Turkish Delights

Our top books of 2014 provided pleasures despite the pain

Hurts So Good

Turkish Delights

A monthlong, end-of-summer trip to Turkey dominated my reading choices for much of the year. Besides feeling compelled to spend endless hours reading through various travel guides, two Turkish novels were the best books I read all year. As it were, I learned more about the character of Turkey from Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk's dense, evocative novel, Snow (Vintage), than all the travel guides combined. Set in the rundown border city of Kars in far eastern Turkey, it's the story of an expatriate poet who returns home to ostensibly investigate a rash of suicides committed by religious, adolescent girls. The book gives you a palpable feeling for the real tensions that currently exist in the ongoing struggles between Islamists and secularists in this vibrant, modern country.

Pamuk has called the late and far lesser known Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar the greatest Turkish novelist of the 20th century. Tanpinar's comic masterpiece, The Time Regula­tion Institute (Penguin Classics), was originally published in 1962 but virtually unavailable in English until early this year. Written in the guise of a memoir and populated with a large cast of colorful, eccentric characters, the book satirizes Turkey's march to modernization following the post-World War I collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent establishment of the Turkish Republic. I no doubt missed much of the book's humor because of my ignorance of the country's history. Still, it's far more than just a Turkish allegory; this is a universal, absurdist send-up of all modern bureaucratic states.

As someone who has read his fair share of Holocaust literature, I found Martin Amis' take on the subject to be intriguing if not unsettling. The Zone of Interest (Knopf) is a love story set in a Nazi concentration camp and tri-narrated by the camp's commandant, a camp official, and a prisoner. The "banality of evil," indeed.

  • Hurts So Good

    Our top books of 2014 provided pleasures despite the pain
  • Smiling Through the Pain

    Amy Gentry's top reads of 2014 thematized suffering in language so beautiful, she winced with every word

    Crimes That Paid

    In Jesse Sublett's top reads of 2014, wherever the protagonists go, trouble follows

    Liberating Lit

    Jessi Cape’s top reads of 2014 show welcome signs of improvement in the way women are celebrated in literature

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Fiction, Top 10s 2014, Snow, The Time Regulation Institute, The Zone of Interest

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