Arts & Life
25 must-read Turkish books translated into English
25 must-read Turkish books translated into English
From Yaşar Kemal to Orhan Pamuk, Turkish authors have been the storytellers of the country’s culture and heritage. Click through for the 25 must-read books of Turkish literature that you can find in English...
Summer’s End by Adalet Ağaoğlu: Master of stream of consciousness and interior monologue, Adalet Ağaoğlu is one of the most significant women authors in Turkish literature with her profound stance. First published in 1980, “Summer’s End” tells the story of Nevin, travelling to a holiday resort. The novel focuses on Nevin’s longing of the good old days and narrates the plot through the protagonist’s and the narrator’s points of view.
A Mind at Peace by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar: This is the greatest novel ever written about Istanbul, as Orhan Pamuk says. Covering the six-year time period of the Second World War, A Mind at Peace touches upon the conflicts of the East and the West, the old and the new while narrating the story of Mümtaz, who lost his parents at an early age, in search for inner peace. The author and former parliamentary member Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar is considered a strong influence in the Turkish literature.
The Turkish Ordeal by Halide Edib Adıvar: Author, politician, scholar and many other things but most importantly the heroine of the Turkish War of Independence, Halide Edib is one of the exalted figures in the Turkish literature. She was the first woman to give a speech during the Sultanahmet Demonstrations in 1919 against foreign occupation. Dedicated her life to women’s rights and following Mustafa Kemal’s nationalist footsteps, Halide Edib’s “The Turkish Ordeal”, her autobiography, focuses on the period of the national struggle. First written in English, the memoir was published in 1928, and then re-written in Turkish 40 years later.
Murtaza: The King of His Duty by Orhan Kemal: The book tells the story of a well-disciplined gatekeeper stuck between authority and ethical conduct, during the 1940s at an impoverished neighborhood in the southern district of Adana. First published in 1942, Murtaza is the first serialized novel of the author. One of the leading authors of Turkish literature, Kemal’s many books has been translated into 13 languages.
The Disconnected by Oğuz Atay: This is the first postmodern novel in Turkish literature, widely hailed as Atay's masterpiece. Published in 1972, UNESCO listed The Disconnected as the most eminent novel of 20th century Turkish literature. It tells the story of a man called Turgut, who is investigating his friend’s past who committed suicide. The novel focuses on how modern ages create the sense of alienation from society.
A Summer Full of Love by Füruzan: An important actor in contemporary Turkish literature, Füruzan is known for voicing the less-known, quite, frustrated “little people” in her stories. In “A Summer Full of Love”, Füruzan revives the culture of Istanbul during the 1980s through the characters’ memories. The book was published in 1999 and was adapted to theatre by Füruzan in 2001.
The Loiterer by Yusuf Atılgan: Known as the author of alienation and loneliness, Atılgan was the runner-up in Yunus Nadi Awards contest with The Loiterer. The protagonist C., a wealthy heir, looks for ‘true love’. He visits different parts of İstanbul to find ‘the one’, struggling with his loneliness. The Loiterer draws attention to problems the contemporary modernized world poses.
Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali: The novel revolves around the unusual love story between Raif Efendi and Maria Puder, whom he describes as Madonna in a fur coat. By narrating a passionate love story, “Madonna in a Fur Coat” takes the reader on Raif Efendi’s journey in 1920s Berlin. The bestseller is considered a classic in Turkish literature with its abundant psychological analyses.
The Atlas of Misty Continents by İhsan Oktay Anar: First published in 1995, the novel is set in the 1680s Istanbul. The story starts with Arab İhsan’s visit to his nephew, Uzun İhsan and takes place in Uzun İhsan’s imaginary world. İhsan Oktay Anar is known for interbedding his stories with philosophy and history.
Berji Kristin: Tales from the Garbage Hills by Latife Tekin: In this short novel, Latife Tekin describes poor squatters who build their shanty town on hills of garbage dumped outside of Istanbul. As one reviewer says, "Tekin's voice evokes a mindset, a web of beliefs in rumor and in superstition, a mindset of naïve ignorance. Her characters' beliefs are in motion, transforming themselves with time, like the shifting forms of clouds."
The Wren by Reşat Nuri Güntekin: This is such a novel that it was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s --the modern Turkey’s founder-- bedside book. In simplest terms, the novel is an autobiography of a Turkish girl, Feride, and tells the story of her love with her aunt’s son, Kamuran, despite many obstacles. The Wren, published in 1922, brought Reşat Nuri Güntekin his reputation as one of the most prominent authors in Turkish literature.
The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar: Reflecting many aspects of the time period it is set, Time Regulation Institute’s fiction, as can be understand from its title, is based upon the notion of time --the past and the present. Published in 1961, the page turner novel takes the reader on an astonishing journey in which modernism is questioned.
