Neptün Cafe & Bar
Photo of Galata Bridge by Geir Halvorsen used under a Creative Commons license.

Geert Mak, The Bridge (Random House UK, 2008).
Istanbul’s Galata Bridge spans the Golden Horn, a long estuary on the European side of the Bosphorus, and links two of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. To the south is Sultan Ahmet, a traditional Muslin part of the city, where you will find the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. To the north is Pera, the core of westernized Istanbul. The bridge itself is crowded with cars, pedestrians, fishermen, vendors, beggers, as well as shops and restaurants. Mak’s book is about the bridge, present and past, a little window onto Istanbul and Turkey.

Wikipedia’s entry on the Golden Horn is helpful, as is the page on the Galata Bridge. Here is an English-language bio of Mak, who is a Dutch journalist, on his website. Mak wrote about spending time on the bridge. The New Statesman ran this excerpt. Alev Adil (The Indepedent) says Mak’s intimate portraits disrupt tidy European prejudices. Lesley Mason says that as an insight into modern Turkey, it is charming, learned and unique. Viola Fort (The Guardian) says it’s part history lesson, part cultural essay. The Armenian Odar enjoyed meeting people he would probably ignore if he were to cross the bridge. Via Martyn Everett, Jeremy Seal (The Telegraph) says Mak has reinvented the city’s iconic bridge as the focal point for the frustrations and humiliations endured by Turkey’s urban dispossessed. Doulter says Mak reports how Istanbul is in a permanent state of flux, a perfect example of new nomadism. For Gary Schwartz, it brought back memories of Istanbul. Ali Çimen interviewed Mak. Listen to Ramona Koval interview Mak on ABC’s The Book Show, or read the transcript. Here’s a curious story about the book’s publication in Holland. Esther has more.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Bridge in Kars
Photo of Kars by S@mbo used under a Creative Commons license.

Orhan Pamuk, Snow (Knopf, 2004).
Ka, a poet living as an emigre in Frankfurt, returns to Istanbul for his mother’s funeral, and decides to take a side trip to the provincial town of Kars, in far northeastern Turkey, in the hopes of wooing a beautiful former classmate, Ipek.  After he arrives, a snowstorm isolates the town, stranding Ka in a hothouse of intrigues for the next four days.  Perhaps Kars is a miniature of Turkey; in any event, the snowstorm ushers in a new phase of an ongoing cultural and political struggle between the military and Islamists, in which Ka becomes embroiled, and this only scratches the surface of the conflict.

Wikipedia’s page on Pamuk is extensive. Here is his autobiography at the Nobel Prize’s site (he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006). Here is an unofficial Pamuk site. Google BookSearch has a preview and other stuff. NPR has an excerpt. Nicholas Wroe profiled Pamuk for The Guardian. Mark Feeney interviewed him for The Boston Globe. The Complete Review says the elements of the book are creative and clever, but Pamuk cannot quite sustain it. They also post a wealth of links. John Updike (The New Yorker) says it abounds with modernist tracer genes. Spengler (Asia Times) says Pamuk portrays a Turkey whose center cannot hold because it has rotted away. Laurence Wieder (Christianity Today) says Pamuk portrays the tragic and comic as the same thing. Cornucopia’s review is by the translator, Maureen Freely. James Buchan (The Guardian) sees a debt to Dostoevsky. Kara Kellar Bell says it reveals the conflict between the Western and Islamic worlds. Richard Eder (The New York Times) sees Pamuk’s vision of a Turkey unable to know itself. Margaret Atwood (The New York Times) calls it an engrossing feat of tale-spinning and essential reading for our time. Sarah Emily Miano (Observer) says Pamuk gives voice to everyone involved. Laurel Maury (San Francisco Chronicle) says Pamuk pricks every conscience possible. John Freeman (Village Voice) says it is both a political novel and a work of art. Ruth Franklin (Washington Post) says Pamuk has a gift for the evocative image. Danny Yee says Pamuk perhaps tries to do too much. Dorothy W. says bridging cultures is a complicated process. Amitava Kumar appreciates Pamuk’s deep empathy for all antagonists. Yahya Birt says it’s elevated by pitiless observation. Id It Is was drawn in by the Anatolian setting. Alane Salierno Mason (Words Without Borders) sees a brain-teaser about authenticity. Jai Arjun Singh calls it Kafkaesque. Steph got bored halfway through. Laila Lalami did not find it satisfying. Jessica Schneider was left cold. Kevin Hartnett says Pamuk’s final concern is happiness. Grace Andreacchi says it’s the kind of book you bury yourself in. Maldoror finds many themes to choose from. Christine Fischer Guy and Adam Sol discussed Snow at Bookninja. Amardeep Singh writes about torture and art in the book at The Valve. Dan Green thinks Pamuk’s works fall short. Listen to Steve Inskeep’s interview with Pamuk on NPR, or Diane Rehm’s long interview on WAMU, or Dick Gordon’s show on WBUR. Or listen to a dramatic version of Snow on BBC.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

