Top 7 Books to Read Before Traveling to Turkey

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.

Books Set in Turkey – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

Rich in history, art and culture, Turkey is the place where Asia and Europe meet — all combining to make a fascinating holiday destination. But Turkey has a complex history, and if you really want to get under the skin of this intriguing country, then reading books set in Turkey is a great place to start. The novels below will help you to scratch beneath the surface of the tourist brochures and holiday posters, deepening your understanding of this beautiful and passionate country. Why not give them a go before setting off on your travels?

‘Birds without Wings’ by Louis de Bernières

Through the eyes of the residents of a small village in southwestern Turkey, this novel tells the story of how modern Turkey was created at the turn of the 20th century. Through ordinary men and women, characters you will grow to love, you can witness the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the new, secular state that emerges. This is a book that tourist guides have been known to recommend, to help people understand the history of their country just that little bit more.

‘The Flea Palace’ by Elif Shafak

The city of Istanbul is a character itself in this delightful novel about the residents of the Bonbon Palace. Through the lives of the residents of the ten rundown apartments, we have a portrait of modern day Turkish society.

‘Enlightenment’ by Maureen Freely

Beginning in 2005, this political thriller tells the story of American ex-patriot Jeannie Wakefield, whose husband is arrested for links to terrorism. As the story is looked into by an investigative journalist, we are taken back to 1970’s Istanbul and the following decades of political turmoil. The novel traces actual historical events as it gives a picture of the complex politics and society of modern day Turkey, as well as throwing light on the background to present day Turkish-American relations.

‘Gardens of Water’ by Alan Drew

On August 17, 1999, northwestern Turkey was hit by a powerful earthquake which killed around 17,000 people and left about half a million without homes. This novel is the story of one Kurdish family during that earthquake and its aftermath, as they struggle to rebuild their lives and keep their culture intact amongst the challenge of living in a refugee camp, the influence of forbidden love, and the relentless despair of their own grief.

‘The Museum of Innocence’ by Orhan Pamuk

A list of novels about Turkey wouldn’t be complete without a book by the Nobel-prize winning Pamuk. Like most of his books, Innocence is a hefty and challenging read, but this story of obsessive love gives a wonderful picture of the emerging modernity of 1970’s Istanbul. A brief affair with his young cousin leads 30-year old Kemal to a life-long obsession with the memory of their relationship. He begins to collect mundane objects for a museum to honor their love, and his life passes as if nothing else matters. In a wonderful blending of fact and fiction, you may soon be able to visit Pamuk’s real ‘Museum of Innocence’ which he is currently building in Instanbul, a place where he intends to display a collection of everyday objects he has amassed over his lifetime.

So if you are itching to get yourself on that plane to explore Turkey as soon as possible, make an early start with these novels. I can guarantee that as you walk around the markets of Istanbul or sit by the Bosphorous Strait watching all the activity, there will be many moments when the characters from these novels will feel like they are right by your side.