Five Outstanding Books on Turkey

Turkey is a country rich in storytelling tradition, evident in its tea houses, songs, epics, and literature. As Turkey commemorates its centenary, here are five essential books that illuminate its tumultuous first 100 years:

“I Will Never See the World Again” by Ahmet Altan:

In 2016, amidst Turkey’s post-coup purges, Ahmet Altan, along with thousands, was imprisoned. Despite his confinement in Silivri, Turkey’s largest jail, Altan defiantly continued to write, smuggling out notes that would become this memoir. With poignant precision, Altan captures the enduring power of storytelling in the face of adversity, asserting, “Like all writers, I have magic; I can pass through your walls with ease.”

“Dear Shameless Death” by Latife Tekin:

Set against the backdrop of Istanbul’s explosive growth—from one million in 1950 to 16 million today—Tekin’s novel focuses on Dirmit, a young girl navigating the city’s urbanization. Infused with magical realism, Tekin seamlessly blends the ordinary with the fantastical, portraying a world where angels and djinn are as real as Dirmit and her family.

“The Poems of Nazim Hikmet” translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk:

Nazim Hikmet, Turkey’s beloved poet and a communist revolutionary, endured imprisonment and exile for his political beliefs. His poetry, banned in Turkey for years, resonates with its humanistic portrayal of everyday life and its lyrical simplicity, beautifully captured in this translation.

“The Time Regulation Institute” by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar:

Tanpinar’s satirical novel unfolds in early republican Istanbul, where the Time Regulation Institute strives to synchronize the city’s clocks. Beneath its playful tone lies a profound love for Istanbul, portrayed vividly through Tanpinar’s elegant prose and keen observations of the city’s transformation during modernization.

“Portrait of a Turkish Family” by Irfan Orga:

In this memoir, Orga reflects on his Ottoman family’s decline into poverty during the founding years of the Turkish Republic. Intimately written, it offers a personal perspective on Turkey’s early struggles and societal changes, culminating in a surprising epilogue revealing the author’s true identity.

These works not only provide insights into Turkey’s history and culture but also showcase the enduring spirit of its people through literature’s power to capture and transcend tumultuous times.

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