14 Books about Turkey by women

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With a few notable exceptions such as Orhan Pamuk and Elif Şafak, many portrayals of Turkey and particularly the life of women here are projected through the lens of Western perceptions of the Middle East – dangerous, mono-cultural, male-dominated and archaic.

However Turkey is not an Arabic country, and Turkish people are extremely diverse. They can be modern, traditional, atheist, religious, feminist, nationalist or a combination of all or only some of these things. In order to redress the balance I’ve come up with a list of books about Turkey by women. Both fiction and non-fiction, each offers a different perspective on everyday life in Turkey, its history and culture. If you like what you read click on the book title to buy your copy today.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Safak
Enter the world of Tequila Leila, an Istanbul sex worker, in a series of memories she recounts just after she’s died, before her brain shuts down forever. Read my full review here.

Ali and Ramazan by Perihan Magden
Ali and Ramazan meet when they end up in the same Istanbul orphanage. They bond through adversity and create their own sweet world until they are turned out onto the city streets at age 18. Left to fend themselves, they are each forced to make choices that will have tragic consequences.

Dinner of Herbs by Carla Grissman
Find out what it was like to live in a small Anatolian village in the 1960s. Read my full review here.

Expat Sofra: Culinary Tales of Foreign Women in Turkey edited by Katie Belliel & Francesca Rosa

Expat Sofra – Hot off the press!

A collection of stories by foreign women living in Turkey inspired by the taste of Turkish foods, be it sweet, sour, salty or a bit of everything. It’s a follow up to Tales from the Expat Harem, showing what life is like for foreign women living in Turkey now. I am one of the contributors.

Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries by Lisa Morrow
Travel through Turkey from west to east in this collection of essays as the author attempts to get away from herself. Her initial glimpses of a culture less western than eastern are replaced by an awareness that Turkey is at times both and yet something more. These experiences became a metaphor for an inner journey from the known to the unknown and back. The uncompromising nature of Turkish culture and society meant she had to accept what she saw without changing it. In so doing Morrow started to question who she was and look for an alternative way of being.

The Flea Palace – Elif Şafak
A crumbling apartment block overshadowed by a grave in the front garden is home to ten disparate and diverse individuals and their families. When someone starts to steal their garbage, a strange and disturbing series of events begin to unfold.

Another great book about Turkey from Barbara Nadel

Incorruptible by Barbara Nadel
The body of a young woman, tenderly covered in flowers, is found dumped in a backstreet of Istanbul, in an area usually frequented by pimps, prostitutes and punters. As Inspector Ikmen well knows, appearances can be deceiving. The dead woman comes from a Christian family and is believed to be the messenger of the Virgin Mary. Her apparent cure from cancer has been proclaimed a miracle and made her infamous. Islamic believers are outraged by her claims, as are certain members of the small network of Istanbul Christian communities still in existence. Numerous suspects present themselves but the more Ikmen probes, the more possibilities he reveals.

Last Train to Istanbul: a Novel by Ayşe Kulin
Out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, aristocratic Selva finds love with Rafael Alfandari, a young man born to a Jewish family. When their families disapprove of their relationship, they flee to Paris to build a new life, only to come face-to-face with the Nazi invasion.

Have you read The Pull of It?

The Pull of It by Wendy J Fox
Laura boards a plane for Turkey, and once here is quickly seduced, coming under its spell. Fox quickly reels us in busing the commonly accepted idea that Turkey is a place full of mystery and dangerous unknowns, which she cleverly weaves into the backdrop for Laura’s physical and emotional journey.

In Turkey Laura finds a familiar home of a sorts, one that echoes her needs and uncertainties, and provides her with a safety net as she grapples with the pull of her past, the present and a frightening but potentially different and better future. Being in Turkey allows Laura to try to work out who she is, separate from her roles as lover, wife and mother, what she wants and where she wants to be.

Haven't you read Salep and Ginger yet? What's stopping you?!

Salep and Ginger by Jane Gundogan
After having her heart broken by an upstanding English man she thought was Mr Right, Australian woman Ginger encounters Turkish heart throb Aydin and sparks fly. Is he a keeper or just another rotten Romeo after only one thing? Sex aside, you’ll get your money’s worth in Salep and Ginger with a story you can get your teeth (and other body parts) into. As soon as I finished the first page of Ginger and Salep I was hooked and impatient to find out how everything panned out, just as I know you will be.

Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey edited by Anastasia M Ashman & Jennifer Eaton Gökmen
Thirty tales written by women from different countries, with varied backgrounds and experiences who have one thing in common, they all lived in Turkey. Read what it’s really like at a Turkish wedding, in a Turkish bath, or at home with the in-laws.

Find out more about life in modern Turkey.

Turkish Awakening by Alev Scott
In her introduction, Alev Scott states that Turkish Awakening is as much about her personal discovery of the land of her mother’s birth as it is an exploration of contemporary Turkish life and politics, and she’s true to her word. She skilfully combines personal insights with an objective gaze to focus on a confusing and often contradictory culture, teasing out a much fuller picture of Turkey than is usually offered. As a result Scott goes beyond the overused East meets West paradigm usually applied to writing about Turkey, to try to unravel the complex relationship between modernity and religion which is so much a feature of daily life in Istanbul.

Turkish Embassy Letters by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
In the early 18th century, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu accompanied her husband to Constantinople when he was appointed British ambassador to the Sublime Porte. She was given unprecedented access to the world of the women in the Ottoman court and revealed all in her book.

I have read far more books about Turkey by women than the ones listed here. Most recently I read Pat Yale’s wonderful book Following Miss Bell: Travels around Turkey in the footsteps of Getrude Bell and highly recommend it.

I know there are other books about Turkey by women, so please feel free to add your recommendations in the comments section below.

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  1. Hi Lisa: I have read 3 of the books you’ve written on Turkey which I thoroughly enjoyed. Following your article books about and set in Turkey I downloaded 2 of the 3 I wanted..the Expat Sofra book doesn’t seem to be available outside of Turkey. Do you know if it will eventually be on Amazon.com?

    1. Hi Nilgun, It’s lovely to hear you’ve read my books and enjoyed. At the moment the Expat Sofra book is only available in Turkey (it’s just been released). If you could email me at Goreme1990@hotmail.com and tell me which country you’re in, I’ll pass your details on to the editors. One is in Turkey and the other in the US and I know they are working on wider distribution.

  2. Thanks for that list Lisa. I’ve spent many holidays in Turkey, all of them enjoyable, and met many lovely people there. I’m saddened at some of the things that have happened in recent years but no country is immune to change. I shall try to read some of these books you recommend.

    1. I’m glad my post has inspired you to read more books on Turkey. Are you planning more holidays here in the future? Even though the country has changed (and as you say what country doesn’t?) I know you will find the same wonderful hospitality, fascinating history and level of enjoyment as in the past.

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