A Month of Turkish Literature via Global Literature in Libraries Initiative

By Karen Van Drie,

Editor of Turkish Literature Month for

Global Literature in Libraries

Like a lot of people who love to read, I was captivated by Ann Morgan’s reading innovation of reading a book from every country in the world. What a cool idea! Short of visiting every nation in the world, how could one know the world more than to read a text from every single nation and reflect upon it?

Ann Morgan wrote about her journey of text discovery in her book ‘The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe’ (USA title) and ‘Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer’ (UK title).

I learned from Ann Morgan that around 3% of what is published each year in English has been translated from another language. It astonished me that English-language readers read so provincially (for comparison, in Turkey, 42%-50% of everything that is published has been translated from another language).

I was even more chagrined to discover that when she started and pursued her goal of ‘reading the world’ she didn’t have a local librarian cheering her on, accessing titles from a local library collection for her, and inter-library-loaning the rest from around the world.  The whole reading adventure was done without much help from a local library, but rather her blog readers. This brings up good questions for librarians serving a general public:

a) do you have someone on staff who can make a presentation to the board of trustees that writes the collection development policy about how underrepresented the globe’s literature is in your library collection and libraries across the English-language world? Does your English-language library board know the facts that:

only 3-4.5% of what is published each year in English is translated from another language.

of that 3% translated, only 30% of that translated 3% has been written by women.

and those translated women get only 30% of the reviews.

plus books about women don’t tend to win literary awards.

It’s important for a board to know that what is being offered the local citizens isn’t globally-oriented. A lack of global orientation has all sorts of implications for a city and nation. One of the realities I see in Turkey is that a student with only a national orientation has much less opportunity than a student with a more global orientation. It would be foolish to think the same rule of thumb doesn’t apply back home. On a very human level, a student or young person may not be as open-minded to possible opportunities available if they haven’t had access to different ideas and people and developed awareness of them. As librarians, we are not serving our citizens and users if we do not alert our policy-makers to the facts that the world is underrepresented in our collections.

How will you measure this improvement? Will you start by purchasing two books from every single country in the world, one written by a man, another written by a woman? That seems like an easy-enough place to start as it is less than 400 titles and it would be great to share with your patrons that every single country in the world is represented in their library and waiting for them to discover. Beyond that, will you set a percentage goal, that 10% or 20 or 30% of all fiction, for example, must be a translated title?

Another reason to alert your library board that they may want to consider making the collection more global is that booksellers are moving in that direction as well. Amazon has only been in the business of publishing and selling translated titles for seven years with their imprint, Amazon Crossings. After seven years in business, they are already the largest publisher of translated titles in the market.

b) if someone wanted to recreate Ann Morgan’s reading adventure, which librarian on staff would be the perfect readers’ advisor to help them find a book from every country? Has the library found innovative ways to suggest challenges like this to patrons? Do children, tweens, and teens also have read-around-the-world challenges at your library?

c) if someone asked you how many nations were currently represented in your collection, do you know? Is the collection mostly focused on texts produced by English-speaking countries? What is the current percentage of titles that your collection adds every year has been translated from another language? In your children’s collection, are your youngest patrons getting lots of role models from around the world – so they just don’t have a single story of a continent?

d) if your city has an important cultural or revenue-producing relationship with some other part of the world, how well is that other place represented in the collection? Are you as librarians creating opportunities for your patrons to learn more about that place through library collections and programming? Would it be possible for librarians to be included in Sister City exchanges and municipal fact-finding trips to those places to better serve citizens whose livlihood depends on that relationship? Many corporate employees have colleagues who work in offices around the world. Has your library asked local corporate offices which nations they interact with on a daily basis so their staff can find a read from that country at the library?

e) if there is a significant immigrant group from another part of the world as part of your patron base? Has the library eased assimilation by celebrating the culture they came from, thereby also drawing them into the library as users? I don’t mean just by stocking reads in their native language, as so many libraries already do that, but also in English, thereby enabling new immigrants to participate in sharing the culture they came from via collections and programming with already-established locals.

