Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, is a destination rich in history, culture, and art. This city has been the capital of two empires and is a meeting point for different cultures, religions, and traditions. Whether you are visiting Istanbul for the first time or the tenth, reading books about the city can enhance your experience and give you a deeper understanding of its past and present.
In this article, we will present ten books that you should read before visiting Istanbul, from historical accounts to contemporary fiction.
Istanbul: Memories and the City By Orhan Pamuk
Orhan Pamuk is one of the most famous Turkish writers and the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. In this memoir, he shares his memories of Istanbul, from his childhood to his adulthood. He describes the city’s streets, neighborhoods, and people, as well as its political and social changes. Reading this book will give you a personal insight into Istanbul’s history and culture.
The Museum of Innocence By Orhan Pamuk
Another book by Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence, is a novel that takes place in Istanbul. The protagonist, Kemal, falls in love with a young woman named Fusun and begins to collect objects that remind him of her. The novel is not only a love story but also a portrait of Istanbul in the 1970s, with its social and cultural changes.
Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World By Thomas F. Madden
Thomas F. Madden is a historian who specializes in the history of Venice and the Mediterranean world. In this book, he presents Istanbul’s history from its foundation as Byzantium to its transformation into Constantinople and then Istanbul. The book covers the city’s political, social, and cultural changes, making it an excellent introduction to Istanbul’s history.
Birds Without Wings By Louis de Bernieres
Birds Without Wings is a novel that takes place in a small village in southwestern Turkey in the early 20th century. The novel portrays the village’s Muslim and Christian communities, their relations with each other, and the historical events that shaped the region. Although the novel is not set in Istanbul, it provides a historical and cultural background that can help you understand Turkey’s diversity.
The Janissary Tree By Jason Goodwin
The Janissary Tree is a mystery novel set in Istanbul in the 1830s, during the Ottoman Empire’s decline. The novel’s protagonist, Yashim, is a eunuch who investigates a series of murders that threaten the empire’s stability. The novel not only provides a glimpse into Istanbul’s past but also a thrilling reading experience.
Murder on the Midnight Express By Agatha Christie
“Murder on the Orient Express” is a detective novel by Agatha Christie, published in 1934. The story revolves around a murder that occurs aboard the luxurious train, the Orient Express, during its journey from Istanbul to Calais.
The victim is found stabbed multiple times in his cabin, and detective Hercule Poirot is on board to investigate the case. As Poirot begins to unravel the mystery, he discovers that each passenger on the train has a motive for committing the murder. The suspects include a wealthy American businessman, a British governess, a Russian princess, a Hungarian count, and many others. With the help of his sharp mind and deductive skills, Poirot is able to piece together the clues and solve the case, revealing a shocking truth in the process.
“Murder on the Orient Express” is a classic mystery novel that has captivated readers for decades. Its intricate plot, memorable characters, and surprising ending have made it one of Agatha Christie’s most beloved works.
Agatha Christie stayed at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul during her travels on the Orient Express and her experiences on the train and in Istanbul certainly influenced the setting and plot of the novel.
The Bastard of Istanbul By Elif Shafak
Elif Shafak is a Turkish writer who has been translated into many languages. The Bastard of Istanbul is a novel that takes place in Istanbul and Arizona, USA. The novel’s protagonist, Asya, is a young woman who lives in Istanbul with her mother and grandmother. She has an American stepfather and an Armenian friend, which makes her family diverse and complex. The novel explores the themes of identity, memory, and history, as well as the tension between Turkey and Armenia.
Inferno By Dan Brown
“Inferno” is a thriller novel by Dan Brown, published in 2013. The story follows the adventures of Harvard professor and symbologist, Robert Langdon, as he becomes entangled in a deadly plot centered around a modified version of Dante’s “Inferno.”
The novel begins with Langdon waking up in a hospital in Florence, Italy, with no memory of how he got there. He soon discovers that he has been drawn into a complex web of intrigue involving a mysterious organization known as the Consortium, a deadly virus that could wipe out half of the world’s population, and a race against time to uncover the truth before it’s too late.
The connection between Istanbul and “Inferno” is that a significant portion of the book takes place in the city. Langdon travels to Istanbul with his female companion, Sienna Brooks, as they continue to unravel the clues and solve the mystery behind the virus. The city serves as a backdrop for a thrilling chase scene and a pivotal moment in the plot. Additionally, Istanbul’s rich history and culture play a role in the story, with references to the city’s famous landmarks and its importance as a crossroads between East and West.
