With its rich history and beauty, Istanbul has been a source of inspiration for many art forms, especially literature. From fictional stories to photography, historical accounts to a comprehensive city guide, we took a look at some essential Istanbul reads.
This novel, by Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, has been said to be an autobiographical memoir that inspects how Istanbul has changed drastically in terms of culture. Deeply melancholic, the book is filled with memories by Pamuk, literary essays by writers connected to Istanbul by some means, and photographs by famous photojournalist Ara Güler as well as other photographers chosen personally by Pamuk.
Bestselling author Elif Şafak got into a bit of trouble after the release of this novel in 2006. The plot revolves around the two characters, Asya Kazancı and Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian, who are connected through the events of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. As Armanoush travels to Istanbul, the reader follows her story as she uncovers the story of her Armenian roots. The year the novel was published, Şafak was charged for “insulting Turkishness,” facing up to three years in jail until the charges were dropped due to the lack of legal grounds and sufficient evidence.
Written by Hilary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely, this book allows readers to explore Istanbul on foot as the authors relate the story of historic monuments and sites that go back to the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. There’s also plenty of secret histories and sights that you’ll likely not come across on a regular tour of Istanbul. With practical tips and vivid descriptions, this is definitely a befitting companion for history enthusiasts who are interested in the details of the city and its rich past.
The other famous novel by Orhan Pamuk that revolves around Istanbul, The Museum of Innocence became quite popular because of the actual museum that was opened in Cihangir and was inspired by the novel. The novel’s protagonist Kemal is a wealthy businessman who falls in love with Füsun, a distant relative of lower income. Set between 1975 and 1984, Kemal begins to collect memorabilia that relay the story of their love and in the actual museum, these antique items are on display as if their love story is real.
Quite encyclopedic in its comprehensive scope of the city, Istanbul: the Ultimate Guide has pretty much everything you need to know on more than 600 pages. Written by travel writers Saffet Emre Tonguç and Pat Yale, the guide uncovers such details as Russian churches hiding on the rooftops in Karaköy or an old wooden house belonging to a Turkish artist in Beyazıt. It’s definitely a unique journey that looks at both the popular touristic sights as well as the secret tales hiding in the back streets.
One of Turkey’s most renowned photojournalists, Ara Güler is known as “The Eye of Istanbul,” because of his stunning black and white photography that captured the city in its prime. This book shows the everyday lives of Istanbul residents between 1940 and 1980 underneath a sheath of melancholy stuck between tradition and modernity. The photos are also accompanied by text from Orhan Pamuk.
Written by American physicist, teacher, and author John Freely, Istanbul: the Imperial City is an essential and in-depth historical guide to Istanbul. Freely not only follows Istanbul from its foundation to its present, but also is able to capture the feel of its everyday life. The book also has a geographical index of all of Istanbul’s historical sights and museums, which is an excellent source for travelers.