Category Archives: Turkish

Nasreddine by Odile Weulersse, illustrated by Rébecca Dautremer

NasreddineHere’s the perfect companion to Mar Pavón and Nívola Uyá’s A Very, Very Noisy Tractor which posted Saturday.

Young Nasreddine’s answers his father Mustafa’s request to ready the donkey for their journey to the market. Mustafa and their large sack of dates sit atop the donkey, while a shoeless Nasreddine follows behind in an attempt to keep his slippers clean. Of course, the passing vizier has something to say about that, calling Mustafa lazy for making “his son slosh through the mud.” Mustafa merely replies, “‘Your words, sir, are hurting my ears,’” but Nasreddine’s embarrassment sends him home full of shame.

The next week, the patient donkey bears young Nasreddine who claims a twisted ankle, along with wool to be transported to the weavers. Along the way, nearby women washing clothes voice their opinion about overprivileged children who make their elders walk: “‘Fathers have no authority at all.’” Mustafa calmly offers the same reply: “‘Your words, women, are hurting my ears.’” But, alas, that hurt is amplified in embarrassed Nasreddine.

A few days later, another trip elicits further unsolicited comments. And another week later, even more. And so on and on. Finally, having tried every permutation of father, son, and beast, Mustafa gently addresses his son: “‘I’ve let you do as you wish until now, but today you need to understand your mistake … It’s up to you to decide if what you’re hearing is wise, or if it’s only a silly and hurtful remark.’” Young Nasreddine’s understanding is “triumphant,” and surely a lesson to learn well for us all.

Nasreddine apparently has much wisdom to impart: “Stories about Nasreddine are told throughout the Middle East and beyond. They are often said to be based on a real man who lived in Turkey during the Middle Ages,” the ending historical note explains. “The stories have been changed and added to over the years, but Nasreddine has never lost his ability to offer both wisdom and delight.”

French author Odile Weurlersse (who also teaches film at the legendary Sorbonne) and French illustrator Rébecca Dautremer surely increase the delight factor with an absolutely enchanting literary presentation balancing just the right repetitive text with ineffable illustrations. Nasreddine’s thoughtful expressions, Mustafa’s tender responses exponentially enhance the story, certainly emphasizing the much-appreciated wisdom with utter delight.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, .Translation, European, Turkish

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Erdağ M. Göknar

Mixed in with the many death-and-destruction titles I’ve been reading the last few months, my most recent choices inadvertently seem to have an added layer of death-and-destruction-in-the-name-of-God. Too many books, regardless of genre or target audience, seem to offer irrefutable proof that the rules and regulations of religion – any major religion! – certainly have had (and continue to have) dire consequences. Supreme irony indeed.

In My Name Is Red, 2006 Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk takes on the intertwinings of religion and art during the Ottoman Empire of the late-16th century. Considered to be the novel that cemented Pamuk’s international reputation, Red is an amalgamation of art history, religious theory, philosophical exploration, love story, and murder mystery. It begins with a talking corpse at the bottom of a well … and ends with a mother’s narrative bequeathal to her younger son Orhan (!) with the warning: “For the sake of a delightful and convincing story, there isn’t a lie Orhan wouldn’t deign to tell.” [In an interview that appears on his U.S. publisher's website, Pamuk says, "Orhan is not my alter ego, he is me. ... I also kept my mother's and brother's names in the story."]

Between the decaying corpse and this unreliable Orhan, multiple narrators – including a dog, a tree, a gold coin, a horse, as well as Death and Satan – take turns revealing the puzzle-piece-like chapters of a multi-faceted drama about the perils of making miniaturist art against the repressive doctrines of Islam. A master artist is dead, expunged from working further on the Sultan’s secret commission; more bloodshed is forthcoming. Death draws a man named Black home to Istanbul after 12 peripatetic years serving pashas, renewing his love for the girl of his dreams – who is also his cousin, 12 years his junior, who is now a married woman with two sons still awaiting the return of her missing husband. Only by exposing the murderer can Black hope to earn love’s consummation.

