Dreaming of visiting Turkey? Here are the best books set in Turkey that will take you there without even having to leave home!
Turkey is vast and has a wide variety of places, landscapes, ancient cultures, rich gastronomy, and traditions to discover.
Due to its strategic position, located between Europe and Asia and between three seas, Turkey has been a historical crossroads between Eastern and Western cultures and civilizations. Its territory has been home to several great civilizations, and many battles have been fought throughout history.
Fish, olives, nuts, coffee… If we talk about food, there is an immensity of foods that define Turkish gastronomy. However, the omnipresent dish that you will find in all restaurants is the famous kebab – other must-sees in its gastronomy include the yogurt drink (Ayran) that accompanies all meals and the most delicious dessert ever, baklava.
And if you are wondering what to do in Turkey, let me tell you that the list is long, but first, you should know there are thousands of historical sites to visit.
Here are a few to give you an idea of the diversity of adventures that Turkey has:
- Enjoy the relaxation of a Turkish bath.
- Visit Pamukkale, a huge “cotton castle.” A geological formation created by thermal waters with a high content of calcium and bicarbonate, one of the most curious landscapes in Turkey.
- Fly in a hot air balloon over Cappadocia. Scattered throughout the valleys of Cappadocia, in Central Anatolia, there are peculiar rock formations that make up a unique landscape. Hundreds of balloons of all colors invade the sky every day to see the sunrise.
- See Tuz Gölü, in central Anatolia. One of the saltiest lakes in the world, even saltier than the Dead Sea.
Turkey has been home to some of the most beloved writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. It has important literature that ranges from revolutionary political poetry to fiction novels, where the exotic mysteries of the country and the culture of the citizens stand out.
Also, Turkish literature is internationally recognized, and some of its literary works have been translated into more than 40 languages.
If you want to take an imaginary tour (or you plan to travel to Turkey), I invite you to continue reading and choose some books from the list to be part of your reading list!
Here you will find the 20 best fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books set in Turkey. We update our book lists frequently, so please share your favorite Turkish novels. Let’s get started!
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Novels and Fiction set in Turkey
Motherland Hotel by Yusuf Atilgan
Translated by Fred Stark
Motherland Hotel is not an easy book to read. It has received critical acclaim for its experimental style, psychological depth, and bold depiction of the protagonist’s sexual obsession.
Zebercet is a lonely, introverted middle-aged man with a monotonous life that takes place within the walls of the hotel he runs. He is the last member of a prosperous Ottoman family.
The hotel is run down, has nine rooms, and is located near the railway station. Nothing exciting ever happens, except for his routine sexual relationship with the cleaning lady.
One day, a woman arrives at the hotel to spend the night, and she promises to come back next week. Zebercet’s monotonous life changes radically. He waits for her, fantasizes, and becomes obsessed with the mysterious woman, gradually losing his sense of reality.
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
This book will surely transport you to Turkey and make you feel the colors, the aromas, and the magic of its streets.
Between Fiction and reality, history and magic is the story of Armanoush, a young woman who recently arrived from Arizona in Istanbul to find her roots.
It is an interesting novel with strong female characters, which tells a family story that was affected by one of the darkest episodes in history: the Armenian genocide.
The Book of Devices by İhsan Oktay Anar
Translated by Gregory Key
You will want to share this book with your friends. The book follows the story of three generations of Ottoman inventors living on Galata Hill.
Yasef Celebi is the inventor, he dreams of earning large amounts of gold and ruling the world, but his inventions do not get the approval he expected. The invented devices are described in detail in the book, represented with illustrations intended to explain how they worked.
As we follow Yasef Chelebi and his two successors on their quest for the secret of perpetual motion, the crumbling Empire undergoes drastic changes in the background, and Istanbul – the city of his dreams witnesses coups, westernizing reforms, and the advent of technological innovation.
The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin
The story takes place in Istanbul in 1836, with the Ottoman Empire standing on the cusp between tradition and modernity that will destroy it. But just as a radical change in the Empire’s policies is to be announced, a wave of assassinations threatens the fragile balance of its power.
Are the Janissaries, who for 400 years were the army of the Empire, making a brutal comeback? This history and mystery novel will not let you close the book until you finish it!
Buy on Amazon | View in Goodreads
The Janissary Tree is the first book in the Investigator Yashim series. Check out the rest of the series;
Memed, My Hawk by Yashar Kemal
Translated by Edouard Roditi
Memed, My Hawk is a 1955 novel by Yaşar Kemal. It was Kemal’s debut novel and is the first novel in his İnce Memed tetralogy.
