Among my favorite books on Turkey is Irfan Orga‘s Portrait of a Turkish Family, an autobiographical account of his family’s journey from the privileged world of the sultan’s medieval Ottoman Empire to the vibrant 20th-century world of Kemal Atatürk‘s Turkish Republic.
You can learn the facts by reading history books, but to bring those tumultuous times to life, you need to read about the daily pleasures, struggles and triumphs of normal Turks such as Orga.
Here’s what the book’s publisher (Eland Books) writes:
“Irfan Orga was born into a prosperous family in the twilight of the Ottoman Empire. His mother was a beauty, married at thirteen, who lived in the seclusion of a harem, as befitted a Turkish woman of her class. His grandmother was an eccentric autocrat, determined at all costs to maintain her traditional habits.
“But the First World War changed everything. Death and financial disaster reigned, the sultan was overthrown and Turkey became a republic. The family was forced to adapt to an unimaginably impoverished life. In 1941 Irfan Orga arrived in London, and seven years later he wrote this extraordinary story of his family’s survival.”
Being a younger member of the family, Irfan Orga found it easier to adapt to the change. After embracing the Turkish Republic, he went on to embrace the world, moving to London to take up a career as a writer.
His later book, The Caravan Moves On: Three Weeks Among Turkish Nomads, deals with a small but fascinating segment of Turkish society that has changed little, in essence, since Ottoman times. Caravan is also published by Eland.