I like to read several books before each trip to have a better understanding of the culture and the local life of my next destination. Of course there are the travel guides I read before leaving or even before choosing my next destination, but my favourites are fiction novels. I like to read stories that take place in that country or whose authors are from that country.
Below is a great list of non-travel books about Turkey, some from Turkish authors. If you are considering travelling to Turkey soon, create time to read at least few of them, perhaps they will make you realize your dream trip sooner than expected.
1) Yasar Kemal, The Birds Have Also Gone
A short novel from one of Turkey’s internationally recognised and widely read authors who has also been a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. In this book, author tells the story of three boys who are struggling to survive in the constantly changing environment of the big city: Istanbul.
2) John David Tumpane, Scotch and Holy Water
Entertaining book on Turkish people and life in Turkey written by American author who lived in Turkey for 10 years. From the view of a Turkish person you may find the author arrogant and the observations exaggerated but it will surely be helpful to Americans in understanding Turkish thinking. “We arrived in Istanbul via Pan Am after midnight. On the way into the city, all the neon signs looked so strange to me: Tuzcuoglu, Haci Bekir Lokumlari, Koc. I thought, I’ll never be able to learn this language. Then I saw a sign reading Is Bankasi and I was sure the word “bank” was lurking somewhere in there. Since I knew one word of Turkish already, I decided to stay”
3) Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul Memories and the City
The Nobel Prize winner recalls the Istanbul of his youth. Istanbul’s melancholy enriched his childhood and continues to inspire him. “… the melancholy of this dying culture was all around us. Great as the desire to westernise and modernise may have been, the more desperate wish, it seemed, was to be rid of all the bitter memories of the fallen empire: rather as a spurned lover throws away his lost beloved’s clothes, possessions and photographs”
4) Mustafa Ziyalan and Amy Spangler (editors), Istanbul Noir
Comprised of by 16 stories, all original, some of Turkey’s most exciting authors; the result is an underground portrait of the city and of Turkey, told in evocative, often poetic, and powerful language.
5) Louis de Bernières, Birds Without Wings
Birds Without Wings is a novel by Louis de Bernières, telling the tragic love story of Philothei, a Christian girl and Ibrahim her childhood friend and Muslim. The story is set in Eskibahçe, a small fictional village; although fiction, the setting of Eskibahçe is based upon Kayaköy village near Fethiye, the ruins of which still exist today; a beautiful historic romantic novel.
6) Elif Safak, The Flea Palace
Safak is a young Turkish novelist, writer of best-sellers in Turkey, France and Bulgaria. The Flea Palace is a novel about daily routines of the inhabitants of an apartment building in Istanbul named BonBon Palace, miniature representation of the city itself, the city of contrasts and contradictions, the city where East meets West. Here is an extract from The Flea Palace: “Istanbul was under a heavy fog that morning, and as all Istanbulites knew too well, during foggy days even the city herself could not tell what her colour was. However, Agripina Fyodorovna Antipova had always been pampered with great care since birth and had been subsequently led to presume that others were to blame whenever she could not obtain anything she desired…”
7) Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey
A nonfiction anthology created and edited by Anastasia M. Ashman & Jennifer Eaton Gokmen. The collection includes the life experiences of 32 expatriate women from seven nations and five continents, whose collective experience spans over the past four decades. These diverse women describe religion, culture, conflicts, traditions and customs with the perspective of foreign women living and working in Turkey. They will take you to Istanbul’s narrow streets, to warm homes, and to steamy Hamams. If you are planning to visit Turkey soon this book is a great read to warm your heart to Turkish people.