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.

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