In my misplaced determination to whittle down my should-read stacks, Pamuk’s Snow and Museum of Innocence proved disappointing (although well-deserved kudos go to the ever-diligent John Lee, apparently the official Pamuk narrator). Red was certainly the better of the three, yet I remain befuddled as to its ubiquitous appeal. While these three tomes seem personally lost in translation, I confess to a fascination and appreciation for Pamuk’s entertaining metafictional self-references in each … not that I’ve ever laughed at him, but I’ll certainly remember having laughed with him. At least on the page.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2001 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Translation, Turkish

Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Maureen Freely

In spite of its heft (500+ pages, or 20.5 hours if you let the perfectly-paced John Lee read to you), not much really happens in The Museum of Innocence. I’m adding here the requisite spoiler alert, but I’m fairly certain that most readers will guess the outcome lonnnggggg before the final pages.

In Istanbul in 1975, rich man Kemal (30) falls in love with poor distant relation Füsun (18). Kemal goes ahead anyway with his long-planned engagement to perfect partner Sibel; Füsun disappears. Kemal finally breaks off with Sibel, finds Füsun, waits eight years for her to dump her “fatso” husband (by going to her family’s home some four times a week). Füsun dies. Kemal builds a museum to her memory, filled with everyday objects from her life (4,213 cigarette butts alone!). He passes on April 12, 2007 [hence today's post] on what would have been her 50th birthday. A character named Orhan Pamuk authors the dead man’s obsessive story.

In supreme irony, that writer-character – “chain-smoking twenty-three-year-old Orhan” – makes his first appearance at Kemal and Sibel’s lavish engagement party. Kemal disses the young man as “nothing special,” then dismisses the entire Pamuk table – “his beautiful mother, his father, his elder brother, his uncle, and his cousins” – as “tedious.” Four hundred pages (and some three decades) later, that tedious young man morphs into “the esteemed Orhan Pamuk,” whom Kemal chooses to “[narrate] the story in my name, and with my approval” – which might remind devoted Pamuk readers that this meta-Orhan announced he was writing a new novel titled The Museum of Innocence about half-way through the real Pamuk’s Snow.

Kemal confesses on the second-to-the-last page of Museum that although he read Snow “all the way to the end,” it proved to be “a bit of a struggle” given his dislike of politics. Snow‘s protagonist Ka even gets a quick mention in Museum as meta-Orhan laments over the public’s accusations of misrepresentations in his work – which might make you consider why Kemal would choose this Orhan as his mouthpiece. Apolitical a character as Kemal might be, Museum merely glosses over class, East/West identity, restrictively gendered mores, the nature of literature (and so much more), for the numbing details of Kemal’s fixated stalking and skeezy kleptomania. By book’s end, perhaps we can just blame this meta-Orhan for all the novel’s weaknesses.

When I lamented over my grave disappointment to an erudite literary scholar buddy (because I knew he’s a huge fan of Pamuk’s Snow), he mentioned the post-Nobel curse that’s plagued other great writers like J.M. Coetzee; he also admitted he never finished Museum. Pamuk won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature; his gorgeous Nobel Lecture, “My Father’s Suitcase,” makes for a heartfelt antidote to Museum. Interestingly, an actual museum is apparently still planned to open in a building that Pamuk bought in 1999 in the Çukurcuma neighborhood of Istanbul, where much of the novel is set.

Which means .. if, after you’ve read Museum, and still haven’t had enough of this obsession, rest assured, your entry is guaranteed on page 520.

Tidbit: I can’t believe this turned up in my inbox less than an hour after I hit ‘publish’ for this post: The Innocence of Objects – Pamuk’s catalog of the objects in his real-life Museum (!) – debuts this fall! The timing feels surreal!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009 (United States)


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Translation, Turkish

Snow by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Maureen Freely

Here are the two most important things I got out of Snow: 1. it definitely had memorable glimpses of Turkish social and cultural history that I had little to no knowledge of previously; 2. Orhan Pamuk is a clever, intelligent writer, which – given his array of hard-to-miss international accolades – I definitely had an inkling of before opening a single page.