Memed, a young boy from a village in Anatolia, is abused and beaten by the villainous local landowner, Abdi Agha. Having endured great cruelty towards himself and his mother, Memed finally escapes with his beloved from him, a girl named Hatche.
When he finally gets away, he is to set up as a roving brigand, seeking revenge. Will he get it?
Snow by Orhan Pamuk
Translated by Maureen Freely
In Snow, Orhan Pamuk talks about the problems of a contemporary Turkey that is torn between East and West, between tradition and modernity. It is a poetic novel that walks through love and the desire for happiness and questions and delves into power, politics and its violence, and religion.
Ka is a Turkish poet exiled in Germany for 12 years who returned to Turkey in the early nineties. He travels to the remote city of Kars, in the far northeast of Turkey, to write an article about the upcoming municipal elections and the wave of suicides among young women who have been forced to remove their veils to go to school.
At the same time, the beauty and melancholy of the snow that does not stop falling drives him to write 19 poems in just three days, which is the time in which the novel takes place.
The Time of Mute Swans: by Ece Temelkuran
If you want to read something beautiful and moving, this is the way to go. The story is about a coup in Turkey, told through the eyes of two children: Ayşe and Ali.
Set in 1980, in Ankara, Turkey, it reveals the warring elements of Turkish society — between democratic leanings or communism and the harsh crackdowns of a dictatorial government; between rich and poor; between beauty and terror.
It reveals the reality of life in Turkey in the 1971-1980 era with two coup d’etats and a bloody social history.
Two children: one from a family is living in misery, and one well-off form an alliance amidst the turmoil. And they hatch a plan.
For the first time in generations, mute swans have migrated from Russia to the Black Sea and a park at Ankara’s center. For the generals, they are an affirmation, and their wings must be broken, so they can’t fly away. But if the children can save one swan, won’t they have saved the freedom of all?
Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak
The story takes place in Istanbul in the year 2016. Peri is a wealthy Turkish woman, a mother, a housewife, and a contributor to charities. She is mugged as she heads out with her daughter to a dinner party.
As she fights off her attacker, an old photograph falls out of her bag, a Polaroid of Peri and three other people in Oxford. A relic of a past – and a love – that Peri had tried desperately to forget.
Arriving at the party and looking at the wealthy guests, Peri’s mind is racing with memories conjured up by her nearly lost Polaroid. Memories from the time when she was first sent abroad to attend the University of Oxford, where she had become friends with the charming, adventurous Shirin, a fully assimilated Iranian girl, and Mona, a devout Egyptian American.
Three Daughters of Eve is a marvelous lesson in the clash between modernity and tradition and the vicissitudes of personal struggle. A must-read that entertains and informs without preaching.
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Orlando is the first novel in history to feature a transgender person. A fictional biography of a gentleman, Orlando, born in the 16th century, during the reign of Elizabeth I of England, and lived until at least the first third of the 20th century.
During this time, Orlando lives a passionate love affair with a Russian woman named Sasha, writes a very long poem, and accepts a position as ambassador to Constantinople. One day he changes sex for no apparent reason.
She lived for a while with some gypsies. Returning to London as a woman, she marries a sailor and meets some of the foremost literary personalities of the age.
Non-fiction books about Turkey
Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
Translated by Maureen Freely
Istanbul is not a novel, a chronicle, a travel guide, or an autobiography, but it is all that and much more!
Orhan Pamuk, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, was born in Istanbul and continues to write and live in the same place today.
The 37 chapters of this book are full of stories, memories, and photographs that Orhan Pamuk offers us to learn about his intimate life and the city’s history uniquely as only a local person can.
Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities by Bettany Hughes
If you are interested in history, this book will help you learn more about this great city, and at the same time, you will enjoy an entertaining read based on impeccable research.
Bettany Hughes is a historian and host of television programs. As well as having written a large number of books, she has also directed many documentaries for the BBC, National Geographic, Discovery, The History Channel, and ABC.
She has done much research on Istanbul’s six-thousand-year history in this book.
A city with three names: Byzantium, Constantinople, and Istanbul, and has been the capital of four empires: the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Latin Empire of the Crusaders, and the Ottoman Empire. And a city that is the seat of both the Christian patriarchy and the Islamic caliphate.
And finally, the book contains:
- Black and white illustrations
- Photographs that help better understand and contextualize some parts of Istanbul’s history
Tanpinar’s ‘Five Cities’ by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar
Translated by Ruth Christie
A book that is more than just that, it is a historical, architectural, musical, and literary picture of four Anatolian cities – Ankara, Erzurum, Konya, and Bursa – to which the author adds Istanbul.
