When you think about Turkish authors—from this century and the last—who comes to mind? Orhan Pamuk, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Nazım Hikmet, Orhan Kemal. Just like many things in Turkey, literature is, unfortunately, a boy’s club. But although the ladies are less prolific, there are many interesting books about or set in Turkey that have been written by women. Since 2014 is the year of #readwomen (and we still have a few months left), I thought I would share with you my top five books about Turkey by women authors. Get reading!
The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Şafak
The outspoken Elif Şafak (main image) is the best-known Turkish writer outside (and probably inside) of Turkey. Although some may disagree with her political views, Şafak is a seasoned writer who has had 13 books published, nine of which are novels. She has contributed to countless publications worldwide, and impressively, writes in both Turkish and English. The Forty Rules of Love is the Turkish equivalent of Eat, Pray, Love. It tells the story of a 40-year old unhappily married woman whose life is changed when she gets a job at a literary agency. Her first assignment is to read a book about the ancient Sufi mystic, Rumi, who was transformed by a whirling dervish into a passionate poet and advocate of love. Finding parallels between herself and the 13th-century mystic, she begins to think about life and love in a very different way.
The Emperor Tea Garden by Nazlı Eray
Nazlı Eray is one of Turkey’s most popular writers and the author of many stories, plays and novels. She is also the founder of the Turkish Literary Association. Her latest book, The Emperor Tea Garden, is a beautifully written novel that is at once modern and fantastical. Described as “a postmodern gem” by World Literature Today (and I would tend to agree), what really stands out is the cast of eclectic and often bizarre characters who come together to form a story essentially about our interconnectedness in an increasingly chaotic world.
Turkish Awakening by Alev Scott
The young British-Turkish writer Alev Scott has the best of both worlds: she has Turkish roots but was born in London, so she has both subjectivity and objectivity on her subject. In a lively tone, Scott uses the 2013 Gezi protests as a starting point to chart the evolving course of a country bursting with surprises. The author conducted lots of interviews and interspersed the book with personal anecdotes to create a memoir-style book about topics as wide ranging and relevant as mass migration, urbanization, and human rights.
Sailing Through Byzantium by Maureen Freely
Although she is not Turkish, Maureen Freely lived in Turkey as a child and comes from a family of Turkophiles. Her father is John Freely, the doyen of travel and history books on Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, and she is most known as Orhan Pamuk’s most adept translator into English. Sailing Through Byzantium tells the story of Americans in Istanbul (a topic close to her heart) told from the eyes of 10-year old Mimi. Set in 1960s Istanbul, a time of hedonism and bohemia, the story revolves around a group of artists, aristocrats, expats, and spies, who attend a glamorous party on the shores of the Bosphorus.
Impressions of Ottoman Culture in Europe by Nurhan Atasoy and Lâle Uluç
The author of over 120 books and publications, Professor Nurhan Atasoy is a definitive voice on Islamic arts and culture. I have been to a few of her lectures and her knowledge is unparalleled. Her impressive tome, Impressions of Ottoman Culture in Europe, is an encyclopedia of how Ottoman culture is reflected in the objects and images produced in European countries outside the Ottoman Empire. It begins in 1453 with the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmet II and ends by the War of the Holy League in 1699, when Ottoman military expansion in Europe ceased and Europeans were no longer in awe of the Ottomans. The book’s 400 stunning illustrations are reason enough to get it.
Classic: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Although Agatha Christie is not Turkish and the book is not about Turkey per se, it is set in Istanbul and when I want to get romantic about the city, I read a few chapters of Christie’s classic detective story. Part of the Hercule Poirot series, the story starts at the Tokatlian Hotel in Istanbul (the building still stands in Pera today). Poirot receives a telegram asking him to immediately return to London and instructs the concierge to book a first-class compartment on the Orient Express leaving that night. After he boards, well, the mystery unfolds. Christie knows how to write a crime novel and her descriptions of the hotel, Istanbul’s European quarter, and Sirkeci Station from which the Orient Express used to depart, as they were in 1934, pull on the nostalgia stings.
Title image source: baskaldiraninsan.com