Turkish Literature: Where diverse culture meets unique literature

Disclaimer: Previously known by the Anglicized spelling of Turkey, President Erdoğan has asked the international community to recognize the nation by its Turkish spelling, Türkiye, on June 28th, 2022.

Türkiye is a country distinguished by it’s blend of European and Asian culture. Although after speaking with some locals, they consider themselves not to be European, Asian, or Middle eastern, but to be Turkish is to be completely unique.

Inspired by the welcoming culture and delicious food (delicious is an understatement), I decided I would dive into the literature scene—my favorite thing to research about a new place.

Turkish authors have long faced restrictions in publication by state censorship, thus decreasing accessibility and readership. Another barrier Turkish literature has also faced is the lack of translations outside of Türkiye, limiting the audience. Despite the circumstances, some beautiful works of literature have been produced.

Without further ado, here’s my curated list of literature by Turkish authors:

1. The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

Since I have an affinity for translated literature, this book had been on my to-be-read list for a while. Orhan Pamuk is a nobel prize winner and the book has been highly praised. Pamuk is known as the storyteller of Istanbul. He’s one of the most read, translated, and bestselling Turkish authors to this day. He is also a professor at Columbia University.

The Museum of Innocence details a protagonist who struggles with his engagement to a girl of another prominent family, and ends up having an affair with a younger woman. We also see the birth of a new Istanbul in the period moving from the old-world traditions and influence of Western modernization.

“In fact no one recognizes the happiest moment of their lives as they are living it. It may well be that, in a moment of joy, one might sincerely believe that they are living that golden instant “now,” even having lived such a moment before, but whatever they say, in one part of their hearts they still believe in the certainty of a happier moment to come. Because how could anyone, and particularly anyone who is still young, carry on with the belief that everything could only get worse: If a person is happy enough to think he has reached the happiest moment of his life, he will be hopeful enough to believe his future will be just as beautiful, more so.”

Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence

2. Poems of Nâzım Hikmet

Hikmet gained worldwide recognition for his anti-imperialist and anti-war stances, which unfortunately, but not surprisingly considering the government, ended him in prison for much of his adult life. It was here that he wrote much of his poetry. His works were banned until the 1990s, while effectively still banned up until 2013. His works have been translated into over 50 languages.

Hikmet was known for his lyrical flow and became a leader of the Turkish avant-garde. One of his renowned collections of poetry is ‘Things I didn’t know I loved’ which I found the price to be upwards of $1,500 USD on Amazon…!

“It’s 1962, March 28th. I’m sitting by the window, on the Prage-Berlin train, night is falling. I never knew I liked night; descending like a tired bird on a smokey, wet plane. I don’t like comparing nightfall to a tired bird. I didn’t know I loved the Earth. Can someone who hasn’t worked the Earth love it? I’ve never worked the Earth, it must be my only platonic love.”

Nâzım Hikmet, Things I didn’t know I loved

3. Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali

Madonna in a Fur Coat is one of Türkiye’s most widely read books. We follow the journey of the protagonist, of Turkish descent, who moves to Berlin in the 1920s. Ali might’ve chosen Berlin as the setting because he studied in Potsdam, a small town outside of Berlin, for two years of a fellowship. He meets a woman who ends up haunting him for the rest of his life. This is an intense book, a very emotional read, and an exploration on the human soul. Highly recommend.

“The logic in our minds had always been at odds with the logic of life itself.”

Sabahattin Ali, Madonna in a Fur Coat

Of course these are only a few picks out of an entire culture of enriching reading. If you have any suggestions for those of us interested in Turkish literature please leave them below 🙂

If you like this type of post, you’re in luck! Each country I visit this summer before my master’s program starts I’ll be researching famous literature from the region. Any recommendations? 🙂

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17 thoughts on “Turkish Literature: Where diverse culture meets unique literature

  1. I may add to your excellent choice of Turkish books The Bastard of Istanbul by bestselling author Elif Shafak, written originally in English. I let you discover both the author and the book. It’s astonishing, intriguing, and with unforgettable characters. I am fond of literature, if you let me know which countries you will be traveling, I may think about some books.

    1. Thank you, I’ve added it to my to-be-read list 🙂 I’m in Montenegro now and will be writing an article on literature here if you have any recommendations for me to read before I publish it. Always open to hear more great book recs!

  2. Fantastic post Ellle!

    I am with @crisbiecoach on this one. Please check out ‘The Forty Rules of Love’ by Elif Shafak. Such a page turner!

    1. Hey A.B., I’ve added the 40 rules of love to be to-be-read list as well by shafak! thanks for the recommendation and great to hear from you 🙂

  3. I’d second the recommendation of the Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak, my favorite of her novels. I am currently reading Pamuk’s new novel “Nights of Plague” about a plague outbreak on the fictitious island of Mingheria in the early 20th century, it reminds me a lot of Camus’ “La Peste” (The Plague).

    1. Hey Jim, thanks for the recommendation! I’ve added it to my list of books to read and I’m excited to jump into it. I haven’t read La Peste but I love Camus and it’s been on my list for awhile. Best of reading!

  4. Thank you for introducing Turkish literature to the world. As a Turkish citizen, I have read these books, but you would be surprised if I told you that the best works of our literature are yet to be translated 🙂

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