It took me a long time to create this list of Turkish books because I wanted to make sure there is a book for everyone’s taste. You’ll find beautifully written experimental books as well as hilarious mysteries. There are contemporary Turkish books as well as the much-beloved classics and modern classics.
A couple of the Turkish books on this list are my all-time favourites. I still remember how they make me feel, and I still reread them whenever I miss them. I hope you can find new favourites among this list of Turkish books and enjoy them thoroughly.
Madonna in a Fur Coat – Sabahattin Ali
One of the best Turkish books out there. The bestselling Turkish classic of love and longing in a changing world, available in English for the first time.
‘It is, perhaps, easier to dismiss a man whose face gives no indication of an inner life. And what a pity that is: a dash of curiosity is all it takes to stumble upon treasures we never expected.’
A shy young man leaves his home in rural Turkey to learn a trade in 1920s Berlin. The city’s crowded streets, thriving arts scene, passionate politics and seedy cabarets provide the backdrop for a chance meeting with a woman, which will haunt him for the rest of his life. Emotionally powerful, intensely atmospheric and touchingly profound, Madonna in a Fur Coat is an unforgettable novel about new beginnings and the unfathomable nature of the human soul. If you’re going to read Turkish books, make sure to read this one first.
‘Passionate but clear . . . Ali’s success [is in ] his ability to describe the emergence of a feeling, seemingly straightforward from the outside but swinging back and forth between opposite extremes at its core, revealing the tensions that accompanies such rise and fall.’ Atilla Özkirimli, writer and literary historian
The Time Regulation Institute – Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar
Old Istanbul aristocrats, Turkish teashops, imperial diamonds, and great and humble mosques are juxtaposed with the almost non-descriptive portrayals of neighbourhood friendships, family relations, and local public figures who could be found in any city in Turkey or, perhaps, any Eastern setting where the old way of life adopts new and Western counterparts. Ahmet H. Tanpinar’s portrayal of modern, post-Ottoman Turkey weaves a theatre of the absurd, suggestively representative of the early days of the young Republic. This translation is introduced by an essay by the late Berna Moran, a leading Turkish literary critic. A highly interesting one among Turkish books.
Memed, My Hawk – Yashar Kemal
A tale of high adventure and lyrical celebration, tenderness and violence, generosity and ruthlessness, Memed, My Hawk is the defining achievement of one of the greatest and most beloved of living writers, Yashar Kemal. It is reissued here with a new introduction by the author on the fiftieth anniversary of its first publication. An important one among Turkish books.
Memed, a high-spirited, kindhearted boy, grows up in a desperately poor mountain village whose inhabitants are kept in virtual slavery by the local landlord. Determined to escape from the life of toil and humiliation to which he has been born, he flees but is caught, tortured, and nearly killed. When at last he does get away, it is to set up as a roving brigand, celebrated in song, who could be a liberator to his people—unless, like the thistles that cover the mountain slopes of his native region, his character has taken an irremediably harsh and unforgiving form. One of the most popular Turkish books out here.
Stepmother Earth – Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoglu
One of the Turkish books for lovers of history and literary fiction. Ahmet Celal, an officer in the Ottoman army, loses his right arm as the result of a bullet wound while fighting in the Battle of Gallipoli during World War I. After the war, he returns to Istanbul, which is now occupied by Allied forces comprised of British, French, and Italian troops. He moves into a mansion in Istanbul which he inherited from his father. Although he is well-educated and at home in the culturally rich city, he feels alienated and lonely, as he’s cruelly taunted and teased in Istanbul society because of his disability, and he dreams of moving to the countryside.
When one of his lieutenants offers to let him live with him and his family in a village in central Anatolia, he jumps at the chance. However, once he takes up residence in the village, which turns out to be far more impoverished and primitive than even he’d imagined, he’s once again treated like an outcast—not because of his missing arm, but because he’s a “stranger.” When the Greek army invades Anatolia, he’s horrified to find that the villagers are completely indifferent to the idea of resisting and establishing a Turkish state. In the meantime, he falls in love with a village girl who also spurns him because he’s an outsider. An exceptional one among Turkish books.