So here’s what I didn’t experience: the highly-anticipated WOW factor in finally reading the 2006 Nobel Prize-winning author’s work. Why, oh why …

The basic story revolves around a poet named Ka, recently returned to his native Turkey from 12 years of political exile in Germany. He travels from Istanbul to a remote town, Kars, allegedly to write an investigative piece about the recent succession of suicides by young women – the “head-scarf girls” – who chose what they believed to be an honorable death rather than impiously baring their heads. In this provincial society, certainly no separation of church and state exists.

While in Kars, Ka is serendipitously reunited with a woman from his student days, the beautiful İpek, who conveniently happens to be divorced from her husband. Ka, convinced he is madly in love with İpek, is suddenly inspired by fresh creative surges that allow him to write one stunning poem after another. Amidst finding love, Ka is swayed back and forth in his religious beliefs by various residents he meets, befriends, rejects, and even betrays, who run the gamut from avowed secularist to wanted militant Muslim terrorist.

Beyond the story, the more intriguing characteristic about this novel is its format, presented in multiple layers of exposition. While Ka’s is clearly the primary point of view, the actual I-narrator is a character named Orhan who is Ka’s longtime novelist friend. Years after Ka’s death, Orhan journeys to Kars hoping to find further record of Ka’s missing poems. This Orhan happens to mention he’s working on a new novel, The Museum of Innocence, which is the title of the real-life Pamuk’s most recent novel, published in 2008 and in English translation in 2009.

At book’s end appears a provocative appendix, “The Order in Which Ka Wrote His Poems,” complete with poem title, the chapter in the novel in which the poem is mentioned, and the corresponding page number … as if the reader could – should? – continue the poetic search long after the story itself has concluded. The novel’s potential afterlife proves to be more captivating than the actual pages … long after the book is back on the shelf, Ka’s missing poems continue to resonate.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2004 (United States)


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Translation, Turkish

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

To reduce this rich, complicated, multi-layered story into a few sentences seems almost disrespectful … but try I must to offer a skeletal overview so I can share some of the best stuff …

Hans van den Broek, high-power equities analyst, is an eternal immigrant. Dutch-born and raised, London-employed and domiciled with British wife Rachel and their son Jack, Hans considers the family’s move to Manhattan as “good fortune” … until their brief American adventures unravel with 9/11, and Rachel and Jack too soon return over the Pond.

Alone in New York, Hans spends most of his free time with Chuck Ramkissoon, a charming, scheming Trinidadian transplant with grandiose dreams of creating a cricket empire. Part entrepreneur, part gangster, all poseur, Chuck takes Hans for the ride of this life … until Chuck disappears and re-emerges as a murdered corpse found disintegrating in New York’s Gowanus Canal on page 6. In the almost-300-pages that follow, Hans reconstructs and re-examines their unusual, entertaining, unclear relationship.

So now you get the gist, check out this 2009 PEN/Faulker-winning novel’s title, so cleverly fraught that whole reams could be written about just the single word. The most obvious reference is to Hans’ Dutch roots, that missing ‘s’ an homage to Hans’ own separation from his birth-country. [Author Joseph O'Neill, who is hapa Irish and Turkish, also spent time in the Netherlands, attending boarding school in the Hague.]

Consider Netherland also means ‘lower-land’ and ‘other-land’: Hans and family initially choose fashionable Tribeca in lower Manhattan to call home, until the hellish destruction of 9/11 moves them to the historic Chelsea Hotel; when Hans’ wife and son return to London, Hans is left in a netherland of loneliness and isolation, until he becomes a regular visitor in Chuck’s unique labyrinthine landscape, itself an outlying netherland of cricket fields, seedy buildings, international accents, and questionable business dealings.

As undeniably entertaining as Netherland proves to be, it’s also a sobering look at our 21st-century disconnect: For a brief time, Hans and Chuck convince us of their growing relationship, two souls thinking they recognize a kindred other. And yet, by story’s end, O’Neill will masterfully shatter such illusion, setting the characters adrift again, left searching with just a glimmer of hope of maybe finding and somehow connecting …

Readers: Adult

Published: 2008

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, British, European, South Asian, Turkish

The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses by Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Albert Nguyen

Hatshepsut of Egypt
Artemisia of Caria
Sorghaghtani of Mongolia
Qutlugh Terkan Khatun of Kirman
Isabella of Castile
Nur Jahan of India

Happy birthday to the world’s most famous queen (still!) who turns 85 today, making her son the oldest prince-waiting-to-be-king in British history. Next week, on April 29, Queen E2 will be welcoming another princess into the family when Prince William makes a royal of Kate Middleton.

Let’s hope Princess Kate has some good role models as she figures out her impending future … someone in the royal inner circle might do well to share this refreshing Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses with her! In addition to that fabulous title – no fluffy, wait-for-my-Prince-Charming, shrinking pink Disney princesses here! – this historic series covers the lives of six exceptional, independent women. Girl power all the way!

Written by award-winning Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Albert Nguyen using a mixture of photographs, maps, period art reproductions, and original paintings, each of the six titles tells not only the story of a historically important woman-in-charge. but offers a pronunciation guide, a map of where she lived and ruled, as well as contextual information as to what she ate and what she probably wore. Presented in a chatty, contemporary tone to engage today’s younger readers, the series makes these seemingly faraway stories both timely and entertaining.

Move over King Tut and pay homage to Hatshepsut, Egypt’s first woman Pharaoh, who ruled (dressed in Pharoah drag with breasts bared!) for 22 flourishing years. Artemisia defied all gender conventions in ancient Greece and commanded great warships as an admiral. Sorghaghtani was instrumental in uniting and growing the vast empire claimed by her father-in-law, the great Genghis Khan.

Qutlugh Terkan Khatun survived numerous husbands, the last one who left her a Persian kingdom she ruled with renowned wisdom and justice. Isabella (a distant ancestor of our birthday royal … she was Henry VIII’s mother-in-law temporarily while he was married to her daughter Catherine) ruled equally with her King Ferdinand, and not only united Spain but also underwrote that fateful three-ship expedition led by Christopher Columbus. And Nur Jahan (whose niece would be memorialized forever in the Taj Mahal) ruled the Moghul Empire, all the while helping to better the lives of women!

Each book stands alone, but the six together pack a historical girl-power punch. A few minor quibbles: a bibliography or some sort of reference section would have been enriching, photo and art captions would have been appreciated, and some of the reproduced works seem graphically inappropriate for such young readers (eek! two men sawing a prisoner in half from the head down, complete with splattering blood!). And I did wonder why a few of our thinking princesses were so pale: if Artemisia was from what is now southwest Turkey, would she have been so blond and fair-skinned? What about a rather pink Hatshepsut in Egypt many millennia before sunblock? Hmmmm …

If the pictures seems a bit washed out, the writing thankfully is not. Bridges is sure to add the bad and ugly, as needed. Hatshepsut’s post-death mystery, Artemisia’s brutal war tactics, the horrors of Isabella’s Spanish Inquisition, and Nur Jahan’s behind-the-screens political machinations are all included.

Strength and accomplishment certainly came with high prices! Without turning a blind eye, Bridges shows history is filled with inspiring feminist lessons … and not just for princesses, either!

Next up: The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames forthcoming in Fall 2011! Stay tuned!

Tidbit: Back when my teen daughter was a be-bopping little toddler, her favorite song was “Cinderella” – no, no, no, it’s NOT what you’re expecting. If The Thinking Girls ever needed a soundtrack, they’d do well with this one. I was just recalling how great the lyrics were, and this link landed in my inbox for which I am SOOO gleefully thankful: .

Readers: Children, Middle Grade

Published: 2010


Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, ..Middle Grade Readers, .Biography, Chinese American, Egyptian, European, Indian, Mongolian, Persian, Turkish

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

Bastard of IstanbulEven before this book hit U.S. shelves, French-born Turkish author Elif Shafak was charged with insulting “Turkishness” in violation of Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code because one of her characters refers to the large-scale massacre of Armenians that began in 1915 in Turkey as genocide. The charges were eventually dropped for apparent lack of evidence – “If there is a thief in a novel, it doesn’t make the novelist a thief,” Shafak was quoted in the International Herald Tribune – and the book definitely got some great press.

Would I have bought the title without the surrounding controversy (and finally get around to reading it now for some reason)? Probably not. Would I have finished it if numerous people had not told me how great it was? Definitely negative. As entertainingly wacky as some of Shafak’s characters were, too many too-clever moments and overwritten passages left my tired eyeballs rolling more often than not. But finish it I finally did …

Shafak’s second novel written in English and her fifth overall, is a painful history lesson – albeit told with moments of great humor – presented as two intertwined extended family stories, the Istanbul-ite Kazancis and the Armenian American Tchakhmakhachians. The Kazancis are a matriarchy-by-default because all the men seem to die young, except for the lone son who fled Turkey for the U.S. 20 years ago and never returned. Four generations of Kazanci women live together under one roof, the youngest being the eponymous ‘bastard,’ 19-year-old nihilist Asya whose gorgeous mother, Zeliha, is the youngest of four uniquely kooky sisters.

On the other side of the world lives Armanoush, the youngest of the extended Armenian genocide-surviving Tchakhmakhachian clan, whose Kentucky-born mother divorced her Armenian American father and soon thereafter married the lone Kazanci son, Mustafa. Splitting her time between father’s family in San Francisco and her mother and stepfather in Arizona, Armanoush decides she must go confront her past in Istanbul if she is to have any understanding of her own identity.

She lands in the midst of the Kazanci clan, and establishes a soulful bond with her at-first reluctant, sort-of-more-than-cousin Asya. There in the homeland, the family histories unravel story by story leading back to when ancestors overlapped generations past, thanks especially to the insistent djinn who sits on Auntie Banu’s shoulder and reveals one awful truth after another …

Readers: Adult

Published: 2007 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Armenian American, Turkish

The Silence of God and Other Plays by Catherine Filloux

Silence of GodPlaywright Catherine (pronounced Ka-treen) Filloux has built her dramatic reputation on giving voice to lost, overlooked souls.

In Lemkin’s House, Filloux presents the struggle of Raphael Lemkin, a Polish American lawyer whom she refers to as her “historical soulmate,” a man who coined the term “genocide” – as in “race-murder” – in the 1940s and risked all to have it recognized as an international crime. In The Beauty Inside, a Harvard-trained lawyer returns to her native Turkey to try and save the life of a 14-year-old ‘honor killing’ survivor.

Cambodia’s history of atrocity looms large in both Eyes of the Heart and The Silence of God. In the former, a newly arrived Cambodian immigrant suffering from psychosomatic blindness caused by witnessing the atrocities of the “killing fields,” helps her American eye doctor as much – if not more – to “see” as they come to share their lives with each other. In the title play, an American journalist travels to Cambodia to interview Pol Pot and learns too much about her own country’s complicity with the monstrous despot.

In the collection’s final play, Mary and Myra, Mary Todd Lincoln speaks from an insane asylum – a far cry from the White House – where she’s been shuttled off by her only surviving son. Lincoln’s friend, Myra Bradwell (reported by some to be the first woman lawyer in the U.S., although Arabella Mansfield apparently was granted permission to practice law in 1869, years before Bradwell was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1892) comes to her rescue to try and gain Lincoln’s freedom. Who has more sanity in that asylum is a question up for grabs …

This first, and overdue, compilation of Filloux’s signature plays hit earlier this year, offering a diverse mix of backgrounds and cultures contained within … and in her deft writing, characters who are silent no more.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Drama/Theater, Cambodian, Jewish, Nonethnic-specific, Southeast Asian, Turkish

Leyla: The Black Tulip by Aleve Lytle Croutier

Leyla, The Black TulipOne of the three newest additions to the Girls of Many Lands series [click here for an article about the series debut] from Pleasant Company (famous for its American Girl series), Leyla tells the story of a young girl in 1720 Istanbul who sells herself into slavery to help her suffering family, becomes part of the Topkapi Palace harem, and eventually distinguishes herself as both an excellent tulip cultivator and an artist.

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, September 26, 2003

Readers: Middle Grade

Published: 2003

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, .Fiction, Turkish