largest population exchanges of all time but focusing on everyday village stories, rather than the geopolitics that swept the region.
#3 Orhan Pamuk – Snow
Published in 2002 and translated to English in 2004, Snow is considered a jewel of modern Turkish literature. A poet named Ka returns to Turkey and travels to the city of Kars. The purpose of his journey is to report on a wave of suicides among religious girls forbidden to wear their head-scarves (which actually took place in the city of Batman). The book heavily examines the interplay between secular and traditional Turkey, and is a fascinating read for Turks and foreigners alike.
#2 Elif Shafak – The Bastard of Istanbul
Written in English (and later translated to Turkish), the story is a family saga set in modern day Istanbul. The book has received extensive publicity because of the the Turkish government accusing the novel of ‘insulting Turkishness’. Publicity aside, the book is cluttered and busy with characters and themes, much like modern Istanbul. A must read for any resident of this great city!
#1 Various Authors – The Book of Istanbul: A City in Short Fiction (a collection of ten English language books set in Turkey!)
A 2010 collection of ten short stories (each by a different leading Turkish writer) translated to English and set in Istanbul. Each author gives their own, unique depiction of Istanbul and its people. An amazing a varied take on different perspectives of the same city. These stories are short, concise, entertaining and highly relevant to our Turkish students learning English, this is why we’ve picked the collection as our favorite in the list of English language books set in Turkey.
Let us know your thoughts. Have we missed any must read English language books set in Turkey? I’m sure we have!