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date: 24 February 2024

The Turkish Novel as Transnationalfree

The Turkish Novel as Transnationalfree

  • Ayşe Özge Koçak HemmatAyşe Özge Koçak HemmatHumanities, University of Chicago


The novel in the Turkish tradition has been a transnational genre, both in terms of its inception and production during the late Ottoman era, and by virtue of the novelists’ transnational experiences and the reflection of these experiences in their novels. Imperial transnationalism—intra- and inter-imperial exchanges and relations that predate the modern nation-state—is an essential lens through which to study the Ottoman novel, with its multiple sources and cross-cultural engagement and output that expand the scope of the “Ottoman novel” to the non-Turkish-speaking and non-Muslim subjects of the empire.

Following the split of the former Ottoman territories into nation-states that began in the 19th century and culminated after World War I, the Republic of Turkey attempted to forge a unique Turkish identity, an effort that involved cultivating a national literary tradition distinct from that of its imperial predecessor. The Republican-era novelists nonetheless continued to reflect on their transnational and cross-cultural experiences in their work. Some of these authors wrote while residing abroad for reasons ranging from exile to diplomatic service, illustrating the complexities of the concept and the reality of nation, imagined or otherwise. As the form and the substance of the Turkish novel evolved and flourished, culminating in the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Orhan Pamuk in 2006, Turkish novelists enjoyed wider and more international audiences. Some recurrent themes in transnational Turkish novels are identity and language, belonging at home and abroad, and reconciling the past with the present.

While Turkish novelists now enjoy increased mobility and the ability to reach an international audience, with more of their work being translated and published abroad, and read and studied across the globe, the scope of international scholarship on the Turkish novel is still confined to the work of a small group of authors. This highly selective reception not only limits the range of works to which international audiences are exposed, but also suppresses the genre’s entanglement in the Turkish literary tradition with the crossing of boundaries—temporal and traditional, as well as physical. A transnational approach to studying the Turkish novel thus provides insight into the genre’s origins, evolution, circulation, and reception, but it also highlights its transgressive nature in a wide network of world literary and social developments through its evolution via travel, translation, and adaptation in different regions, and its negotiations with other literary forms.


  • Fiction
  • West Asian Literatures, including Middle East
  • 19th Century (1800-1900)
  • Literary Theory

Novel as a Transnational Genre

Owing to how prominent and prolific the genre of the novel is, it is difficult to answer the question: What is a novel? The answers vary, and are complicated by geographical, political, linguistic, historical, and formal assumptions. Guido Mazzoni’s 2011 book, Theory of the Novel, provides an extensive historical and literary exposition of the genre in the European context, and delineates its roots in romances, epic, and other forms. Mazzoni’s notion of a Wittgensteinian family resemblance of the works that have been categorized as novels since the 20th century only came to be identified in the 19th century.1 In addition to scholarship that emphasizes the organic development of the European novel out of the existing literary tradition (romances, travel literature, histories, folk stories, dialogues, pastorals, as well as poetry), the influence of innovative new ideas, objects, and texts arriving from abroad—as is the case with the One Thousand and One Nights in the 18th century and its influence on European literary forms—cannot be ignored in studying the genre both in Europe and elsewhere.2 The two important milestones of the novel genre—Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote in 1605 and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in 1719—are, despite predating modern national borders, both marked with transnational elements that allude to texts and individuals traveling through territories, crossing cultures, and adapting, translating, or appropriating texts and materials. In Don Quixote, this allusion takes the form of an attribution of the text to a fictional “Moorish” author, “Cide Hamete Benengeli,” whose community was expelled from Spain shortly after the publication of the first part of Cervantes’ book in Spanish in 1609. In the case of Robinson Crusoe, the title character is the former prisoner of a “Moor,” and then becomes a castaway in an island near South America, thereby crossing borders and cultures. The motif of the foreigner is surrounded by violence in these archetypal works, which, one might argue, sets the stage for the ossification of national identities and borders, marking what lies outside the European tradition as peripheral.

