Novels about Turkey: Take a Peek into Culture with these 9 Books

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Are you looking to read a couple of novels about Turkey before you Visit? I got you covered

I have always loved to read and appreciated a book’s capacity to transport you to another time and place. I remember getting lost in books as a child.

These novels about Turkey will do just that!

Each book is by a different author, has its own style, and will hold a different view of Turkey and aspects of life here.

While they aren’t real stories, I think fiction has a way of explaining the culture and history in a way that a nonfiction book never could.

I have really enjoyed reading many of these while some are still on my reading list. There is one that I just couldn’t get into but because so many love it, I included it.

It has been especially fun to read so many of these and then get to live here. It has made the fiction and cultural elements come alive in a whole new way.

Much like watching a movie and then traveling to the same place.

Whether you’re preparing for a trip to Turkey or looking for stocking stuffers for book lovers in your life, grab one of these books and learn about the culture before you even step foot in Turkey.

I hope you will enjoy each of these books on Turkey for what they are as you venture into a new world and discover something new.

9 best Novels set in Turkey

While many of these books are written by Turkish writers some of them are not but all of them give a glimpse into history and culture all the same.

Thankfully all of them have been translated into English so you can enjoy them.

Some have won a Nobel Prize in Literature and others are a bit more obscure.

Some of these books are quite famous while others are debut novels.

Regardless of how new or old the novel is, it is clear that Turkish literature has made its mark in the international literature scene.

As you step into Turkish society through the eyes of the author I hope you enjoy them all!

1. Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières

Birds without wings book cover with a bearded man holding a small bird in his hand.

This book holds a special place in my heart. I bought this book before I knew specifically that the desire of my heart to be in Asia actually meant Turkey.

I bought this book 3 years before I had even considered Turkey.

When I saw it I was intoxicated and knew I had to buy it. I have had this experience only one other time and only since moving to Turkey.

When I first tried to read it, I found it dry, but as I have experienced, it spoke more to the book being out of season for me rather than it not being a good book.

But maybe 6 months after I decided to move to Turkey, I picked this book up again and realized what it was…a historical novel about Turkey as it separated from the Ottoman Empire and became a sovereign nation.

It was through this book I first learned a little about modern Turkey and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the hero of the Turks.

It is a beautiful story told from multiple perspectives about the Turks and Greeks who once lived together in a small village called Eskibahçe.

Although it is fiction is based on Kayakoy, a now abandoned Greek village near Fethiye on the Anatolia side of Turkey.

This book is a beautiful picture of people living among those who are different than themselves and thriving in those relationships.

There is a strong tension between religion and nationalism especially when it is impacted by love.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did! It would even make a great gift!

Buy “Birds Without Wings” on Amazon

a pin for 7 great novels about Turkey with "Birds without wings" as the book in the center

2. Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin

cover for last train to istanbul by ayse kulin with a red background and the cutout of a train on tracks.

One of my favorite things about fiction is the ability to paint a picture.

Sometimes it is easier to understand a picture first and then understand the real.

In her book, Ayşe Kulin paints a beautiful picture of love that transcends politics, war, and religion through the story of two families.

Selva couldn’t care less about any of her potential suitors as she could only see a Jewish boy, the son of a court physician.

As intermarriage was a big deal back then. When they decided to move away so they could start a new life, little did they know the coming war would greatly impact them as well as their families.

Buy “Last Train to Istanbul” on Amazon

3. Gardens of Water by Alan Drew

Gardens of Water cover

This debut novel by Alan Drew is incredibly well done.

There are many novels about Turkey that deal with forbidden love but this one hits home as it is about a forbidden love between an American boy and a Kurdish girl.

Dylan, the son of an expat teacher, is seen as a temptation that Irem’s father hopes to shelter her from but when a massive earthquake shakes their world in the middle of the night, forbidden love is no longer the biggest obstacle.

The book highlights the cultural tensions of personal freedom versus honoring cultural tradition.

What will come of the relationship when the Kurdish family’s survival is dependent on their American neighbors?

Buy “Gardens of Water” on Amazon

4. Midnight at the Pera Palace by Charles King

Black and Seafom cover of Midnight at the Pera Palace

Recently Netflix released a series about the Pera Palace so when I saw this book, I was intrigued.

In this book, Charles King weaves historical fiction with such depth.

The Pera Palace, Istanbul’s most luxurious hotel, is the backdrop for an incredible story.

The city of Istanbul was quite a melting pot. Many ethnicities and religions lived together and coexisted. They welcomed all.

But during the Second World War, there is much more at play. During this critical time period, Istanbul finds its way into the modern world.

