With fewer than 600 books of translated fiction and poetry published in the US in 2014, foreign literature needs the support of dedicated readers. International interest in Turkish fiction received a huge boost from Orhan Pamuk’s Nobel Prize win – but he’s only the tip of the iceberg. Dive further into this rich pool with The Guide Istanbul’s picks of the best Turkish novels and poetry either translated into or written in English.
The Time Regulation Institute, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar
This masterful satire studies the transition from the Eastern-influenced Ottoman Empire to the Western-facing Turkish Republic through the character of Hayri İrdal, who discovers the dangers of success at the absurd Time Regulation Institute. With the help of fabricated saint Ahmet the Timely, Hayri and the amoral entrepreneur Halit Ayarcı use the institute to profit from the new Republican ideology.
The Black Book, Orhan Pamuk
Though lesser-known than My Name Is Red or The Museum of Innocence, this novel by Pamuk is perhaps the best demonstration of his postmodern style. Taking the form of a complex detective story about identity and the city of Istanbul itself, The Black Book skillfully places stories within stories while retaining a strong element of suspense. This book is considered the one in which Pamuk discovered his distinctive voice in Turkish literature, and it remains a classic today.
The Architect’s Apprentice, Elif Şafak
London-based writer Şafak achieved her most ambitious work in The Architect’s Apprentice, which tells the story of an Indian boy who travels with a white elephant to work with Ottoman master architect Mimar Sinan. This novel covers a century of Ottoman history through a plot filled with outcasts and intrigue, using the era’s majestic architecture as a metaphor for the personal and social worlds that humans can create.
Memed, My Hawk, Yaşar Kemal
Before Pamuk, much-loved novelist Kemal had been Turkey’s prime candidate for the Nobel Prize, drawing on his rustic upbringing near the Taurus Mountains to become the scribe of the country’s folk conscience. This rousing tale of a young boy driven into a life of banditry by the wicked landowner Abdi Ağa has become an international classic, being translated into over 40 languages.
A Useless Man: Selected Stories, Sait Faik Abasıyanık
Spending much of his time on the Marmara Sea island of Burgazada, Sait Faik revolutionized the Turkish short story, applying a Chekhovian style to the simple people he encountered. Faik’s recurring characters were waiters, priests, fishermen, the unemployed, and children; through his compassionate eye and ear, he captured these characters and their ways of life in prose of rough beauty.
Beyond the Walls: Selected Poems, Nazım Hikmet
Revered as Turkey’s national poet, Hikmet was also a bastion of the left, spending 17 years in prison for expressing Communist sympathies in his work. This punishment produced many of Hikmet’s best poems, which fuse autobiography with a passionate love for the people of his country. Hikmet’s poetry, which draws on Russian futurism and the avant-garde, has been published in over 50 languages.
Night, Bilge Karasu
Winner of the Pegasus Prize for Literature, this postmodern novel focuses on a writer who has been marked for assassination in an Orwellian system of political control. Through multiple narrators and footnotes, Karasu creates a disorientating interrogation of the terrors and responsibilities of fiction, encouraging readers to question the place of the author in his work.