If traveling with the imagination is what you are looking for, Tapinar does an excellent job of describing the five capitals of the Ottoman Empire and the passage of the different civilizations that settled in them.
Constantinople by Edmondo de Amicis
This book will make you believe that you have been there, at the same time and place as the author, even though more than 100 years have passed since it was written and published.
Edmondo de Amicis has done such a thorough and well-done job that it is almost cinematic; you can visualize what you are reading.
It is the record of the author’s visit to Istanbul before World War I. He practically describes the entire city, giving a detailed history of the splendid ancient buildings and monuments and plenty of everyday anecdotes from his own experiences. He describes the people who live in different parts of the city, from the exclusive residential areas to the slums.
This book will provide enriching reading for history buffs or those planning to visit Istanbul themselves.
Istanbul: The Imperial City by John Freely
A book that presents a new part of the city we know, the time before the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul.
An in-depth study of this legendary city through its many different ages. From its earliest foundation to the present day, it is the perfect traveler’s guide.
The author divides the book into Byzantium, Constantinople, and Istanbul. In these pages, John Freely captures the flavor of daily life as well as court ceremonial and intrigue.
The book also includes a comprehensive gazetteer of all major monuments and museums.
Turkish Reflections: A Biography of a Place by Mary Lee Settle
Settle explores an enchanting and historical land where the cutting of a tree is a crime, where goats are sacrificed to launch state-of-the-art ships, and where whole towns emerge at dusk to stroll in the streets.
It is a wonderful book to read if you plan to travel to Turkey. The author navigates both geography and history. He goes around Turkey; he describes each area telling his story so that you learn but at the same time feel part of the environment as if you were in Istanbul and these places were known and loved.
Osman’s Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire by Caroline Finkel
According to the Ottoman chronicles, the first sultan, Osman, had a dream in which a tree emerged fully formed from his navel “and its shade compassed the world”- symbolizing the vast Empire he and his descendants were destined to forge.
The Ottoman Empire was one of the largest and most influential empires. Its reach extended to three continents, and it survived for more than six centuries, but its history is too often colored by the memory of its bloody final throes on the battlefields of World War I.
Finkel gives a monumental account of the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, and inside the book, there are many interesting details and illustrations.
Children’s Books Set in Turkey
Around the World in a Bathtub by Wade Bradford and Micha Archer
Bath time is different in all countries, what it does have in common is that children don’t want to know anything about it!
From a hammam in Turkey to a maqii on the Alaskan tundra, this book shares the bath-time battle that happens every night around the world.
These stories and illustrations will make children laugh and learn about the importance of personal hygiene.
I See the Sun in Turkey by Dedie King and Judith Inglese
Translated by Hilal Sen
This story is told by a Turkish child, Mehmet, a bright, happy boy who shares a day in his life in Istanbul, Turkey. Mehmet’s life is quite similar to every other young child’s life in that he eats breakfast with his family, attends school, and enjoys spending time with his friends.
Readers tour the Old City through vibrant illustrations, fishing on the Bosphorus and taking a tram ride past the Hippodrome.
Drummer Girl by Hiba Masood and Hoda Hadadi
Year after year, in the blessed month of Ramadan, little Najma has happily risen to the drumbeat of her neighborhood’s musaharati. She walks through the streets of her small Turkish village, waking each family for the pre-dawn meal before the long day of fasting.
Najma wants nothing more than to be a musaharati herself one day, but no girl has ever taken on the role before. Will she have what it takes to be the drummer girl of her dreams? Find out in this inspirational story of sincerity, determination, and believing in yourself.
The Seven Fairy Mountains of Cappadocia by Linda Socha Jaworski
Küçük, the smallest fairy mountain, is full of worry! Things begin to change in her village, and she desperately wants to help, but could she be part of the problem?
Read The Seven Fairy Mountains of Cappadocia to discover how even the smallest fairy mountain can bring about the biggest change! Join Küçük and her sisters in the land of Cappadocia, where a timeless, magical element still endures, and wishes really do come true!
What Are Your Favorite Books Set In Turkey?
Have you read any of these books set in Turkey? Do you have any favorite books set in Turkey that I should add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!
Start with this list of the very best travel adventure books. It includes great reads that will fuel your wanderlust and have you staying up late to finish them. Also, check out the following series of book lists set in other wonderful destinations:
Know someone else who wants to read books set in Turkey? Then please pin this post.