These novels – and one classical epic – evoke the cities, landscapes and cultures of Turkey ‘you’re unlikely to find on a beach holiday’
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While Turkey can be proud of its literary traditions – especially poetry heavily influenced by Persian verse forms – it is nevertheless a nation without its own Tolstoy, Flaubert or Austen. Only in the 20th century, when the fall of the Ottomans signalled a decisive tilt west, did the country begin to turn out great novelists. Not that these writers received the acclaim they might have enjoyed elsewhere – for while the country’s film industry has largely come to prominence by peddling glossily escapist versions of the country to global audiences, its novelists have asked the harder questions, often paying for their pains with state harassment, prison spells or worse. Put another way, some of the books I’ve selected will take you to a Turkey you’re unlikely to know from your beach holidays.
Not that this need deter you: if this is a literature often preoccupied with dark and difficult issues – despotism, domestic violence and minority rights, not least for Armenians – it’s delivered with consummate verve and distinctive style, not least by Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, Elif Shafak and other Turkish writers now deservedly being published abroad, such as Ece Temelkuran. Expect your reading to take you to Istanbul, Turkish fiction’s undisputed centre of gravity, but also to the provinces, sometimes with foreign writers. Among these are Louis de Bernieres, whose Birds Without Wings, arguably his masterpiece, was inspired by a visit to the haunting abandoned settlement of Kayaköy on Turkey’s touristy Mediterranean coast.