steppa anatolica
Photo by Norte_it [Dario J Laganà] used under a Creative Commons license.

Yashar Kemal, Memed, My Hawk (NYRB, 2005).
Writing in Salon‘s Literary Guide to the World, Michelle Goldberg recommends this 1955 novel by Kemal, a Kurdish writer:

Conservative Islam is barely a factor at all in the rural world of one of Turkey’s most famous novels, . . . [a] Robin Hood story that reads like an epic folk tale [and] . . . seems to take place far from the modern world. It’s the tale of Memed, a poor, fatherless boy, who, tormented by a sadistic feudal landlord, grows up to be a legendary brigand striving for justice and revenge. Kemal’s language immerses readers in Anatolian village life; it can be alternately sublime and cheerfully ribald. I love this offhand exchange between an innkeeper and a friendly old man:

“Loudly enough for the innkeeper to hear from where he was scurrying to and fro, the old man shouted: ‘There’s that pimp who calls himself an innkeeper. Go and tell him your troubles.’

“The innkeeper heard and laughed. ‘Listen, if you’re looking for a pimp, the real chief of all pimps is that white-beard by your side. His beard has grown white from his misdeeds!’

” ‘Look,’ said the old man, ‘you pimp-in-chief, these young men want a bed.'”

I haven’t read it, but NYRB’s imprimatur is usually a good enough reason to read a book. It is the first of four novels with Memet as a protagonist.

Here is a bio of Kemal. Here is his Wikipedia page. Perhaps this is the author’s site, or a fan’s site. Google BookSearch offers a preview. Buce says it’s the best book he’s ever read about banditry. Amitabha Mukerjee read it in one night, from midnight to seven in the morning. Jeremy Orhan Simer sees in Kemal’s prose a love for the landscape and people of the Taurus Mountains. Kemal has a fan at orbis quintus. In 1961, Time‘s reviewer says readers may forget that the action happens in the twentieth century.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

A Door to Hope
Photo of the Topkapi Palace by Kuzeytac used under a Creative Commons license.

David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace (Holt Paperbacks, 2001).
Writing about Turkey in Salon’s Literary Guide to the World, Michelle Goldberg says:

If you want to understand how the multiethnic Ottoman Empire gave way to the fierce nationalisms of the modern Middle East, there’s no better book . . . . Fromkin tells the story of how, after World War I, the European victors carved up the Ottoman Empire into the countries that exist today. His sprawling history portrays the prewar ferment among the modernizing young Turks, the exploits of Mustapha Kemal — now known as Ataturk — the army officer and revered founder of modern Turkey, the adventures of Lawrence of Arabia and the intrigues of various kingmaking Western Orientalists.

I’ve categorized the book for several other countries as well based on what others have said. (If you think I’ve erred, please say so in the comments.)

Here is Fromkin’s bio at Boston University. Here are reviews and posts from J.R. Moehringer (The New York Times), John C. Campbell (Foreign Affairs), Garret Wilson, Anoop Sarkar, Dana Tucker, Eric Brahm, Zakaria Ajmal, R J Keefe, Sean Lavelle, David Baer, and The Harrisburger. Maryanne Stroud Gabbani doesn’t have a lot to say about the book, but her blog looks quite interesting.

Buy it at Amazon.com.