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Five of the best books about Turkey
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Five of the best books about Turkey

Turkey is a nation that likes to tell stories – over long conversations in tea houses, in songs and epics, and yes, in print too. As Turkey passes its centenary, here are five of the best books to understand the country’s first 100 years.

Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga

Reflecting on his childhood, Orga remembers eating melon, on ice, on a silver plate when he first heard the drums of war – those that announced, all over Istanbul, that the first world war had begun. For him and others in Turkey, nearly a decade of violence would follow. This memoir captures the founding years of the Turkish republic and the pain of those who lived through it, as Orga describes his wealthy Ottoman family’s descent into poverty and humiliation. It is intimately and beautifully written, though make sure to read the epilogue for the twist about who the author really was …

The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar

Set in early republican Istanbul, Tanpinar’s novel was a groundbreaking satire of the politics of early Turkey – namely, the project to modernise the nation, with reforms at once liberating and overbearing. The book follows the eponymous fictional institute as it attempts to make sure all its citizens and their watches are kept to correct time. At times playful and absurd, beneath Tanpinar’s prose is a deep love for the city. “The evening unfurled like a ribbon,” he writes, describing Istanbul’s sunsets, “whose colours ran from wine dark to golden.”

The Poems of Nazim Hikmet, translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk

Turkey’s best loved and coolest poet, Hikmet was a communist imprisoned in Turkey and exiled to Moscow, whose work was officially banned in the country of his birth for years. His poetry is known for its human scale, for the stories of everyday people told in everyday Turkish (and translated brilliantly here). And though he was a political figure, he was a romantic above all.

Dear Shameless Death by Latife Tekin

Perhaps the defining change in Turkey over its second half-century can be summed up by one fact: in 1950, Istanbul’s population was around one million; today it stands at 16 million. Centred on a young girl called Dirmit and her family, Tekin’s novel was one of the first to give voice to those millions who came from village to city. Magical realist in style, the book pays respect to those they brought with them too – a world of angels and djinn, characters Tekin treats as just as real as Dirmit, her family and the rest.

I Will Never See the World Again by Ahmet Altan

In 2016, writer Altan was arrested and sent to prison, along with his brother and tens of thousands more – the victims of Turkey’s purges after its failed attempted coup. Yet still Altan wanted to write. And so, over a period of seven months, he smuggled out handwritten notes to his lawyers, slowly putting together a memoir of his time in Silivri, Turkey’s biggest and most notorious jail. Written with a novelist’s precision, it is a testament to Turks’ enduring belief in the power of stories. “Like all writers, I have magic,” Altan writes. “I can pass through your walls with ease”.

  • The Endless Country: A Personal Journey Through Turkey’s First Hundred Years by Sami Kent is published by Picador (£20). To support the Guardian and the Observer order your copy from guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

Source: theguardian.com