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Destination Reads: The Best Books to Transport You to Turkey

Posted on 18th June 2019 by Mark Skinner

Turkey is a country that has it all. As the site of Roman and Ottoman capitals, the modern day Republic has seen history in abundance, whilst off the beaten track the more agricultural areas are richly evocative of a vanishing way of life. And then, of course, there is the jewel in the Anatolian crown: Istanbul. The ten books below will take you from rural beauty to urban buzz, whilst illuminating the incredible story of centuries of conflict, empire and progress.  

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Renowned for his brief yet brilliant histories of the two world wars, Stone, a resident of Turkey for over 20 years, provides a lucid and sprightly overview of ten centuries of Anatolian history. From the arrival of the Seljuks through the heyday of the Ottoman Empire to today’s controversial political regime, this is a triumph of concision and lightly worn learning.
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Chronicling the society of post-war Istanbul through the tender love story of the wealthy Kemal and poor shop-girl Fusun, The Museum of Innocence deftly broaches issues of encroaching Westernisation and the malleability of identity. Sensuously written and meticulously crafted, it is one of Pamuk’s finest works.
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The best single volume history of this rich and complex city, Bettany Hughes’ sprawling book recognises the incredible stories at the heart of the city’s heritage. Istanbul’s tumultuous journey from Roman to Turkish capital is compellingly documented by one of our liveliest historians.
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A riotous satirical comedy about an eccentric group of Turks who form a society to ensure that all clocks are set to Western time, Tanpinar’s neglected masterpiece is finally available in English. Westernisation has proved a rich seam of narrative in Turkish fiction and The Time Regulation Institute handles the sensitive topic with a heroic absurdity.
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The definitive biography of one of the key statesmen of the twentieth century, Andrew Mango’s scholarly yet eminently readable book sheds light on a man steeped in intriguing contradiction. Progressive in policy yet brutal in practice, Ataturk created the modern Turkish state almost single-handedly and this is the story of that remarkable achievement.
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A uniquely gripping thriller set on the mean, if beautiful, streets of Istanbul, Altun’s sophisticated crime novel emphasises the contrast between the luxury and the poverty of different sides of the great city. A compelling tale of assassins, dirty money and bitter enmity, Songs My Mother Never Taught Me throbs with wit, danger and a richly evoked Turkish atmosphere.
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Welcome to Hell? is a bracingly revisionist account of Turkish football and the – broadly - unwarranted negative reputation that it has developed. Travelling the length and breadth of the country, McManus uncovers a more diverse, endearing and laugh-out-loud funny footballing culture that forces the reader to reassess their prejudices.
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The trailblazing Elif Shafak tackles issues taboo in polite Turkish society with full-throttle exuberance and winning candour. The Bastard of Istanbul reverberates with dynamic set pieces and emotionally generous characterization, telling a deeply involving tale about strong women and buried secrets.
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Packed with colourful interviews and the author’s own vivid memories, Turkish Awakening charts Alev Scott’s attempt to understand his heritage and the political convulsions that continue to shake the Turkish Republic. A bold synthesis of reportage and research, Scott’s conclusions are balanced and insightful, and provide the perfect starting point for understanding this multi-faceted nation.
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Rich in the mythology of both the Turkish soul and soil, Memed, My Hawk is set far away from the cosmopolitan metropolis of Istanbul, in the remote Taurus region where life on the land is cruel and oppressive. A heroic bildungsroman burning with the indignation of social and political injustice, Kemal’s novel offers a tantalising glimpse of a forgotten, rural Turkey.
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