The Legend of the Thousand Bulls by Yaşar Kemal: Famous for including pastoral themes of Anatolian culture in his novels, Yaşar Kemal was a Nobel Prize nominee. The Legend of the Thousand Bulls tells the story of a nomad Turkoman family migrating to the southern region of Çukurova. First published on 1971, the novel describes how the culture of Turkomans was deteriorating.
Life’s Good Brother by Nazım Hikmet: One of the rare novels of globally famous Turkish poet Nazım Hikmet, “Life’s Good Brother” tells the story of young people fighting for what they believe in and against oppression, poverty and pain. Published in 1967, the novel carries the characteristics of an autobiography, the protagonist Ahmet, is actually Nazım himself, who is considered as one of the greatest poets all over the world.
Five Cities by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar: Ankara, Erzurum, Konya, Bursa and Istanbul are narrated in essay form in this compilation of monographies. Published in 1946, Tanpınar’s literary tone in the book is quite similar to his master Yahya Kemal.
My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk: The first Turkish author to win a Nobel Prize, Orhan Pamuk’s “My Name is Red” is a remarkable piece of literature that brought him his award. The novel is set in late 16th century İstanbul and starts with the murder of a miniaturist and a love story following that. Revolving around the fading pictorial art, the novel has been translated into more than 60 languages.
A Useless Man: Selected Stories by Sait Faik Abasıyanık: Also known as the Turkish Chekov, Sait Faik Abasıyanık is one of the most outstanding authors with his stories from within the realities of life, coupled with plain and sincere literary tone. This book is the compilation of many of his stories such as “A Cloud in the Sky” and “I Just Don’t Know Why I Keep Doing These Things”.
Memed, My Hawk by Yaşar Kemal: This is the heroic saga of Memed, a gunfighter battling against tyranny and economic exploitation. Published in 1955, the novel focuses on the notion of banditry. The novel was adapted to the silver screen by British actor and director Peter Ustinov in 1984.
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk: Pamuk’s first novel after his Nobel prize narrates the story of Kemal Basmacı, an upper class man with an obsessive love to Füsun, a sales girl. Set in 1975 Istanbul, our protagonist collects objects affiliated with his great love. These objects are actually on display at the Museum of Innocence Pamuk opened in 2010. The love affair between two main characters, coupled with the inner conflicts about the East and the West that Istanbul’s bourgeoisie is experiencing is what makes this novel so realistic yet quite depressive.
Beyond the Walls, Selected Poems by Nazım Hikmet Ran: A prisoner for seventeen years and an exile for fourteen years, Nazım’s affection for politics can be found in his heartfelt, narrative and lyrical poems. “Beyond the Walls” is a voluminous selection of his poems, influenced by Vladimir Mayakovsky and Russian Futurism.
The Clown and His Daughter by Halide Edip Adıvar: Just like “The Turkish Ordeal”, Adıvar’s “The Clown and His Daughter” was written in English first, and then rewritten in Turkish with the name “Sinekli Bakkal”. First published in 1935, the novel gives insight on Abdulhamid II's reign, the lifestyle of Istanbul neighborhoods and characteristics of Eastern and Western art and philosophy. With this very heartfelt novel carrying many aspects from reality, Adıvar won the first place in Republican People’s Party’s Novel Contest in 1942. The novel was then adapted to the silver screen.
Patasana by Ahmet Ümit: As a crime fiction novel, the book tackles a series of perplexing incidents following the arrival of a group of archeologists to the southeastern province of Antep. Following the archeologists’ discovery of tablets of Patasana, the chief clerk who lived during the period of the Hittites, mysterious murders occur. Ahmet Ümit is a mastermind when it comes to crime novels. The unanticipated plot of his stories and their shocking endings takes the reader on a thrilling journey.
Cevdet Bey and His Sons by Orhan Pamuk: This is the first novel of Pamuk, and considered as a classically realist novel. The novel narrates story of Cevdet Bey, a Muslim merchant in Istanbul, in a period that non-Muslims were dominant in trade. Touching upon class issues, the modernization period from 1905 to 1970 is narrated through Cevdet Bey and his family.
Human Landscapes from My Country: An Epic Novel in Verse by Nazım Hikmet Ran: Nazım Hikmet covers the period from the Second Constitutional era to the Second World War and narrates the process and transformation Turkey’s society and politics went through. “Human Landscapes from My Country” consists of approximately 17,000 verses and was published in 1966-67 as five volumes. The poetic novel is considered a “masterpiece” in the Turkish literature.
Iron Earth, Copper Sky by Yaşar Kemal: Telling the story of mountain villagers, Iron Earth, Copper Sky is the second book of the trio “Other Side of the Mountain”. The novel was published in 1963, adapted to theater in 1965 and to the silver screen in 1987. Yaşar Kemal narrates the story of Çukurova villagers in the southern province of Adana, who create myths as a response to the difficulties they face financially.
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