On an even smaller scale, are there foreign or exchange students that could be pressed into providing more global programming to help patrons expand their awareness beyond their own cultural group? Why must all book talks shared over the library’s social media be created by the library? Why not invite foreign university students or new immigrants or recently-resettled refugees to book talk a title from their country in English and share the video via library social media? Imagine how proud their folks back home would be to see them representing their first culture in a new country in their second language.

f) Many library and local book clubs are making an effort to read more diversely within their own national population base. Yet are library and local book clubs making an effort to read books in translation, and important due to current translation and reviewing imbalances: women in translation? Is your library asking local book clubs this question, and making them aware of the global discrepancy in English-language readers not reading beyond their own culture? Is your library ensuring that book sets created for book clubs are global in orientation. It’s a great chance to not just check the national diversity of offerings but global diversity of offerings as well.

g) when was the last time your ‘One Book, One Community’ efforts featured a translated title?

Since Ann Morgan’s book, other reading innovators have popped up. Meytal Radzinski started #WITMonth four years ago, highlighting all of the women around the world writing in their native languages other than English, some getting translated, even fewer getting reviewed.  By devoting the month of August to reading women-in-translation, a whole community of people interested in doing the same has sprung up on social media and is learning from each other. It’s interesting to discover which women are getting translated and which aren’t. Despite the Turkish nation’s importance to the world, currently, women writing in Turkish do not even make the list of top ten most translated languages.

h) does your library celebrate #WITMonth (women-in-translation-month) every year with programming and collection displays? Need ideas? Follow Meytal Radzinski, @Biblibio on Twitter, and her @Read_WIT account and #WITMonth hashtag.

i) If you are a Library and Information Science professor in the English-speaking world, are you addressing this current lack of representation of the world’s literature in library collection development classes in the syllubus? Have you asked the next generation of librarians to potentially examine a collection for provinciality? Librarians often say that citizens need both a ‘mirror’ in their library collections to see themselves, a challenge the initiative ‘We Need Diverse Books’ is trying to address, and a window to see into other cultures, the equally exciting challenge ‘Global Literature in Libraries Initiative’ is trying to address. Both of these groups can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.

j) if you are a vendor supplying and suggestion collection to libraries are you a market leader in this area? How are you helping libraries succeed in creating internationally-minded collections?

It’s fun to think about what the world would be like if English-language readers read more globally. Would there be more empathy? Less fear? Would there be more international travel? Would there be better global collaboration and problem-solving? Even more international business? Would English-language countries be better at exporting if they understood more of other markets? What would the world look like if we knew and understood each other’s stories better? What could listening to each other through books accomplish?

I could not have had more fun as a librarian putting together this month-long celebration of Turkish Literature. I discovered all kinds of interesting books that were new to me, but the most delightful part was collaborating with so many interesting experts on the subject of Turkish Literature. People think librarianship is often just about the books, but a frequently untold-benefit is the community around the books.

Why should anyone be interested in Turkish Literature? After all, for Americans like me, we are often unaware of how American and Turkish history touch. I remember my astonishment the first time a Turkish Korean War veteran sat across from me on the bus in Istanbul with his Veteran’s cap on. I had no idea Turkey also fought in Korea! But of course, they did. Turkey is a member of NATO and very central to NATO security.

Other English-speaking nations like Australia, New Zealand, and India have plenty of shared history with Turkey. These nations work hard at keeping at commemorating their shared experience at WWI sites like Gallipoli.

Here are a few reasons, anyone might be motivated to enjoy Turkish Literature:

Turkey is one of the world’s top destinations for tourism

At its height in 2014, Turkey attracted around 42 million foreign tourists, ranking as the 6th most popular tourist destination in the world. I remember when I first moved to Turkey, the Greeks were throwing rocks at their Parliament, the Syrians were having a revolution, the Bulgarians were fleeing their country at such a rate they had lost 9% of their population. Wow! It seemed like such a rough neighborhood.

What were the Turks doing that summer of 2010? Trying to figure out which of their four seas they wanted to visit. Not only does Turkey have incredible natural beauty with its four surrounding bodies of water, it has all kinds of astounding cultural history! The Hittites, the Byzantines, the Ottomans, and now the Turkish Republic. There are so many interesting stories here and all kinds of fascinating tourist sites that go with them.

