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38 Books Set in Turkey That Will Transport You There

Turkey officially the Republic of Turkey, is a transcontinental country located mainly on the Anatolian peninsula in Western Asia, with a smaller portion on the Balkan peninsula in Southeastern Europe.  Turkey is a modern country with a captivating blend of antiquity and contemporary.  Its history and culture reflect the apparent contradictions often emanating from this always intriguing country.

Crystal clear waters, tall mountains, the ruins of ancient empires, small idyllic villages, huge cosmopolitan cities—Turkey’s many facets are what make it so unique and why it has continued to attract visitors.  If you’ve never visited or you’re simply longing to go back, these books set in Turkey are sure to transport you there and inspire a future adventure!

The Time of Mute Swans by Ece Temelkuran (2017)

This timely, bestselling novel about a military coup in Turkey, told through the eyes of two children, resonates deeply with events there today.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934)

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. Without a shred of doubt, one of his fellow passengers is the murderer.

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak (2017)

Three Daughters of Eve is set over an evening in contemporary Istanbul, as Peri arrives at the party and navigates the tensions that simmer in this crossroads country between East and West, religious and secular, rich and poor. Competing in Peri’s mind, however, are the memories invoked by her almost-lost Polaroid, of the time years earlier when she was sent abroad for the first time, to attend Oxford University.

The Baklava Club by Jason Goodwin (2014)

Join Investigator Yashim for a final exotic escapade in this rich Edgar Award-winning series

In four previous novels, Jason Goodwin’s Inspector Yashim, the eunuch detective, has led us through stylish, suspenseful, and colorful mysteries in the Istanbul of the Ottoman Empire. Now, in The Baklava Club, Yashim returns for his final adventure-and his most thrilling yet.

Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali (1943)

Available in English for the first time, this best-selling Turkish classic of love and alienation in a changing world captures the vibrancy of interwar Berlin. Emotionally powerful, intensely atmospheric, and touchingly profound, Madonna in a Fur Coat is an unforgettable novel about new beginnings, the relentless pull of family ties, and the unfathomable nature of the human soul.

A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk (2014)

Arriving in Istanbul as a boy, Mevlut Karataş is enthralled by both the old city that is disappearing and the new one that is fast being built. He becomes a street vendor, like his father, hoping to strike it rich, but luck never seems to be on Mevlut’s side. Told through the eyes of a diverse cast of characters, in A Strangeness in My Mind Nobel-prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk paints a brilliant tableau of life among the newcomers who have changed the face of Istanbul over the past fifty years.

Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga (1950)

Describes in chilling, yet affectionate, detail the disintegration of a wealthy Ottoman family, both financially and emotionally. It is rich with the scent of fin de siecle Istanbul in the last days of the Ottoman Empire.

The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak (2013)

Turkey’s preeminent female writer spins an epic tale spanning nearly a century in the life of the Ottoman Empire. In 1540, twelve-year-old Jahan arrives in Istanbul. As an animal tamer in the sultan’s menagerie, he looks after the exceptionally smart elephant Chota and befriends (and falls for) the sultan’s beautiful daughter, Princess Mihrimah. A palace education leads Jahan to Mimar Sinan, the empire’s chief architect, who takes Jahan under his wing as they construct (with Chota’s help) some of the most magnificent buildings in history. Yet even as they build Sinan’s triumphant masterpieces–the incredible Suleymaniye and Selimiye mosques–dangerous undercurrents begin to emerge, with jealousy erupting among Sinan’s four apprentices.

The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar (1954)

Perhaps the greatest Turkish novel of the twentieth century, being discovered around the world more than fifty years after its first publication, The Time Regulation Institute is an antic, freewheeling send-up of the modern bureaucratic state.

More by Hakan Günday (2016)

In this timely and important book, one of the first novels to document the refugee crisis in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, we see firsthand how the realities of war, violence, and migration affect the daily lives of the people who live there. This is a powerful exploration of the unfolding crisis by one of Turkey’s most exciting and critically acclaimed young writers who writes unflinchingly about social issues.