Literature traveled long before the age of steam and print afforded increasing mobility between increasingly well-defined borders. Epics and romances adapted, traveled in time and space, and were transformed. Travelogues described unknown regions through tales of travelers and through imaginary journeys. Johann Goethe’s engagement with the great Persian poet Hafiz’s work and his production of the West-oestlicher Divan in the early 1800s is perhaps the most relevant example of the transnational potential of literature. Weltliteratur, in 1827, already operated for Goethe on a transnational plane, with the assumption that literature traveled across borders.3 In one sense, world literature can be said to be the entire body of literary output by the literary traditions of the world, the study and knowledge of which transcend national borders that started to emerge in their modern outlines following Europe’s postimperial excursions. In another and more important sense, however, world literature is the transnational circulation of and exchange within literary traditions around the world, resulting in adaptations, translations, appropriation, and the creation of new and hybrid forms and genres.

A transnational literary framework informs discussions of world literature by highlighting these cross-cultural exchanges, rather than assuming that literature evolved within the imagined insularity of the nation.4 Such a framework also enables one to see the kind of insularity that national literature aspires to by eliminating the extranational elements from itself and approaching the foreign elements as either exotic or incomprehensible.5 And yet, to borrow Pheng Cheah’s definition,

world literature as literature that is of the world, [is] not a body of timeless aesthetic objects or a commodity-like thing that circulates globally, but something that can play a fundamental role and be a force in the ongoing cartography and creation of the world . . . The world . . . is the original openness that gives us accessibility to others so we can be together.6

Transnational studies of the novel reveal how such a world is generated where people have indeed been together, even prior to the formation of nation-states. As Goethe claimed,

left to itself every literature will exhaust its vitality, if not refreshed by the interest and contributions of a foreign one . . . the idea is not that all the nations shall think alike, but that they shall learn how to understand each other . . . at least they will learn to tolerate one another.7

This understanding of literature(s) as forming and nurturing each other and creating the world renders the exotic and the incomprehensible familiar.

A transnational approach sets an expectation from the scholar of literature as well as the reader/audience to not receive a translated work as a curiosity or an exotic trifle that stands for an entire nation, culture, or literature. One needs to be, or learn how to be, open to and conversant in world cultures, if not in its languages, as well as be ready to be challenged.8 If, in Turkey or another locality, American movie dialogues have a global exchange value in being circulated with the expectation of being familiar to the hearer, it is not because the hearer or the speaker is an English speaker, but that they have been exposed to it enough in multiple iterations. The monolinguistic and cultural expectations, especially in the English-speaking world, stem from this world’s own suppression of its pluralistic history, not to mention its own contribution to hybridized cultures and languages around the world. Historically, European literature’s engagement with Ottoman works and cultures extends to works such as François Pétis de la Croix’s Contes turcs, published in 1707, which consists of translations of Persian and Turkish stories, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters from the 18th century.9 In more contemporary literature and media, from the Turkish delight in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia to Lady Mary Crawley’s affair with the Turkish diplomat Kemal Pamuk in the television series Downton Abbey, European literature and media are in fact suffused with references to traces of Turkish culture, which remain highly exoticized and underdeveloped, while the reading/viewing public also often lacks the familiarity they are expected to have when reading/viewing a work from Western Europe. Such examples are, of course, well-known popular ones, to make a point about the persistence of “foreign” references even in what may be considered very “British” works. While this is not to say every reference to a foreign idea, person, or object has literary significance, these references reveal the importance of the exchange and circulation of objects and ideas transnationally, which needs to be studied and highlighted in order to familiarize the reader with not only other cultures, but their own culture’s dependence on others.

