These are my favorite Turkish books and novels of all time. I included a brief introduction of the amazing Turkish authors that brought these stories to life for us.
1. The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
The Bastard of Istanbul is a 2006 novel by the Turkish bestselling author Elif Shafak. The book was written originally in English and translated to the author’s native language Turkish under the title Baba ve Piç.
The Bastard of Istanbul tells the story of a nineteen-year-old Armenian American girl living in San Francisco named Armanoush. Armanoush feels that a part of her identity is missing and that she must make a journey back to the past, to Turkey, in order to start living her life.
When she secretly flew to Istanbul, she met the Kazanci sisters and became friends with Asya. The bastard of Istanbul then uncovers a secret connection between the two families and ties them to a violent event in the history of their homeland. This dramatic book about Turkey is filled with humor, understanding, desire to examine the past.
About the author Elif Shafak
Elif Shafak is one of Turkey’s most acclaimed and outspoken novelists. She was born in 1971 and is the author of six novels, most recently The Saint of Incipient Insanities, The Gaze and The Flea Palace, and one work of non-fiction. She teaches at the University of Arizona and divides her time between the US and Istanbul.
2. My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
Generally, when a book starts out with a chapter entitled “I Am A Corpse,” you know it’s going to be pretty good. My Name Is Red (Benim Adım Kırmızı) in Turkish is a 1998 Turkish novel by the famous Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk and translated into English in 2001.
The novel has been translated into more than 60 languages since its publication. My name is Red is truly a remarkable piece of literature where the Turkish writer chose to narrate the story in an extraordinary way—through multiple narrators, of whom many are dead, inanimate, or abstract. The novel revolves around miniaturists, the painters who create Turkish book arts, using elements of Chinese art, illumination, calligraphy, and forms of detailed colors and contouring.
It has also elements of romance, mystery, and murder, Turkish political conflict, and a close inspection of art and its influence on those who create it, as well as those who admire it. Also, it allows room for various philosophical discussions concerning the purpose of art and, perhaps more importantly, the distinctions between Islamic states and Western Europe.
3. Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
Orhan Pamuk’s bestselling Istanbul: Memories of a City is a triumphant encounter of place and sensibility, beautifully written, and immensely moving. A shimmering evocation, by turns intimate and panoramic, of one of the world’s great cities, by its foremost writer. Orhan’s portrait of his city is thus a self-portrait, refracted by memory and the melancholy–or hüzün– that all Istanbullus share: the sadness that comes of living amid the ruins of a lost empire.
With cinematic fluidity, Pamuk moves from his glamorous, unhappy parents to the gorgeous, decrepit mansions overlooking the Bosphorus; from the dawning of his self-consciousness to the writers and painters–both Turkish and foreign–who would shape his consciousness of his city. Like Joyce’s Dublin and Borges’ Buenos Aires, Pamuk’s Istanbul is a triumphant encounter of place and sensibility, beautifully written, and immensely moving.
About the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk
Ferit Orhan Pamuk is one of Turkey’s most prominent novelists. His work has sold over thirteen million books in sixty-three languages, making him the country’s best-selling writer. He received the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature for the book Istanbul: Memories and the city (2003). Pamuk is the author of novels including Silent House, The White Castle, The Black Book, The New Life, My Name Is Red, Snow, The Museum of Innocence, A Strangeness in My Mind, and The Red-Haired Woman.
4. The Time of Mute Swans by Ece Temelkuran
This timely, bestselling novel about a military coup in Turkey, told through the eyes of two children, resonates deeply with events there today. Set in Ankara in the tense summer leading up to the Turkish coup of 1980, this novel centers on two children, Ali and Ayşe, who contend with the strife of the adult world. Their families, though divided by class, share leftist sympathies, and are consequently vulnerable.
Intimate conflicts arise from public ones: a relationship with obtuse but seemingly harmless neighbors deteriorates, with grave consequences. The author, a well-known journalist critical of the current Turkish government, moves skillfully between history and fiction. The innocence of the children can be cloying—they plot to release butterflies inside the parliament building—but the end of that innocence is vividly evoked.
About the Turkish author Ece Temelkuran
Ece Temelkuran is a Turkish journalist and author. She was a columnist for Milliyet and Habertürk, and a presenter on Habertürk TV. She was fired then from Habertürk after writing articles critical of the government, especially its handling of the December 2011 Uludere massacre. She was twice named Turkey’s “most read political columnist”. Her columns have also been published in international media such as The Guardian and Le Monde Diplomatique.
5. Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin
An international bestseller by one of Turkey’s most beloved authors. As the daughter of one of Turkey’s last Ottoman pashas, Selva could win the heart of any man in Ankara. Yet the spirited young beauty only has eyes for Rafael Alfandari, the handsome Jewish son of an esteemed court physician. In defiance of their families, they marry, fleeing to Paris to build a new life.
When the Nazis invade France and begin rounding up Jews, the exiled lovers will learn that nothing—not war, not politics, not even religion—can break the bonds of family. For after they learn that Selva is but one of their fellow citizens trapped in France, a handful of brave Turkish diplomats hatch a plan to spirit the Alfandaris and hundreds of innocents, many of whom are Jewish, to safety.
Together, they must traverse a war-torn continent, crossing enemy lines and risking everything in a desperate bid for freedom. From Ankara to Paris, Cairo, and Berlin, Last Train to Istanbul is an uplifting tale of love and adventure from Turkey’s beloved bestselling novelist Ayşe Kulin.
About the Turkish author Ayse Kulin
Ayşe Kulin is a Turkish female short story writer, screenwriter, and novelist. Kulin graduated from the American College for Girls in Arnavutköy, Istanbul. She released a collection of short stories titled Güneşe Dön Yüzünü in 1984. A short story from this called Gülizar was made into a film titled Kırık Bebek in 1986, for which she won a screenplay award from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Kulin worked as a screenwriter, cinematographer, and producer for many films, television series, and advertisements.