Türks has created incredible interest in the country via Turkish TV shows

The Cast of the Ottoman Era drama 'Muhteşem Yüzyil'
The Cast of the Ottoman Era drama ‘Muhteşem Yüzyil’

Last time I went home to Chicago, my nail tech was Krygyz, a country I had never been to before. What did we find out we had in common? When I told her I lived in Istanbul, she asked me if I watched the Ottoman TV drama, ‘Mutuşem Yuzyil.’ Excitedly, we instantly switched to Turkish – she had learned all of her Turkish from Turkish television shows. She and her sisters couldn’t get enough of their favorites Turkish ‘dizis’ or serials – indeed, the shows made them want to learn and study Turkish outside of just watching it on TV.  These shows are ‘must-see TV’ from Central Asia to Pakistan to Cairo to Chicago. Turkey is the world’s fastest TV series exporter and the second biggest exporter of TV series after the U.S. These shows bring in planeloads of tourists who can’t wait to see the locations of their favorite shows.

Turkey is a part of Europe

Turkey may not officially be in the EU, but don’t be fooled that it isn’t a part of Europe. Most of the most pressing issues of the day, from how to handle refugees, to migrants, to finance, require a Turkish component to European problem-solving. Developing a comfort with Turkish culture is as important to an EU Citizen’s cultural competency as knowing the difference between the Schengen Zone and the Euro Zone.

Turkey is a leader in the Middle East and the Islamic World

But, wait? Didn’t I just say Turkey was a part of Europe? I did. It’s both a part of Europe and also a part of the Middle East and Islamic World. This shifting cultural border creates confusion among Turkish people, Europeans, heck, just about everybody. Turks decide for themselves where they fall on this cultural border and/or if these borders blend. A reader outside of the country wanting to learn more about the Islamic World would do well to start with Turkey, as secular European life and more strict examples of Islamic life coexist right next to each other. It’s easy to feel at home here and find a gentle entry into learning, and reading, about people different than from where you came from – whether that be Saudi Arabia or Seattle.

Here are the titles featured during this month of Turkish Literature. Thanks for reading!

Recommended for a One Book program:

‘Bliss’ by O.Z. Livaneli

(O.Z. Livaneli’s ‘Bliss’ was chosen for the Missouri Southern State University ‘One Book’ program.    As a man who has made the globe his home, and since he is both a writer and a composer, he seems strangely under-utilized by Western universities for cultural exchange). ‘Bliss’ is his only title that has been translated into English. I’m trying to wait patiently for the other books to be translated – Turkish friends rave about them! This week, two of his books are #1 and #5 on the bestseller list here in Turkey).

‘My Grandmother: An Armenian-Turkish memoir’ by Fethiye Çetin

‘Never Regret the Pain: Loving and Losing a Bi-Polar Spouse by Sel Erder Yackley

‘The Entrusted Trousseau – Peoples of the Exchange” by Kemal Yalçın (not yet in English)

‘Soraya’ by Meltem Yılmaz

Titles from ‘Usurping Words: Turkey’s Coup Literature’

Recommended for Photography Lovers:

Ara Güler’s Istanbul: 40 Years of Photographs

Kurds Through the Photographer’s Lens

Recommended for Book Club Discussions:

Titles from ‘Ottoman / Turkish Autobiographical Women’s Narratives, 19th Century to Early 20th Century’

Contemporary Turkish Women Writers

‘Exile’ by Çiler İlhan

‘Three Daughters of Eve’ by Elif Shafak

‘The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi’ by Elif Shafak

‘Wuf’ by Kemal Verol

‘On India’ by Halide Edib

‘The Time Regulation Institute’ by Ahmet Hamdı Tanpınar 

Titles from ‘Usurping Words: Turkey’s Coup Literature’

‘Soraya’ by Meltem Yılmaz (not yet published in English) 

‘The Entrusted Trousseau – Peoples of the Exchange” by Kemal Yalçın (not yet in English)