My Name is Red By Orhan Pamuk
My Name is Red is a historical novel in Istanbul during the 16th century, under the rule of Sultan Murat III. The novel’s protagonists are miniaturists who work for the sultan and are asked to illustrate a book that challenges traditional Islamic art. The novel explores the tension between East and West, tradition and innovation, and the role of art in society.
The Ottoman Empire
By Halil Inalcik
“The Ottoman Empire” is a comprehensive book by Halil Inalcik that explores the history, culture, and society of the Ottoman Empire. In the book, Inalcik provides a detailed account of the empire’s rise to power, its expansion, and eventual decline.
He examines the empire’s political, economic, and social structures, as well as its relations with neighboring countries and empires. Throughout the book, Inalcik provides insights into the lives of ordinary people in the Ottoman Empire, including peasants, artisans, and merchants.
He also discusses the empire’s influence on art, literature, and architecture, and the impact of religion and education on Ottoman society. “The Ottoman Empire” is a seminal work that has become a classic in the field of Ottoman studies. It offers readers a comprehensive understanding of one of the most significant empires in world history, and its legacy in modern-day Turkey and beyond.
Last Train to Istanbul
By Ayse Kulin
“Last Train to Istanbul” is a historical fiction novel by Ayse Kulin that tells the story of two sisters, Selva and Sabiha, during World War II. Selva is married to a Turkish diplomat, while Sabiha is married to a Jewish doctor, both living in Istanbul.
As the war escalates, Sabiha, her husband, and many other Jewish families are forced to flee Turkey due to rising anti-Semitic sentiments. Selva, who has a close relationship with her sister, decides to help Sabiha and her family escape. The only means of transportation available to them is the Orient Express, the last train leaving Istanbul before the borders close. As they embark on their dangerous journey, they must face challenges and obstacles, including the harsh conditions of the journey, as well as the prejudice and discrimination they encounter along the way.
“Last Train to Istanbul” is a moving tale of love, sacrifice, and the strength of family bonds. It sheds light on a lesser-known aspect of World War II history and explores themes of identity, tolerance, and humanity in the face of adversity.
Istanbul is a city that has inspired many writers, from Orhan Pamuk to Louis de Bernieres. Reading books about the city can deepen your understanding of its history, culture, and people. Whether you are interested in memoirs, novels, or history books, there is something for everyone on this list. We hope that reading these books will enhance your experience of Istanbul and make you fall in love with this beautiful city.
Are these books available in English?
Yes, all these books are available in English, and most of them have been translated into many other languages. Amazon Links are provided in this post.
Can I find these books in Istanbul?
Yes, most of these books are available in bookstores in Istanbul, or you can order them online.
Do I need to read all these books before visiting Istanbul?
No, you don’t need to read all these books, but reading at least one or two can enhance your experience of the city. Reading books about the city can help: Cultural Understanding: Reading about Istanbul’s history, traditions, and culture can help visitors gain a better understanding and appreciation of the city’s people and heritage. This can enhance the travel experience and foster a deeper connection with the destination.
Familiarity with Landmarks: Books can provide descriptions and imagery of Istanbul’s landmarks and attractions, making them more familiar to visitors when they arrive. This can help travelers navigate the city and locate the sights they want to see more easily.
Inspiration for Activities: Travel books and guides can offer suggestions for activities and experiences that visitors may not have considered otherwise. This can help travelers create an itinerary that reflects their interests and make the most of their time in Istanbul.
Language Learning: Reading books in Turkish or with Turkish phrases can help travelers become more familiar with the language and improve their ability to communicate with locals.
Overall, reading books about Istanbul before traveling to the city can enhance the travel experience and provide valuable insights and knowledge about the destination.
Are there any other books about Istanbul that you would recommend?
Yes, there are many other books about Istanbul, depending on your interests. Some other notable books include Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon, The Turkish Embassy Letters by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities by Bettany Hughes.
What is the best time of the year to visit Istanbul?
The best time to visit Istanbul is in the spring or fall when the weather is mild and the crowds are smaller. However, Istanbul is a beautiful city year-round, and each season has its charm.