Memed, My Hawk by Yaşar Kemal (1955)

Memed, a high-spirited, kindhearted boy, grows up in a desperately poor mountain village whose inhabitants are kept in virtual slavery by the local landlord. Determined to escape from the life of toil and humiliation to which he has been born, he flees but is caught, tortured, and nearly killed. When at last he does get away, it is to set up as a roving brigand, celebrated in song, who could be a liberator to his people–unless, like the thistles that cover the mountain slopes of his native region, his character has taken an irremediably harsh and unforgiving form.

Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon (2012)

Played out against the bazaars and mosques and faded mansions of this knowing, ancient Ottoman city, Istanbul Passage is the unforgettable story of a man swept up in the dawn of the Cold War, of an unexpected love affair, and of a city as deceptive as the calm surface waters of the Bosphorus that divides it.

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay (1956)

Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond tells the gleefully absurd story of Aunt Dot, Father Chantry-Pigg, Aunt Dot’s deranged camel, and our narrator, Laurie, who are traveling from Istanbul to legendary Trebizond on a convoluted mission. Along the way they will encounter spies, a Greek sorcerer, a precocious ape, and Billy Graham with a busload of evangelists. Part travelogue, part comedy, it is also a meditation on love, faith, doubt, and the difficulties, moral and intellectual, of being a Christian in the modern world.

The Winter Thief by Jenny White (2010)

The Winter Thief explores the dark obsessions of the most powerful and dangerous men of the dying Ottoman Empire, as well as the era’s mad idealism.

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene (1970)

“I met Aunt Augusta for the first time at my mother’s funeral…”Described by Graham Greene as “the only book I have written just for the fun of it,” Travels with My Aunt is the story of Hanry Pulling, a retired and complacent bank manager who meets his septuagenarian Aunt Augusta for the first time at what he supposes to be his mother’s funeral. She soon persuades Henry to abandon his dull suburban existence to travel her way–winding through Brighton, Paris, Istanbul, and Paraguay. Through Aunt Augusta, one of Greene’s greatest comic creations, Henry joins a shiftless, twilight society; mixes with hippies, war criminals, and CIA men; smokes pot; and breaks all currency regulations.

Human Landscapes from my Country by Nazim Hikmet (2009)

Written during the Second World War while Hikmet was serving a thirteen-year sentence as a political prisoner, his verse-novel uses cinematic techniques to tell the story of the emergence of secular, modern Turkey by focusing on the always-entertaining stories of sundry characters from all walks of life.

Silent House by Orhan Pamuk (1983)

In a crumbling mansion in a gentrified former fishing village on the Turkish coast, the widow Fatma awaits the annual visit of her grandchildren: Faruk, a dissipated historian; his sensitive leftist sister, Nilgün; and Metin, a high schooler drawn to the fast life of the nouveaux riche. Bedridden, Fatma is attended by her faithful servant Recep, a dwarf–and her late husband’s illegitimate son. Mistress and servant share memories, and grievances, from the past. But the arrival of Recep’s cousin, Hasan, a fervent right-wing nationalist, threatens to draw the family into the political cataclysm arising from Turkey’s tumultuous century-long struggle for modernity.

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak (2009)

Turkish author Elif Shafak unfolds two tantalizing parallel narratives–one contemporary and the other set in the thirteenth century, when Rumi encountered his spiritual mentor, the whirling dervish known as Shams of Tabriz–that together incarnate the poet’s timeless message of love.

The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk (1990)

Galip is an Istanbul lawyer, and his wife (as well as first cousin), Ruya, has vanished. Could she be hiding out with her half brother (who also happens to be Galip’s first cousin), Jelal, a newspaper columnist whose fame Galip envies? And if so, why isn’t anyone in Jelal’s flat? As Galip plays the part of private investigator, he assumes the identity of Jelal himself, wearing his clothes, answering his phone calls, even faking his wry columns, which he passes off as the work of the missing journalist. But the amateur sleuth bungles his undercover operation, and with dire consequences.