Even though the scholarship on the novel increasingly underlines the cosmopolitan and transnational nature of the genre, the general scholarly practice continues to place the “Western” novel at the center and treat all else as peripheral—in part owing to the narrative describing the novel as having emerged by virtue of certain developments in Europe, such as the Enlightenment, individualism, and the Industrial Revolution. This approach precludes “peripheral” novels from being considered without a label: postcolonial, minor, Third World. Scholarship on the emergence and development of the novel genre in the Turkish literary tradition also often takes a certain notion of the “original” that first emerged in Europe as the ultimate example of the genre, and it proceeds to compare novels produced since the late Ottoman period to this “original” in the context of westernization.10 As such, apart from a handful of names, modern and contemporary Turkish novels, let alone novels published prior to the late 1990s, receive little to no attention from scholars or readers.

While it is scarcely believable that only a handful of novelists’ works in the Turkish literary tradition were “universal” enough in scope to have international appeal, or that their artistic superiority to other novels alone led to their success abroad, the success of novelists like Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak reveals another aspect of transnationalism in literature, and its marketing and reception: global novels that are born translated.11 Such novels circulate around the globe, as their authors travel across borders with privilege, social capital, and mobility, and are recognized as paragons of the national tradition to which they belong. They are considered local enough to be a part of that tradition, but global enough to be read by anyone around the world, as their works deliver familiar themes and cultural references that correspond to international audiences’ expectations and perceptions of their nation or region.12 This is not to say that born-translated global novels receive unwarranted or unnecessary attention from scholars and readers, and yet, this attention takes place at the expense of suppressing other ways transnational encounters inform the novel in Turkish, from the inception of the genre in the Turkish tradition to the production and circulation of contemporary novels. Modern Turkey’s novelistic engagements and entanglements include multiple facets such as translation and adaptation; writing abroad and writing in a second language; writing for a global audience; writing in transit as well as writing in an inherently transnational, cross-cultural, and multilingual context.

The Ottoman Novel and Multiple Affiliations

Since its proper emergence during the Tanzimat (reorganization, reordering) era (1839–1876), the Ottoman novel offers glimpses into the generation of a pluralistic world, described by Pheng Cheah, via literature, through exchanges both within the imperial borders of the Ottoman Empire, as well as across the imperial borders.13 The Tanzimat was an era of reforms, ranging from military to education, which had their origins in the 18th century, following Ottoman attempts to decipher European military successes.14 During this time, many Ottoman intellectuals and bureaucrats traveled to Europe extensively, while European-style educational institutions were founded in the Ottoman Empire. These Ottoman intellectuals and bureaucrats were reformers and modernizers, but they were also translators, journalists, authors, and novelists, many of whom spoke more than one European language, as well as having received classical education in Ottoman, Arabic, and Persian.15

Born into a transnational space that comprised “both freedom and constraint, agency and its restriction,” and which was “a realm of opportunities and counter pressures,” the Ottoman novel displayed not only an engagement with European novels and experimentations with new and old genres, but it also exhibited a cross-linguistic range comprising Ottoman Turkish—itself a tripartite language consisting of Turkish, Persian, and Arabic—Arabic, Armenian, Greek, Bulgarian, and Ladino, among others (see the article “Transnational”).16 The Tanzimat novel perhaps exemplifies the transnationality of the genre most of all by virtue of the multiple languages, cultures, and scripts that its “multiple affiliations” encompass, the literary transformations it undergoes owing to these encounters, as well as the transformation of the European novel via translation, adaptation, and appropriation.17 The period itself was an era of contact in which new literary and philosophical ideas converged, opening up new discussions on the value of tradition, political institutions, and national identity.

Different sources point to different texts as the first Ottoman novel, depending on how the genre is perceived: either as the precursor to the more homogeneous modern Turkish novel emerging during the Republican era, or as a separate tradition, with its cultural diversity and multiple identities setting it apart from the Republican era. It is possible to read the Tanzimat novel as both, given its multiple sources and trajectories, which also complicates the conventional argument that the genre’s introduction is solely marked as a novelty imported from Europe. The conventional argument proceeds from an ahistorical perception of the European novel, which creates anachronistic expectations of plot, character, narrative time and place, language, and style from the early Ottoman novels.18 Such an approach also suppresses the Ottoman literati’s engagement with its own tradition, and it finds Ottoman literature unprepared and merely imitating a preexisting form imported from Europe.19 There are, however, studies arguing that the Ottoman literary tradition contains short folk stories and mesnevis—long verse narrative poems, such as Hüsn ü Aşk—that also nourished the Ottoman novel.20 Giritli Aziz Efendi’s fantastic stories in Muhayyelât (1796) hint at an earlier beginning of novelistic fiction, even though the book was first published in 1852.21 Muhayyelât is a transnational text in multiple ways, including its origin, content, scholarly reception, and the location of its composition.