Buy “Midnight at the Pera Palace” on Amazon

5. Istanbul Istanbul by Burhan Sönmez

Istanbul Istanbul cover

In Istanbul Istanbul, Burhan Sönmez develops themes of compassion, creation, and the importance of imagination.

Set in a prison, four prisoners await their judgments.

Between the student, the doctor, the barber, and Uncle Küheylan, they begin to share stories of life.

They laugh together and find sweet comfort in the stories shared.

As the story unfolds a bigger picture about Istanbul itself becomes clearer.

Regardless of whether it is life above or in the ancient streets below Istanbul, both hope and suffering abound.

Buy “Istanbul Istanbul” on Amazon

6. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk cover for My Name is Red - with a rider on a horse shooting backwards and with a man in a red coat

Orhan Pamuk’s “My Name is Red”, is a masterpiece addressing the big ideas and tensions between religion, love, power, and art.

Orhan is a famous Turkish author who has written many international best sellers including Snow, The White Castle, The Black Book, and Istanbul.

This book is set in 16th-century Istanbul with all of its splendor and religious chicanery.

The Sultan wants to create a book that will sing the praises of his great realm so he forms a special group.

The problem is much of art is quite offensive to the religious minds and so their full goals must be kept secret.

P.S. This is the one that was widely loved but I just couldn’t get into it…did you read it? What did you think?

Buy “My Name is Red” on Amazon

7. The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

The Bastard of Istanbul cover with a beautiful Classic Turkish tulip style art

Elif Shafak is another local author who has penned many international best-sellers.

In Shafak’s book, we find a story revolving around 6 strong women set between the United States and Turkey.

We see Asya, a girl who loves Western music and culture, the four sisters of the Kazanci family, one of whom is Asya’s mother, and Armanoush, the wife of Asya’s mother’s brother who is living in America.

When Armanoush comes to Turkey from America to find herself, she and Asya connect. Soon long-kept secrets are revealed.

This book’s ending shocked me. It was brutal but so in line with how Turks live and relate. I loved it because of this!

Buy “The Bastard of Istanbul” on Amazon

8. Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga

Portrait of a Turkish Family cover of ancient Istanbul

Portrait of a Turkish Family is Irfan Orga’s gripping autobiographical account of his wealthy family’s descent into poverty after World War I.

The book describes an intimate description of family life in the early 1900s as the Ottoman Empire made its tumultuous transition to the Republic of Turkey.

I especially loved the description of how the women all went to the hammam together each week and had amazing food.

The description of various superstitious rituals connected to the evil eye was also fascinating.

Buy “Portrait of a Turkish Family” on Amazon

9. The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin

The Janissary Tree cover with a blue and black design in the background

If you visit the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, you can tour the harem. Eunuchs (often from Africa) were the guardians of the harem.

Eunuchs were powerful people in the Ottoman Empire, who could be in both men’s and women’s (very separate) spaces without raising suspicion.

That makes Yeshim the perfect detective in author Jason Goodwin’s amazing historical novel The Jannisary Tree.

The book is set in the 1830s in Istanbul, in a time of modernization. 

It’s a fascinating peek into the sights, sounds, and even smells of the city at that time. I highly recommend it!

Buy “The Janissary Tree” on Amazon

I love a good fiction book. The ability to be transported anywhere and anytime to any world is so magical!

It’s also so interesting to me to see what cultural values are revealed through a story. These books set in Turkey are great books for book lovers even if they aren’t interested in Turkey.

If you’re interested in learning more about culture through current media, you can also check out my post on Turkish TV Series.

They are great for learning some of the languages but also helpful in understanding more about Turkish culture!

If you want to learn a bit of Turkish before you come, you can check out Turkish for tourists.

Have you read any good books about Turkey?

read more:

Turkey Vacation Basics

When I plan a trip these are the websites I use. Hope they help you plan your next adventure as well!

FLIGHTS: I am a huge fan of Skyscanner and WayAway.

VISAS: You can use the free e-visa portal here but for a few extra dollars you can use iVisa and someone else will handle any issues that may come up.

E-SIM: When I traveled to SE Asia I discovered e-sims and I’m never going back. Airalo has been easy and cheap!

TRAVEL INSURANCE: I use TravelInsurance.com for my trips abroad.

CAR RENTAL: I have loved working with Discover Cars when I rent cars in country.

AIRPORT TRANSFERS: I have used these transfers many times and they are always great. If you’d like more options, I also recommend GetTransfers.com as they allow you to compare companies.

ACCOMMODATION: Find the best Turkey hotel deals on Booking.com.

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: You can browse GetYourGuide’s website to find just the tour you’re looking for!

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