Daily Bookshot: Turkish Delight

Turkish Delight, originally uploaded by Robert Burdock.

Such are my reading tastes that I rarely find the kind of books that I like in the 2nd-hand shops in my local town (does that sound snobby? It isn’t meant to :)). Imagine my surprise then when I strolled into one such local shop on Saturday, and picked up this beautiful pair of translated titles, which coincidentally are both from Turkish authors. Result? I should say so!

The first book will, I’m sure, need no introduction. Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red is famous around the world as a literary work which not only explores sixteenth-century Istanbul and the outside cultures which influenced it, but it’s also a bit of a murder mystery novel too. A strange juxtaposition perhaps, but from what I’ve heard this is a mix that makes for compelling reading. Here’s the official blurb (for anyone who doesn’t know anything about this novel:

In Istanbul, in the late 1590s, the Sultan secretly commissions a great book: a celebration of his life and his empire, to be illuminated by the great artists of the day – in the European manner. But when one of the miniaturists is murdered, their master has to seek outside help. Did the dead painter fall victim to professional rivalry, romantic jealousy or religious terror?

So that’s a quick rundown on Pamuk’s My Name is Red, a novel which has until now eluded me.

The second novel, Ya?ar Kemal’s The Wind from the Plain may not be as quickly recognised by some, but its author probably will be. Having written 24 novels – the most famous of which is probably Memed, My Hawk (?nce Memed) – Kemal is considered to be one of Turkey’s top authors. The Wind from the Plain, first published in the vernacular as Orta Direk in 1960, is the first novel in what has become known as the ‘Wind from the Plains Trilogy’, with two subsequent novels – Iron Earth, Copper Sky (Yer Demir Gök Bak?r), and The Undying Grass (Ölmez Otu) – carrying on the story that this first one establishes. So what kind of story does The Wind from the Plain establish? Well, get a load of this synopsis and tell me that it doesn’t get your literary juices flowing:

Each year the wind brings the news to old Halil’s keen senses that the cotton is ripe for picking in the plain, and at his word the entire population of his remote village in the Taurus Mountains set out on the arduous trek to earn by their toil enough to pay their debts and buy the necessities of life for the bitter highland winter.

But this year old Halil finds himself too old to go on foot; so does Long Ali’s ageing mother Meryemdje, and both clamour for a place on the back of Long Ali’s broken-down nag, once a pure-bred Arab steed stolen by Ali’s brigand father, now scarcely capable of of bearing either of the two old people. Halil’s determination to stay on and Meryemdje’s to get him off lead to a word of words and cunning which lights with delicious comedy the sombre drama of the march. But when the decrepit animal finally dies, and the group falls behind the rest of the villagers, it is the unfortunate Ali who has to show piety towards his mother and compassion to old Halil, while pressing on with dogged resolution to reach the cotton fields before they are picked bare.

So what do you think of that folks? I think it sounds exquisite – like a Turkish version of Grapes of Wrath perhaps 🙂 – and I can’t wait to dive in. And on a side note I was delighted to discover that Kemal’s own wife, Thilda is employed as the English translator for many (all?) of his novels. How endearing! What a lovely thing, to work alongside one’s wife on such an intimate level. I couldn’t ever see me and Mrs Rob working together like that, so closely 🙂

So two fine novels from Orhan Pamuk and Yasar Kemal. What a delightful catch, and right on my doorstep too. What’s more, I’m delighted to discover that there’s someone else in my small town whose taste for translated fiction is similar to my own. I can only hope now that that person is on something of a quest to relieve their bookshelves of more translated fiction. My vigil on the 2nd-hand shops in my local town begins 🙂

So fellow reader, Orhan Pamuk? Yasar Kemal? What is your own reading experience of these two Turkish novelists? I’d love to hear your own thoughts.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. stujallen (Twitter: stujallen)

    i ve red on tbr pile ,going read snow first thou , all the best rob

  2. I recently read The Museum of Innocence by Pamuk and enjoyed it and have also read a collection of his essays which was interesting. My Name is Red is on the to-read pile.
    I have not heard of Kemal but the book you found does sound interesting.

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      I’ve a bit of a soft spot for essays Suzanne, so provided my read through of My Name is Red goes OK I’ll keep my eyes open for it. I’m hearing a lot of good stuff about The Museum of Innocence too so again if it all works out OK.

      I’ll let you know how I get on with Kemal, in time.

  3. You kept saying Pumak, not Pamuk 🙂

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      Haha…well spotted Mee! You know what makes it worse? His name is in clear view on the picture in front of me. How embarrassing. Hopefully I’ve fixed it now.
      Thanks for the ‘heads up’. Hope all is well with you.

  4. Here, just for you, is the blurb of The Sea-Crossed Fisherman by Yaser Kemal, plucked off my shelves:

    A violent chance encounter in a small Turkish fishing village results in murder. Fisherman Selim is unfairly blamed; but then, locked in his love for the sea and a woman he once knew, he has always been branded an eccentric. Meanwhile the murderer, twenty-year-old Zeynel Celik, is built up to be a legendary outlaw, when in fact he has only committed one crime.

    Each man becomes pursued by his own paranoia, by memories of the past and hopes for the future, until their paths cross again on Selim’s boat and — again through violence — they resolve their obsessions.

    It’s a 1978 novel, translated in 1985, and the edition I have was printed by Methuen the year after. Only £3.95 back then: quite expensive for a paperback, I think. I picked it up on eBay a few years back, purely on a whim. Its pages have yellowed and I’ve never thought to pick it up since I put it on the shelves. Inside there’s an inscription:

    Katherine M. Haynes, 22nd January 1987…a birthday present from Erica.

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      Thank you for all of this info Stewart. and all of this work for me? I’m touched! 🙂

      Seriously though I really am grateful. Kemal looks to be one of these hidden gems that few people either know or talk about. And the blurb for this one just affirms that there may well be something special about this Kurdish-born writer.

      P.S. Great to see you back in circulation, especially when you’re this helpful.
      P.P.S. Thanks for the extra detail on the inscription. I have a bit of a thing for inscription and marginalia so delighted to see this, even if the message is particularly straightforward and mundane

  5. Great to see you back in circulation,

    I’m hoping to kickstart the blog in the near future. I’ve finally managed to read a book and review it, but I’m now looking to build up a small backlog of reviews so that I’m a little ahead of the game without slipping into fallow periods. I think six months is, perhaps, an incredibly long time to go between reviews ever again.