Inspired by the Thousand and One Days (Le Mille et un Jours, contes persans, turcs et chinois) by François Pétis de la Croix, as well as the One Thousand and One Nights, Muhayyelât is a narrative prose text, containing three stories, called hayal, meaning dream or vision, that serve as the frame for multiple shorter stories within each dream. In his introduction, Aziz Efendi writes that he found the stories in an imaginary multilingual book, Hülâsatü’l-Hayâl, written in Assyrian and Hebrew in a library of dreams, suggesting an act of translation by the author.22 In addition to the multiple sources that inspired and nourished the work, the content itself is essentially a narrative of travel across, and transgression of, boundaries between realms both real and supernatural. In all three frame stories, the protagonists find themselves being transported to, or having to travel to, foreign lands near and far, such as Basra (present-day Iraq), Samarkand (present-day Uzbekistan), Egypt, and China, as well as supernatural realms, in search of objects, people, and answers. The supernatural in the text is explained as “alchemy” (simya) rather than “magic” (sihir), but at such a scale as constructing entire cities in the blink of an eye. It was a popular literary text among Tanzimat readers, as a work spanning continents and languages, imaginary or otherwise. Giritli Aziz Efendi wrote Muhayyelât while he served as an ambassador in Berlin. Remarkably, an Austrian orientalist émigré in Turkey, Andreas Tietze, produced the first detailed and positive scholarly article on Muhayyelât in 1948, which argued that the text progresses from translation to adaptation and creative fiction, and placed it at the beginning of modern Turkish literature.23 Ironically, the fantastic text was looked down on by scholars/authors like Namık Kemal and Tanpınar for not moving beyond old folk tales and not being realistic, owing to their own expectations from a modern literary tradition that does away with the old and aligns itself with the European literary tradition.24

Multilingualism was characteristic of Ottoman culture, principally in Istanbul, a literary contact zone where the Tanzimat novel flourished in Ottoman Turkish and a city that later on came to be considered the capital of comparative literature in the 1930s, particularly as a result of Erich Auerbach’s exile.25 Not only were books being published in Istanbul, but there were other publication centers both within and outside the empire, such as Smyrna (present-day Izmir), Cairo, Paris, Vienna, London, and Venice, that provided books to the empire in both the languages of the empire and European languages.26 The first novel written in Ottoman Turkish was by Hovsep Vartanyan, or Vartan Paşa, an Ottoman-Armenian bureaucrat, translator, and educator. Vartanyan wrote Akabi Hikayesi in 1851. The novel tells the story of two young lovers, whose impossible love cannot be consummated due their different religious denominations—Apostolic and Catholic. The novel exemplifies transnational exchange both within the empire, as it was written in Ottoman Turkish using the Armenian script, and through its dialogue with the popular French literature of the time, alluding to and borrowing from Chateaubriand’s Atala. When the protagonists Hagop and Akabi meet, their conversation revolves around Atala, Chateaubriand’s novel about the love between two Native Americans, mirroring their own story almost from its beginning to its fatal end. Both Hagop and Akabi seem to be reading Atala in French since it was not translated into Armenian until 1858, nor into Turkish until 1872, which is to say European novels circulated in the Ottoman Empire in their original languages prior to their translated versions.27 The year 1872 is also when Taaşşuk-ı Talat ve Fitnat by Şemsettin Sami, who was of Albanian descent, began to be published in segments as the first novel in the Ottoman script. It had a similar plot and ending to that of Akabi Hikayesi, minus the religious conflict. Vartan Paşa and Şemsettin Sami were both multilingual non-Turkish Ottoman bureaucrat/writers, credited with writing the first novels in the Ottoman Turkish language. The novel, in other words, made its entrance in the Ottoman literary tradition as a transnational genre in multiple scripts.28 Around the time of the emergence of the novel in the Ottoman literary space, multiple translations of European novels were already being published in the Ottoman Empire, in Armenian, Greek, and Ottoman Turkish.29

