Why you should care
Let’s face it: You probably don’t read enough Turkish literature.
Turkey is a beautiful and historic place, a country that has hosted countless empires since the beginning of civilization and is now one of the world’s emerging economic powers. If you don’t want to go broke getting yourself out there (totally worth it), you’ll have to settle for binging on online Turkish travel porn. Or, you could immerse yourself in the country’s immense and rich literature. Bulent Bogan, an editor at the independent Sel Publishing, reminds us that Turkish lit is “more than Orhan Pamuk” — the Nobel Prize-winning author who will take you from Istanbul all the way to the country’s Eastern borders. Other writers weave unique Turkish mythology with a distinct cosmopolitanism, much like its most famous city, the so-called bridge between East and West.
Here, OZY’s bookworm guide to Turkey.
The Architect’s Apprentice
by Elif Shafak
Walk any direction in Istanbul and you’re bound to run into something built long before the United States became a country. But it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations on Earth and can be tough to navigate. Meet your first guide: Mimar Sinan, the city’s greatest architect, who served three Ottoman emperors over 50 years in the 16th century. The Architect’s Apprentice, the newest book by Turkey’s most-read female author, follows not just Jahan, Sinan’s Indian-born young apprentice, but the master’s works of magnificence, many of which still stand today. Shafak wrote the book in English, one of the reasons her “appeal is very global,” says Roberta Micallef, a professor of comparative literature at Boston University.
Istanbul: Memories and the City
by Orhan Pamuk
Fast forward to the 20th century and grow up with Turkey’s best-known author with the autobiographical Istanbul: Memories and the City, a dark and melancholic book written while Pamuk was on the verge of dipping into depression. It’s also a good glimpse at Turkey’s transition from Ottoman to modern day — the Turkey we know now. (What does Istanbul think of all the turbulence in “her” life? Let Buket Uzuner and her tale I Am Istanbul tell you.)
Memed, My Hawk
by Yashar Kemal
Kemal is the legendary Anatolian writer who arguably should have been the first Turkish author to win the Nobel Prize with this 1955 book about a hero peasant from a mountain village who rebels against his feudal landlord. Kemal, who died in early 2015, was an outspoken advocate for Kurdish rights in Turkey and a biting critic of the government. A combination of fiery, anti-establishment protagonists with an encyclopedic knowledge of Anatolian myth and folklore made him the first Turkish author to gain international recognition.
The Garden of Departed Cats
by Bilge Karasu
From the nation’s Mediterranean coast, Karasu is an author many consider to be the bridge between Kemal and Pamuk. His quite cryptic, sometimes frustratingly so, story follows a visitor who is welcomed into a game of tourist-versus-locals human chess, a tradition in an unnamed ancient town that happens every 10 years. Interspersed are a dozen seemingly unrelated fables — a fish catches a fisherman and a scientist who consumes a plant that renders him incapable of lying — that upend the whole human/animal relationship we’ve come to know so well. (Spoiler alert: the fables are very much related.)