Turkish Reflections by Mary Lee Settle (1991)

Mary Settle offers us an intimate portrait of a Turkey rarely seen-a land where the cutting of a tree is a crime, where goats are sacrificed to launch state-of-the-art ships, and where whole towns emerge at dusk to stroll in the streets. She finds ancient monasteries converted into discos, underground cities carved out of rock, and sleek jet-set yachts alongside camels piled high with copper pots. She follows in the footsteps of emperors and nomads, sultans and shepherds; explores the trails blazed by Alexander the Great, Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, and Ataturk. “Turkish Reflections” is a cross-country odyssey into history, legend, mystery, and myth.

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk (2008)

It is 1975, a perfect spring in Istanbul. Kemal and Sibel, children of two prominent families, are about to become engaged. But when Kemal encounters Füsun, a beautiful shopgirl and a distant relation, he becomes enthralled. And once they violate the code of virginity, a rift begins to open between Kemal and the world of the Westernized Istanbul bourgeoisie. In his pursuit of Füsun over the next eight years, Kemal becomes a compulsive collector of objects that chronicle his lovelorn progress–amassing a museum that is both a map of a society and of his heart.

My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk (1998)

At once a fiendishly devious mystery, a beguiling love story, and a brilliant symposium on the power of art, My Name Is Red is a transporting tale set amid the splendor and religious intrigue of sixteenth-century Istanbul, from one of the most prominent contemporary Turkish writers.

Gardens of Water by Alan Drew (2008)

Gardens of Water is an enthralling story of two families, and two faiths, in Turkey at the time of the cataclysm of 1999. It tells of Sinan, whose daughter, Irem, dreams of escaping the confines of her family and the duties of a devout Muslim woman. She sees in Dylan, an American boy and her upstairs neighbor, the enticing promise of another life. But then a massive earthquake forces Sinan and his family to live as refugees in their own country and leads to a dangerous intimacy with their American neighbors, as Irem and Dylan fall in love. When Sinan finds himself entangled in a series of increasingly dangerous decisions, he will be pushed toward a final betrayal that will change everyone’s lives forever.

The Gaze by Elif Shafak (1999)

The Gaze is a humorous and carnivalesque exploration of what it means to look and be looked at.  An obese woman and her lover, a dwarf, are sick of being stared at wherever they go and so decide to reverse roles. The man goes out wearing make-up and the woman draws a mustache on her face. This elegant, unforgettable novel explores our desire to look at others.

Istanbul Noir by Mustafa Ziyalan (2008)

Comprised of entirely new stories by some of Turkey’s most exciting authors–some still up-and-coming, others well-established and critically acclaimed in their homeland–as well as by a couple of “outsiders” temporarily held hostage in the city’s vice, Istanbul Noir introduces a whole new breed of talent. As you succumb to the wiles of the city’s storytellers, however, be warned–their narrators are notoriously unreliable, and their readers even more so.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak (2019)

A moving novel on the power of friendship in our darkest times.

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin (2002)

As the daughter of one of Turkey’s last Ottoman pashas, Selva could win the heart of any man in Ankara. Yet the spirited young beauty only has eyes for Rafael Alfandari, the handsome Jewish son of an esteemed court physician. In defiance of their families, they marry, fleeing to Paris to build a new life. But when the Nazis invade France, the exiled lovers will learn that nothing–not war, not politics, not even religion–can break the bonds of family.

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak (2007)

he Bastard of Istanbul tells the story of their two families–and a secret connection linking them to a violent event in the history of their homeland. Filed with humor and understanding, this exuberant, dramatic novel is about memory and forgetting, about the need to examine the past and the desire to erase it, and about Turkey itself.