Motherland Hotel – Yusuf Atilgan
Love interesting characters? You need to read this among Turkish books. Zeberjet, the last surviving member of a once prosperous Ottoman family, is the owner of the Motherland Hotel, a run-down establishment a rundown establishment near the railroad station. A lonely, middle-aged introvert, his simple life is structured by daily administrative tasks and regular, routine sex with the hotel’s maid.
One day, a beautiful woman from the capital comes to spend the night, promising to return “next week,” and suddenly Zeberjet’s insular, mechanical existence is dramatically and irrevocably changed. The mysterious woman’s presence has tantalized him, and he begins to live his days in fevered anticipation of her return. But the week passes, and then another, and as his fantasies become more and more obsessive, Zeberjet gradually loses his grip on reality.
Motherland Hotel was hailed as the novel of the year when it was published in 1973, astonishing critics with its experimental style, its intense psychological depth and its audacious description of sexual obsession. A must-read among Turkish books.
Human Landscapes from My Country – Nazim Hikmet
Written during the Second World War while Hikmet was serving a thirteen-year sentence as a political prisoner, his verse-novel uses cinematic techniques to tell the story of the emergence of secular, modern Turkey by focusing on the always-entertaining stories of sundry characters from all walks of life. A unique one among Turkish books.
As his vignettes flash before our eyes at movie-like speed, it becomes clear he is also telling the turbulent story of the twentieth century itself and the ongoing struggle between tradition, which trusts in God, and modernity, which entrusts the world to human hands. One of the Turkish books that everyone should read.
Portrait of a Turkish Family – Irfan Orga
Describes in chilling, yet affectionate, detail the disintegration of a wealthy Ottoman family, both financially and emotionally. It is rich with the scent of fin de siecle Istanbul in the last days of the Ottoman Empire. His mother was a beauty, married at thirteen, as befitted a Turkish woman of her class. His grandmother was an eccentric autocrat, determined at all costs to maintain her traditional habits. But the war changed everything.
Death and financial disaster reigned, the Sultan was overthrown, and Turkey became a republic. The red fez was ousted by the cloth cap, and the family was forced to adapt to an unimaginably impoverished life. Filled with brilliant vignettes of old Turkish life, such as the ritual weekly visit to the hamam, as it tells the “other side” of the Gallipoli story, and its impact on one family and the transformation of a nation. One of the best Turkish books out there.
“It is just as though someone had opened a door marked `Private’ and showed you what was inside…. A most interesting and affectionate book.”-Sir John Betjeman.
“A wholly delightful book.”-Harold Nicolson
Dear Shameless Death – Latife Tekin
A nihilistic wit reminiscent of Samuel Beckett.?-Independent on Sunday
This is the strange, magical story of a young girl growing up in modern Turkey, from her birth in a small rural village haunted by fairies and demons to her traumatic move to the big city. Based on her own childhood experiences, Latife Tekin’s literary debut marked a turning point in Turkish fiction. A unique one among Turkish books.
Concentrating on a daughter’s struggle against her overbearing mother set against the pressures of a rapidly changing society, Dear Shameless Death is a fantastic, hallucinatory novel, with strong feminist insights about what it means to be a woman growing up in Turkey today.
Labyrinth – Burhan Sonmez
From a prize-winning Turkish novelist, a heady, political tale of one man’s search for identity and meaning in Istanbul after the loss of his memory. One of the most interesting Turkish books out there.
A blues singer, Boratin, attempts suicide by jumping off the Bosphorus Bridge, but opens his eyes in the hospital. He has lost his memory, and can’t recall why he wished to end his life. He remembers only things that are unrelated to himself, but confuses their timing. He knows that the Ottoman Empire fell, and that the last sultan died, but has no idea when. His mind falters when remembering civilizations, while life, like a labyrinth, leads him down different paths.
From the confusion of his social and individual memory, he is faced with two questions. Does physical recognition provide a sense of identity? Which is more liberating for a man, or a society: knowing the past, or forgetting it?
Embroidered with Borgesian micro-stories, Labyrinth flows smoothly on the surface while traversing sharp bends beneath the current. For the ones looking for contemporary fiction among Turkish books.
The Sultan of Byzantium – Selcuk Altun
Fighting the Ottoman invaders in Constantinople, Emperor Constantine XI was killed—his body never found.
