Who are the well-known Turkish authors and what are their best works?
If you’re keen to find out, we got you covered!
Join us as we explore the pages of novels, poems, and essays crafted by these talented Turkish authors.
They each offer a unique perspective and a profound insight into the heart and soul of Turkey!
Turkey is situated at the intersection of geographical and political borders. However, Turkey’s social and historical context is more interesting as it is divided between its modern identity and its Ottoman past. Hence, Turkish authors and Turkish books embody this profound contrast. In recent times, an increasing number of contemporary Turkish authors have written both fiction and non-fiction works exploring this subject.
This country’s social, political, and religious life constantly swings like a pendulum. It is because while people have a nostalgia for the Ottoman era, they have simultaneously embraced modern Turkey, but without fully assimilating into it. It is an interesting scenario which has given the word literature some of the best Turkish novels in English.
When you read a list of books about Turkey, you will be amused to read how much the characters in these best Turkish novels are trying to run away from the past while looking at modern Turkey with suspicion. Sometimes, one character is modernist, and the other is traditionalist. Other times, society is conservative, characters are modernist. All these contrasts in the context of social, political, and religious life have given us some of the best Turkish novels in English.
Without further due, let’s delve into the list of best Turkish novels by Turkish authors. Explore the past and present through the lens of contemporary Turkish authors!
When talking about contemporary Turkish authors, Orhan Pamuk needs no introduction. The Nobel laureate author, born in Istanbul, has written many novels such as “The Museum of Innocence“, “Snow“, “Nights of Plague“, “The New Life“, among many others. However, among Orhan Pamuk’s best books, the timeless classic “My Name Is Red” stands out.
“My Name Is Red” is a magnum opus of Turkish literature. This literary piece will take you back to the late 16th century Ottoman Empire, and revolves around miniature artists as well as a murder mystery which has already happened on the first page. When it comes to the theme, the in-depth cultural clash between traditional Islamic art and the influences of European Renaissance art. Undoubtedly, it is one of the best Orhan Pamuk books that made him an authority figure in world literature.
Although Elif Shafak is famous for “The Forty Rules Of Love” , there are many others in her best novels collection, and “The Bastard of Istanbul” is one of them. Elif Shafak, being one of the most prominent contemporary Turkish female writers, garners recognition for addressing sensitive subjects in Turkish society through her writing. It is the writer’s job, however, to confront the ghosts that people or society in general avoid to confront.
“The Bastard of Istanbul” is such a novel which digs deeper into the stories of two families, one living in Turkey and another living in America, both having the same Armenian roots. This novel perfectly blends history, culture, and identity to confront the past. It stands as one of the finest Turkish novels in English and holds a place in Elif Shafak’s book list and is available in Turkish and many other languages.
In the art world, many instances occur where a music, movie, painting, or book is published or released but goes unnoticed, failing to make any impression. “Madonna in a Fur Coat” is one such example, which was published in 1943 but very few copies were sold. Only recently, readers in Turkey, and eventually worldwide, have discovered a sense of remorse in an unrequited love story destined for doom. The book was a bestseller for many years, outselling Orhan Pamuk’s “A Strangeness in My Mind”.
The novel tells the story of a young Turkish man, Raif Efendi, who travels to Berlin in the 1920s to look for a job amid economic uncertainty in Turkey. As fate would have it, he falls in love with a beautiful girl known as “Madonna” because of the fur coat she often wears. The story explores themes of love, longing, identity, and cultural clashes. Until now, it is one of the best Turkish romantic novels in English that you must include in your weekend reading list.
Turkey’s Ottoman past, and its geographical location makes it a unique intersection point where many cultures, religions, and history interact, and it has been happening for centuries. “Last Train to Istanbul” is one such novel by Ayşe Kulin, a contemporary Turkish author. It is one of the best Turkish novels that was originally available in Turkish language, then English, and other languages.
The plot is during World War II, and follows a Turkish-Jewish family living in Istanbul that include Sabahattin Selim, a bureaucrat, his wife Selva, and their daughters Nimet and Selma. As Selma matures, she marries Rafael, a Jewish man. Amidst the escalating Nazi persecution during World War II, Selma and Rafael face challenges. In a daring journey, Sabahattin and Selva risk their lives to rescue their daughter and son-in-law from impending Holocaust doom, highlighting themes of love, sacrifice, and family bonds.
Yusuf Atilgan was one of prominent Turkish authors of this country’s literature of the 20th century. His literary career began as a poet but what made him famous were his novels, and short story collections. He became notable for his master work “Motherland Hotel” that was published in 1973. This novel was later adapted into the film of the same name and released in 1987.