Translation, Adaptation, Meditation

Emily Apter speaks of translational transnationalism as “a conceptual counterweight to cosmopolitan literariness, in which metropolitan movements and genres tend to be privileged.”30 For Apter, “transnationalism implies a will to preserve the integrity of national specificity in cultural exchanges.”31 Translation, in its broad sense, is transfer of meaning from one location to the other, where the intellectual production is rooted in one region, but, in content, form, or circulation, it moves across regional borders by means of being conveyed in different languages. The translation of European novels into Turkish coincided with the emergence of the first novels written in the Turkish language during the Tanzimat era. It is important to study the translational activities of this era because they reveal the complexities of translation and its relation to the novel genre as it developed in the Turkish literary tradition. It is also illuminating to see translation as a performance that aims at preserving a national specificity as opposed to accuracy of the linguistic conversion.

The first novel translated into Ottoman Turkish was Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, printed using the Greek alphabet in 1853.32 Robinson Crusoe was translated several times from its versions in other languages, such as Arabic and French into Greek, Arabic, and Armenian scripts, and had a complex itinerary.33 Johann Strauss claims that Robinson Crusoe’s first Turkish translation in the Arabic script in 1864, “which is said to have been translated from Arabic, may well go back to the one published in Malta in 1835.”34 The Turkish translation of François Fénelon’s Aventures de Télémaque came out in 1859, prior to which it was already popular among the Ottoman communities.35 However, there was a prevalent interest in the Ottoman Empire in translating authors like Alexandre Dumas, Eugène Sue, and Jules Verne into the languages of the empire: Turkish, Greek, Armenian, and Karamanli—karamanlidika, which uses the Greek script to write in Ottoman Turkish.36 Circulation of these novels in the empire was often nearly contemporaneous with their publication in Europe.

As Ayaydın Cebe points out, “the millets of the Empire affected each other’s choice and taste in modern translated literature. Translated works and their dissemination among the communities prove the existence of a strong communication.”37 The different ethnic communities of the empire were also familiar with each other’s literary products to a certain extent, although this worked mostly one way: works in Ottoman Turkish were being read by the millets more often than the other way around.38 The engagement with contemporary popular fiction from Europe also shows that the Ottoman Empire was abreast of European literary traditions. Ottoman writers were actively engaged in reading foreign works, letting these works transform their own work, but also transforming these foreign works in the act of reading and translating.

While translations of popular novels certainly aimed at attracting and increasing readership, it was an act of “appropriating” the genre, of assimilating it into the existing range of literary forms.39 Translators often opted for what may be called “free translations” to make the translation read as “if written originally in Ottoman,” such as Ahmet Mithat’s translation of “L’Aventurière (1860), one of Emile Augier’s verse dramas into Turkish as a novel entitled Nedamet mi? Heyhat! (Penitence? Alas! 1889),” or his rendition of Corneille’s Le Cid (1637) into a prose work longer than the original text, with the title “Summary of Le Cid” (1890–1891).40 An important parallel can be drawn between the way Tanzimat novelists translated European novels and the pre- and early modern Ottoman poetry traditions, which valued repetition of or resemblance to traditional masterpieces, with interventions that emphasized differences—that is, similarity without sameness. In a sense, what the Tanzimat author/translator did was a “creative meditation,” that is, the practice of telif, an almost Platonic artistic activity, which brought out the individual originality of the one practicing telif, or nakl, the innovative transfer of an original work by another author, thus continuing the Ottoman literary tradition. This appropriative process constituted the early transnational activity of the Tanzimat era in the context of translating European works.41 In fact, the prolific novelist and translator Ahmet Mithat often mentioned in the prefaces to his books and other writings that his translations of European works were more renderings of his own rather than exact translations (terceme). As Saliha Paker argues, in the second half of the 19th century,

