Selçuk Altun’s top 10 Turkish books

From Orhan Pamuk to names few English readers will have heard, the novelist picks out the jewels of a literature we should know better

Istanbul Blue Mosque minarets

Turkish reflections … the minarets of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque.

Selçuk Altun was born in Artvin, Turkey in 1950 and graduated at Bosphorus University. Now retired, he was for many years executive chairman of one of Turkey’s largest and most influential literary publishing houses – YKY (Yapi Kredi Publications). His first novel was published in Turkey in 2001. Songs My Mother Never Taught Me, his fourth, and the first to be translated into English, was published in 2008. His latest novel, Many and Many a Year Ago, is just out.

“There are many reasons for the limited number of Turkish authors and poets translated into English. Sadly Nobel prize-winner Orhan Pamuk’s success hasn’t yet increased Anglo-American interest in Turkish authors and poets.”

1. Mrs Valley’s War: The Shelter Stories by Feyyaz Kayacan Fergar

Six engrossing short stories about the struggle of a handful of people in wartime London who embrace life with hope. The author, an eminent Turkish poet, respectfully witnesses their heroic resistance.

2. The Poems of Oktay Rifat by Oktay Rifat

The modernist Oktay Rifat was the grand master of sophisticated simplicity. Many of his lines are as powerful as individual poems.

3. Memed, My Hawk by Yaşar Kemal

The only son of a poor widow, Memed has to fight for his love and life against an evil feudal lord in southern Turkey. A tour de force.

4 Yaşar Kemal: On his Life and Art by Yaşar Kemal

I’m a compulsive reader of autobiographies and biographies. This is the most powerful life story I’ve ever read. Master storyteller Kemal’s saga is brilliantly illuminated with questions from the influential French poet Alain Bosquet.

5. My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk

A grand literary thriller and historical journey set in the 16th century. Nobel prize-winner Pamuk delivers a perplexing blend of art, religion, power and love in the ever-mysterious Ottoman era.

6. Istanbul, Memories of a City by Orhan Pamuk

A genre-defying jewel of literature, İstanbul and Pamuk time-travelling together. Captivatingly sorrowful, the book is enriched by photos, excerpts and anecdotes.

7. Sleeping In the Forest by Sait Faik

Delightful short stories by the Turkish Chekhov. Sait Faik (1906-1954) knows how to attract the reader’s utmost attention.

8. Night by Bilge Karasu

A small masterpiece. Karasu (1930-1995) and his four characters are duelling in this eloquent novella. A profound exploration of human inner worlds. Consider the first two lines “Night slowly comes on. Descends. Already it has begun filling the hollows. Once these are full and it empties onto the plain, everything will turn gray.”

9. A Mind at Peace by Ahmet H Tanpınar

Pamuk described this elegiac masterpiece, first published in 1949, as “the greatest novel ever written about Istanbul”. It is also a challenging love story between a fragile aesthete and a complex woman. For those who are not ambitious enough, will love always be punitive?

10. Beyond the Walls, Selected Poems by Nazım Hikmet

Influenced by Vladimir Mayakovsky and Russian Futurism, these are elegant poems of enduring significance.


Full article: