read your way through istanbul

Read Your Way Through Istanbul

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Fiction makes the invisible a bit more invisible and rehumanizes those who have been dehumanized. It is in novels that the underbelly of the city can be found — its side streets and narrow alleys. “Madonna in a Fur Coat,” by Sabahattin Ali, a prominent left-wing author who was jailed for his writings, is one of the most important Turkish classics, with a brilliant translation by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe.

The Sultan’s Seal,” by Jenny White, is a murder mystery that brilliantly captures the political and cultural upheavals of the late Ottoman Empire. If you were wondering what would have happened if Michelangelo had accepted an invitation from the Ottoman sultan to work in Constantinople, you must read Mathias Énard’s “Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants.” It offers a fascinating read on the exchange between East and West. The Greek author Nektaria Anastasiadou’s “A Recipe for Daphne” sheds courageous light on the lives of the Greek Orthodox Christian communities of Istanbul, including the memory of the horrific 1955 pogrom. Anthony Doerr’s “Cloud Cuckoo Land” is a mesmerizing book with multiple storylines that takes us back to 1453, the siege of Constantinople. Defne Suman’s “At the Breakfast Table” is a dazzling narrative of family secrets, and both Burhan Sonmez’s “Sins and Innocents” and Mario Levi’s “Madame Floridis May Not Return” are brave and brilliant books that explore notions of belonging, discrimination and displacement. One thing that doesn’t get enough attention is the growing body of L.G.B.T.Q. literature in Turkey. There are many fabulous young voices whose works have not been translated yet.

No reading list on Istanbul is complete without cookbooks, and there are so many good ones: “Sefarad Yemekleri,” by Viki Koronyo and Sima Ovadya; “Istanbul and Beyond: Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey,” by Robyn Eckhardt; and Musa Dagdeviren’s “The Turkish Cookbook,” just to name a few.

In Balat, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Istanbul, the Women’s Library and Information Centre Foundation collects books, magazines and documents related to women’s rights and women’s history in Turkey. The library also organizes cultural and literary activities.

Another important literary landmark of Istanbul — the last stop on the Orient Express — is the Pera Palace Hotel. This is where Agatha Christie would stay when she visited the city. The iconic building has hosted many authors and artists throughout its history, including Ernest Hemingway, Mata Hari and Greta Garbo.

On the idyllic island of Heybeliada, try to see the house of the prolific Turkish author Huseyin Rahmi Gurpinar, which is fighting to maintain the official “museum status” that it deserves.

The Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar Literature Museum Library, dedicated to Turkish literature and named after the novelist and essayist, is another great literary landmark. You can sit by the window and read as you enjoy a view of Gulhane Park. The Museum of Innocence, created by the Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk (in tandem with his novel of the same name), is a significant cultural address, situated in Cukurcuma amid antique shops.