Legend has it that he escaped in a Genoese ship, cheating certain death at the hands of the Turks and earning himself the title of Immortal Emperor.
Five centuries after his disappearance, three mysterious men contact a young professor living in Istanbul. Members of a secret sect, they have guarded the Immortal Emperor’s will for generations. They tell him that he is the next emperor in line and that in order to take possession of his fortune he must carry out his ancestor’s last wishes.
What follows is his journey to the heart of a mystery of epic historical significance. One of the Turkish books for lovers of historical fiction.
Life is a Caravanserai – Emine Sevgi Ozdamar
Life is a Caravanserai follows a lively, but rather unfortunate family from Istanbul to Bursa, then to Ankara and back to Istanbul. This is a women’s world: the mother, Fatma, nurtures her three children, with the grandmother Ayse and the “aunties” of the neighbourhood, while Mustafa, the often unemployed father, recites Orhan Veli and drinks copious rakı, dreaming of building a larger family home.
Here is the Turkey of the 1950s and early 1960s, with its political struggles, growing urbanisation, the Korean War, American comic books and the departure of the first wave of workers to Germany. The Anatolian grandparents carry with them their sagas of the war and the nascent Turkish Republic, enriched by wisdom, humour and village folklore.
The author’s wonderful use of local narrative, storytelling, proverbs and prayers, and a prose that moves from the lyrical to gritty humour, re-creates this microcosm of neighbourhoods from a young girl’s intimate perspective. We follow her as she sits in school, visits relatives, dreams, listens to stories and experiments with early passions. Reality merges into mythological visions as, naïve, witty and explorative, she absorbs the colourful world around her. One of the best Turkish books.
Summer’s End – Adalet Agaoglu
Narrated by an author on vacation among the classical ruils of the ancient city of Side on the Mediterranean coast in Turkey, SUMMER’S END provides an intricate picture of a large cross-section of modern Turkish society. The novel offers a complex multi-dimensional and multi-leveled view of cultural values, politics, sexuality, and personal dilemmas.
SUMMER’S END is one of the most celebrated works by Adalet Angaoglu, widely considered to be one of the principal novelists of our time. SUMMER’S END, says critic Sibel Erol in her introduction, “is an elegaic novel of attempted reconciliation and consolation set in a lush and delectable setting that intensifies the heartbreaking contrast between life and death and society’s fragmentation and nature’s organic unity.” One of the best Turkish books set in the Mediterranean.
A Memento for Istanbul – Ahmet Ümit
A thrilling take which moves back and forth through time, from the early days of Byzantium to the thriving metropolis of Istanbul… A corpse is discovered at the base of the statue of Ataturk in old Istanbul, an antique coin left in its hand… But it’s not to be the last corpse and the bodies soon begin to pile up… And so the hunt for the killers begins… Seven murders, seven sovereigns, seven coins and seven ancient monuments, with one thread binding them all: the history of one of the world’s most mysterious and most dazzling cities. For the thriller lovers among Turkish books.
A Useless Man: Selected Stories – Sait Faik Abasiyanik
Sait Faik Abasiyanik was born in Adapazari in 1906 and died of cirrhosis in Istanbul in 1954. He wrote twelve books of short stories, two novels, and a book of poetry. His stories celebrate the natural world and trace the plight of iconic characters in society: ancient coffeehouse proprietors and priests, dream-addled fishermen and poets of the Princes’ Isles, lovers and wandering minstrels of another time.
Many stories are loosely autobiographical and deal with Sait Faik’s frustration with social convention, the relentless pace of westernization, and the slow but steady ethnic cleansing of his city. His fluid, limpid surfaces might seem to be in keeping with the restrictions that the architects of the new Republic placed on language and culture, but the truth lies in their dark, subversive undercurrents. One for the story lovers among Turkish books.
The Girl in the Tree – Şebnem İşigüzel
A celebrated contemporary one among Turkish books. A young woman climbs the tallest tree in Istanbul’s centuries-old Gülhane Park, determined to live out the rest of her days there. Perched in an abandoned stork’s nest in a sanctuary of branches and leaves, she tries to make sense of the rising tide of violence in the world below. Torn between the desire to forget all that has happened and the need to remember, her story, and the stories of those around her, begins to unfold.