The Abyssinian Proof by Jenny White (2007)

Constantinople, May 1453. In the dying days of the Byzantine Empire, Isaak Metochites and his family are entrusted with a silver reliquary carved with the figure of a weeping angel and the inscription: Behold the Proof of Chora, Container of the Uncontainable. Four hundred years later, magistrate Kamil Pasha is plagued by thefts of antiquities from mosques and churches and a series of murders in which the bodies bear the same distinctive mark.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk (2002)

An exiled poet named Ka returns to Turkey and travels to the forlorn city of Kars. His ostensible purpose is to report on a wave of suicides among religious girls forbidden to wear their head-scarves. But Ka is also drawn by his memories of the radiant Ipek, now recently divorced. Amid blanketing snowfall and universal suspicion, Ka finds himself pursued by figures ranging from Ipek’s ex-husband to a charismatic terrorist.

The Flea Palace by Elif Shafak (2002)

The Flea Palace is a moving and highly original novel about a group of individuals who live in the same building and who together become embroiled in a mystery. By turns comic and tragic, The Flea Palace is an outstandingly original novel driven by an overriding sense of social justice.

The Sultan’s Seal by Jenny White (2006)

Rich in sensuous detail, this first novel brilliantly captures the political and social upheavals of the waning Ottoman Empire. The naked body of a young Englishwoman washes up in Istanbul wearing a pendant inscribed with the seal of the deposed sultan. The death resembles the murder by strangulation of another English governess, a crime that was never solved.

Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk (2003)

Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul and still lives in the family apartment building where his mother first held him in her arms. His portrait of his city is thus also a self-portrait, refracted by memory and the melancholy-or hüzün- that all Istanbullus share: the sadness that comes of living amid the ruins of a lost empire.

The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin (2006)

This first book in the Investigator Yashim series is a richly entertaining tale, full of exotic history and intrigue, introduces Investigator Yashim: In 1830s Istanbul, an extra-ordinary hero tackles an extraordinary plot that threatens to topple the Ottoman Empire.

Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières (2004)

Louis de Bernières creates a world, populates it with characters as real as our best friends, and launches it into the maelstrom of twentieth-century history. The setting is a small village in southwestern Anatolia in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. Everyone there speaks Turkish, though they write it in Greek letters. It’s a place that has room for a professional blasphemer; where a brokenhearted aga finds solace in the arms of a Circassian courtesan who isn’t Circassian at all; where a beautiful Christian girl named Philothei is engaged to a Muslim boy named Ibrahim. But all of this will change when Turkey enters the modern world.

Songs My Mother Never Taught Me by Selçuk Altun (2005)

After the death of his overbearing mother, the privileged Arda reclines in his wealth, reflecting on his young life and on the life of his father, the famous mathematician Mursel Ergenekon, who was murdered on Arda’s fourteenth birthday. While on the other side of the city, “your humble servant” Bedirhan has decided to pack in his ten-year career as an assassin. Their two lives become intrinsically bound in this remarkable thriller that takes us through the streets of Istanbul.

Sleeping In The Forest by Sait Faik (2004)

Sait Faik’s fiction ranges from the realistic to the surrealistic, from the romantic to the modern, from the cynical to the compassionate. With virtuosic skill, he captures the spirit and the spleen of the city of Istanbul and its environs. Sleeping in the Forest features twenty-two stories, an excerpt from a novella, and fifteen poems rendered into English by some of the best-known translators of Turkish literature.

Constantinople by Edmondo de Amicis (2005)

A remarkable nineteenth-century account of Istanbul – which begins with a dazzling description of the city gradually appearing through the fog as the author’s ship approaches the harbour – Constantinople expertly combines personal anecdote, breathtaking visual observation and entertaining historical information.

What do you think of these books set in Turkey?

Have you been to Turkey before or is it on your bucket list?  Have you read any of these books set in Turkey?  Do you know any books set in Turkey that I may have missed?  Let me know your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions about Turkey and books set there in the comments below!

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