The plot is in Turkey, where a character Zebercet who is a lonely night clerk at a coastal Turkish hotel, lives a lonely life going through existential crisis. Then, it reveals Zebercet’s complex thoughts and emotions as he navigates a life of isolated existence. Providing intimate glimpses into Zebercet’s mind and his interactions, the story offers profound insights into life, love, and human longing for connection in an indifferent world. It is one of the best books with Turkey’s setting by a Turkish author, and definitely deserves a read!
Suat Derviş was one of the most famous female Turkish authors of the 20th century, known for a literary masterpiece, “In The Shadow of the Yali”. Initially, she used to write novels, short stories, and critiques for Turkish newspapers, and magazines. In 1945, “In The Shadow of the Yali” made her renowned in Turkish literary circles. Originally available in Turkish and later English, it stands as one of the finest Turkish novels in English today.
It set in Turkey where Celile during the 1940s Istanbul finds herself caught in a tug-of-war between her respectable spouse and her tango partner. Although the theme is universal, Dervis still perfectly captures the unique aspects of Turkish society and its tumultuous endeavor towards modernity.
Orhan Pamuk’s famous novels list include many novels, and one is tempted to share one more, “The Museum of Innocence“. Orhan Pamuk is no stranger to literary experimentation but with his novel, he took things to another level by bridging a gap between fiction and reality. He opened a real-life museum in Istanbul based on the novel, which exhibits objects and artifacts inspired by the story. One of the best books by Orhan Pamuk originally published in Turkish, and translated into English.
“The Museum of Innocence” is set in Istanbul, where the life of wealthy man Kemal takes an unexpected turn when he falls in love with Füsun, a young relative. While engaged to his longtime fiancée Sibel, his heart is consumed by love for Füsun. As the story unfolds, societal expectations and family pressures influence their need to make choices sooner rather than later. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best novels set in Istanbul that will captivate you during a weekend read.
Yaşar Kemal was one of the most influential Turkish writers of the 20th century who was awarded the International Lenin Peace Prize and the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger for his literary services. He published many novels but “İnce Memed” (Memed, My Hawk) brought him recognition. The novel was also adapted into the film of the same name in 1984.
“Memed, My Hawk” is set in a rural region, where Memed, a courageous young shepherd has no choice but to endure the oppression of cruel landlord Abdi Agha. However, it doesn’t last for long as he rebels, fleeing to the mountains and becoming an outlaw. With an aim for justice and freedom for his people, he becomes a symbol of hope and resistance, earning the nickname “Memed, My Hawk”. One of the best books about Turkey that tells the story of resilience and courage.
Sait Faik Abasıyanık was a prominent Turkish short story writer of the 20th century. He is famous for “A Useless Man,” a collection of Turkish short stories showcasing his literary mastery. Beside his short story collection, he also published other notable works include The Last Birds, The Tea Urn, among others.
The short story collection is about everyday lives of ordinary people in Istanbul and other coastal towns in Turkey. Saut’s perceptive insights into human nature let him capture characters and their struggles, joys, and sorrows. The title story, “A Useless Man,” is about a character that interestingly recurs in some of the stories. This character embodies a sense of resignation and aimlessness, reflecting the complexities of human existence.
Burhan Sönmez is one of the most contemporary Turkish authors who was born in 1965. His work often is about contemporary Istanbul where he discusses social and political issues of Turkey. Over the years, he’s published numerous novels, among the finest Turkish novels in English today.
The story of “Istanbul Istanbul” revolves around four prisoners who share a cell in a detention center in Istanbul. Each character has their tongue cut out by their captors. Despite their inability to communicate verbally, they develop a unique form of communication, using gestures to share experiences.
As the novel unfolds, the four characters each narrate their life stories, providing insight into their pasts, the injustices they have faced, and the events that led them to the confines of the prison cell. As the writer is one of the best contemporary Turkish writers, he delves into the theme of social and political oppression in the novel.
Turkish literature offers rich and diverse stories that reflect the complexities of the country’s social, political, and historical context. For this very reason, Turkish authors bring something unique to world literature that we cannot experience with some other countries.
The best Turkish novels by Turkish authors perfectly talk about life in Turkey, delving into themes of love, belonging, identity, memory, and nostalgia. There are many best novels by Orhan Pamuk, Elif Shafak, and Yaşar Kemal that have given Turkish literature international recognition. All of these best Turkish novels are a delightful read that you must include in 2023’s reading bucket list. Happy reading!