Then, unexpectedly, comes a soul mate with a shared destiny. A lonely boy working at a nearby hotel looks up and falls in love. The two share stories of the fates of their families, of a changing city, and of their political awakenings in the Gezi Park protests. Together, they navigate their histories of love and loss, set against a backdrop of societal tension leading up to the tragic bombing that marked a turn in Turkey’s democracy—and sent a young girl fleeing into the trees.
Narrated by one of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary fiction—as full of audacious humor and irony as she is of rage and grief—this unsparing and poetic novel of political madness, precarious dreams, and the will to survive brilliantly captures a girl’s road to defiance in a world turned upside down, in which it is only from the treetops that she can find a grip on reality—and the promise of hope. A coming of age story among Turkish books.
Snapping Point – Asli Biçen
One of the Turkish books set in Aegean. ‘But for that slender connection with the mainland, Andalıç would have been a regular island,’ says Aslı Biçen in the opening chapter of this deliciously multi-layered novel. And it would have been an ordinary story about love and loss, if it weren’t for the earthquake that unexpectedly sets the landmass afloat on the Aegean, kindling a series of increasingly oppressive measures by the authorities; ostensibly to keep public order.
As Andalıç drifts between Greece and Turkey, things get from bad to worse, until eventually our heroes, Cemal and Jülide, join the growing resistance, and even nature lends a helping hand, offering a secret underground system that plays its part in ousting the tyranny.
What starts as the realistic tale of a charming provincial town develops into a richly detailed political novel in a fantastic setting. Biçen’s dreamy language weaves a flowing style that transports the reader into every nook and cranny of Andalıç and the crystal-clear waters of the Aegean; her metaphors are imaginative, her observations insightful, and her descriptions melodious. For the ones looking for political fiction among Turkish books.
A Long Day’s Evening – Bilge Karasu
“One of Turkey’s most interesting modern writers.”—Booklist
When the Emperor of Byzantium orders the destruction of all religious paintings and icons, Constantinople is thrown into crisis. Fear grips the monastery where Andronikos, a young monk, is thrown into a spiritual crisis. Amidst stirrings of resistance, he decides to escape, leaving behind his beloved Ioakim, who must confront his own crisis of faith and decide where to place his allegiance.
The dualities of dogma and faith, individual and society, East and West, are embodied in a story of prohibited love and devotion to the unseen. An exciting one among Turkish books.
Two Green Otters – Buket Uzuner
When her mother abandons her family, Nilsu loses faith in the world and everyone in it. Then she meets Teo, a passionate environmentalist and one of the founders of the Turkish Green Party. Teo’s close relationship with his own mother has always held him back, and when she commits suicide, his life slips off the rails.
In this story of a young woman’s struggle to find love and acceptance, Buket Uzuner explores the complexities of human relationships while offering up an original reinterpretation of the role of both environmentalism and love in the world today. An environmentalist fiction among Turkish books.
The Kiss Murder – Mehmet Murat Somer
Late one night, our glamour-puss nightclub manager receives a visit from Buse. For many years, Buse has kept letters and photos of a compromising nature, from a former relationship with a powerful lover. But her apartment has been ransacked and Buse worries about the consequences.
Being an obliging sort, our detective agrees to help out, but what initially appears to be a personal favour turns out to have repercussions that run much deeper. When the web of intrigue reveals that an arch-conservative politician and maybe even the Mafia are involved, it’s time for our private eye to send out an urgent SOS via the underground Istanbul grapevine. For the ones looking for a hilarious mystery among Turkish books.
The Highly Unreliable Account of the History of a Madhouse – Ayfer Tunç
The Highly Unreliable Account of the History of a Madhouse is an ever-expanding novel that moves at a dizzying pace. A literary panorama of Turkey that defies boundaries spatial or temporal: one end in the 19th century, and the other in the 21st. A book of human landscapes that startles anew with a completely unexpected turn of events, immediately after deceiving the reader into thinking the end of a plotline might be in sight.
The novel starts in a small-town mental asylum with its back to the Black Sea, and weaves its way through a highly entertaining chain of interlinked lives, each link a complex and bewildering personality. The Highly Unreliable Account follows the trails of political and social milestones left on individual lives across a span of nearly a century. An interesting and beautiful one among Turkish books.