Here are three books I read before my trip to Turkey.
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak (Jan 29, 2008)
Enticing work of fiction, that got the author Elif Shafak into a spot of hot water with the government, that deals with the tense relations between the Turks and the Armenians. Take a look at a map to see Armenia nestled as a small country to the east of Turkey.
The sensitivity relates to the treatment of the Armenians by the Turks several decades ago, and has transcended generations and geographic boundaries. In fact, the novel deals with a Turkish family, in particular a young lady, that engages in a complex Hindi-film style intrigue with another family with Armenian heritage in America, and the human emotion and drama that underpins it.
I read this because Elif personally gave me the book, she is a world-famous writer at this point, and justifiably so. Look up her many books!
Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk and Ara Guler (Dec 5, 2006)
Orhan Pamuk, as the resident Nobel prize winner for literature in Istanbul, wrote this autobiographical book of the city of his birth where, as he points out, he has lived all his life. It is a delightful memoir of sorts, taking the reader through the streets of the city.
The area that he mentions the most is Nistantasi, an upscale part of Istanbul. This happened to be very close to the hotel in which my family and I stayed, and I can confirm walking through it is delightful. It’s not so far from the Dolmabace palace, the residence of the later Ottoman sultans, and the part-time residence of the founder of Modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk.
Many of my friends tell me that Istanbul is a more readable book by Pamuk than many of his other literary works, I have on my desk another to devour, but haven’t yet gotten to it.
Istanbul: The Imperial City by John Freely (Feb 26, 1998)
This is a lovely and compact (given the sweep of time anyway, though in absolute page numbers, its not short!) book on the history of a city that has been known variously as Byzantium, then Constantinople, now Istanbul, taking us through grand sweep of the relations with the Greeks and the Romans, the advent and ascent of Christianity in region, and then its eclipsing in the region by Islam.
Along the way, each civilization leaves its architectural fingerprints, ultimately producing what to me is a beautiful mosaic.
A scholarly but intensely practical book, that helps appreciate the mélange of sights you see walking the streets even today.