‘Never Regret the Pain: Loving and Losing a Bi-Polar Spouse by Sel Erder Yackley

‘My Grandmother: An Armenian-Turkish memoir’ by Fethiye Çetin

‘A Strangeness In My Mind’ by Orhan Pamuk

‘Madonna in a Fur Coat’ by Sabahattin Ali

‘Gavur Mahallesi’ by Mıgırdiç Margosyan

‘Voices From the Front: Turkish Soldiers on the War With Kurdish Guerillas’

‘The Kurdish Spring: A New Map of the Middle East’

‘The Kurds of Turkey: National, Religious and Economic Identities’


‘Ottoman / Turkish Autobiographical Women’s Narratives, 19th Century to Early 20th Century’

From Balat to Bat Yam: Memoirs of a Turkish Jew by Eli Shaul

Jewish Istanbul: A Collection of Memories by Roz Kohen

‘On India’ by Halide Edib

‘Never Regret the Pain: Loving and Losing a Bi-Polar Spouse by Sel Erder Yackley

‘My Grandmother: An Armenian-Turkish memoir’ by Fethiye Çetin

‘Gavur Mahallesi’ by Mıgırdiç Margosyan

Recommended for LGBTI Readers:

Beyond Borders: Murathan Mungan’s Texts

Recommended for Cooks and Culinary Adventurers:

‘A Taste of Sun and Fire – A Gaziantep Cookery, edited by Aylın Onay Tan

‘Cooking New Istanbul Style’ by Refika Birgül

Recommended for Poetry Lovers:

What Have You Carried Over?: Poems of 42 Days and Other Works, by Gülten Akın

‘Hiroshima’s Child’ by Nazim Hikmet

‘On Living’ by Nazim Hikmet

‘I am Listening to Istanbul’ by Orhan Veli

Recommended for Tweens and Teens:

‘A Tale Within A Tale’ by Ahmet Ümit

Graphic Novels From Turkey

Recommended for Children:

‘A White Line Between Us’ by Çiğdem Kaplangı, illustrated by Seçil Çokan

‘The Beyoğlu Adventure’ by  Sara Şahinkanat, illustrated by Ayşe Inan Alican

Recommended for Publishers, as these titles aren’t yet published in English:

‘A Wedding Night’ by Adalet Ağaoğlu

‘Soraya’ by Meltem Yılmaz

‘The Entrusted Trousseau’ by Kemal Yalçın

LGBTI Identities in Turkish Literature

Why We Need To Translate Seray Şahiner

All of O.Z. Livaneli’s books other than ‘Bliss’

I want to thank all of my thought-provoking contributors for sharing their take on Turkish Literature. No reviewer was compensated for their contribution to this blog, other than the joy of sharing great books and the camaraderie that results from this discussion!

Thank you to the following contributors. Please notice in their biographies on their posts that many of them have written great books too!

Monica Fritz, Dr. Roberta Micallef, Dayla Rogers, Robyn Eckhardt, Nazlan Ertan, Nuri Al-Khalaf, Mubassir Anjum, Thomas Hübner, Kaya Genç, Catherine Yiğit, Sevcan Tiftik, Dr. Rubina Peroomian, Thomas Baylem, Claudia Turgut, Canan Marasligil, Matthew Chovanec, and Burhan Sönmez. 

Karen profile photo

Karen Van Drie is an American expat librarian working in Istanbul, Turkey. She is on Twitter at @worldlibraries. She also hosts a bilingual celebration of reading culture at @EnSonNeOkudun. In her free time, Karen writes her own blog called ‘Empty Nest Expat.’



6 thoughts on “A Month of Turkish Literature via Global Literature in Libraries Initiative

  1. Thank you, Karen, for this wonderful month of literature and reading ideas. I’m anxious to share your final post above as you have made some of the strongest and most well-presented arguments for why people really should read globally that I’ve ever come across. As a translator, it seems obvious to me why readers need to be open to books from other cultures but you’ve explained the why and how so clearly that I’m confident your post can have a positive impact. Thank you again!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It was a thoughtful experience, I leant a lot. You have combined modernity with antiquity and poetry which is language of feelings with prose which is language of mind, such a beauty!

    Liked by 1 person

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