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Enderun Library, Turkey | © Dennis Jarvis/Flickr
Enderun Library, Turkey | © Dennis Jarvis/Flickr
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10 Books by Turkish Authors You Must Read at Least Once in Your Lifetime

Picture of Feride Yalav-Heckeroth
Updated: 17 October 2017
The greats of Turkish literature and poetry are not yet as famous as their counterparts in the West. But, with English translations available it is possible to explore their literary worlds. Here’s a glimpse at some of the country’s most important writers.

Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali

An important figure in the Turkish literary scene, Sabahattin Ali is more well known internationally because the translation of his novel Madonna in a Fur Coat reached best-seller lists abroad. The plot revolves around a shy young man from rural Turkey who moves to Berlin in the 1920s, where he meets a woman who will haunt him for the rest of his life.

Madonna in a Fur Coat/Penguin Classic
Madonna in a Fur Coat/Penguin Classic

Selected Poems by İlhan Berk

One of the dominant figures of the postmodern movement in Turkish poetry, İlhan Berk was also known for his translation of great poets into Turkish, such as Ezra Pound and Arthur Rimbaud. His own style has its roots in mythology, while also dabbling with the poetry traditions of West and East.

The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar

One of the most important representatives of modernism in Turkish literature, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar was a poet, novelist, literary scholar, and essayist. His novel The Time Regulation Institute offers a juxtaposing perspective between Istanbul aristocrats and the local neighborhoods and families, for an often absurd view of the old way of life adapting to the new Western modernity.

The Time Regulation Institute/Penguin
The Time Regulation Institute/Penguin

The Disconnected by Oğuz Atay

A leading figure of the modern novel in Turkey, Oğuz Atay’s first novel Tutunamayanlar (The Disconnected) was controversial when it was published in 1971, and a bestseller when it was reprinted in 1984. The novel, written in the stream of consciousness narrative mode, has been translated into three languages so far.

Memed, My Hawk by Yaşar Kemal

Yaşar Kemal is another of Turkey’s leading writers who was a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His novel Memed, My Hawk (İnce Memed) follows the story of a young village boy named Memed, who endures the great cruelties of the local landowner. When his love Hatche is imprisoned while they both try to escape, Memed joins a band of brigands to plot out his revenge.

İnce Memed/Ararat Yayınevi
İnce Memed/Ararat Yayınevi

Istanbul Boy: The Autobiography of Aziz Nesin

Born on Heybeliada in 1915, Aziz Nesin was certainly one of Turkey’s most important writers. Jailed several times due to his political views, he still managed to be one of the few authors who made a living through his work. He established the Nesin Foundation in 1972, to help destitute children with shelter and education. His autobiography (in four volumes) expresses not only the life of a great writer but that of a whole country and its many difficulties.

More by Hakan Günday

The Chuck Palahniuk of Turkish literature, Hakan Günday doesn’t hold back in his writing, which is raw and often disturbing. His award-winning novel More deals with the story of Gaza, who becomes a human trafficker like his father.

More/Arcade Publishing
More/Arcade Publishing

Poems of Nazım Hikmet

Nazım Hikmet is one of Turkey’s most well-known poets, whose work has been translated into more than fifty languages. He spent much of his adult life in prison or exile due to his political beliefs. A leader of Turkish avant-garde, Hikmet was a prolific writer of poems, plays, and film scripts that dared to break boundaries.

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

Currently one of Turkey’s most famous writers, Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. Apart from his famous novels My Name is Red and Snow, The Museum of Innocence is especially noteworthy because of Pamuk’s establishment of an actual museum in Istanbul’s Çukurcuma neighborhood, which is based on the fictitious plot of the novel.

Museum of Innocence/Vintage International
Museum of Innocence/Vintage International

Poems by Orhan Veli Kanik, Oktay Rıfat, and Melih Cevdet Anday

Orhan Veli Kanik, Oktay Rıfat, and Melih Cevdet (who had been friends since high school) wrote Garip: A Turkish Poetry Manifesto in 1941, which marked a historic break from the conventional Turkish-Ottoman tradition of prosody. Their individual works offer an essential glimpse into Turkish poetry that dared to include colloquialisms, completely changing the form for a new generation of writers.