not only translations (both of Eastern as well as of European sources) but the practice of creative mediation (telif) flourished; the latter introduced “foreign” material translated from the “unfamiliar European Other,” but by reconciling (sometimes simply by omission) differences (sometimes radical) between such imports with the domestic, long-standing knowledge, values, and beliefs ingrained in the Ottoman readership.42

Modern and Modernizing Novels

Tanzimat was an era of modernization that was followed by the short-lived first Constitutional Era (Birinci Meşrutiyet Devri) in 1878, which ended with a return to monarchy. However, what began as military and industrial modernization movements in the early 1800s became a full-fledged venture in importing European institutions, thought, and literature, with the beginnings of Ottoman political transformation and the rise of discussions and formulations of nationalism and national identity. From Ottomanism to Young Turkism, the identity of the imperial subject was being theorized for the first time. During this politically charged period, novels were popularized, both in translation and via the first Ottoman novelists, like Ahmet Mithat Efendi, Nabizade Nazım, Şemsettin Sami, Namık Kemal, and Recaizade Mahmut Ekrem, all of whom also produced works in other literary genres, from poetry to drama as well as translations. The novel was seen as a new technology to instruct the growing reading public by virtue of its simpler style and language, but it was also “a pliant form of narrative to experiment with.”43 Tanzimat authors often contrasted modern literary forms to classical Ottoman literature in terms of novelty, freedom, and flexibility, in order to justify opting for new genres such as the novel and drama. Namık Kemal, for instance, commended the realistic and rational depictions in European fiction, whereas he considered classical divan poetry to be full of flattery and ornamentation, a view which was corroborated by later literary scholars such as Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, who viewed classical literature as imperial and imitative of Persian and Arabic poetry.44

The adoption of the novel was, in a sense, a process of choosing the body of literature with which to align oneself in the face of social, political, and philosophical changes. Persian and Arabic literary sources that nourished the Ottoman tradition for centuries were now considered self-enclosed and restrictive, preventing the Tanzimat authors from innovating traditional genres and using simpler language. This is not to say that classical literature had indeed exhausted all its resources and was doomed to repetition. But actively declaring this to be the case served the Tanzimat intellectuals’ purpose in justifying the adoption of new genres that allowed them to express new ideas in simpler and more accessible ways. It also enabled an orientalist dichotomy of East and West, sovereignty and liberty, as well as tradition and innovation, which helped create a divide between classical literature and the new literature of the Tanzimat.

While Tanzimat novelists did not approve of Persian and Arabic aspects of traditional Ottoman literature, they were also disinclined to accept French borrowings to mar the Turkish language, which would put the development of an authentic national literature at risk. Ahmet Mithat Efendi, for instance, warned against the unintelligibility that would arise when a decadent language peppered with French became “the operative principle of textual production.”45 Language, in other words, constituted a linguistic transnational playing field during this era, as the simplification and “purification” of the Ottoman Turkish language via purging what were considered non-national elements—a challenging and complex task owing to the multinational and multilingual nature of the empire—started to gain force, while the extent of allowable influence from the French language also became an issue. Control was, in a sense, key to Ottoman literary, social, and linguistic innovations. Change and foreign influence were inevitable, but could be controlled, and novels could help administer controlled change.

Two important novels displayed the complexities of transnational language politics: Araba Sevdası (1898) by Recaizade Mahmut Ekrem and Felatun Bey ile Râkım Efendi (1875) by Ahmet Mithat Efendi. The protagonists in both novels are Ottoman dandies—wealthy, young Ottoman gentlemen who aspire to the European lifestyles and romances they have read about in popular French novels. Their language is a concoction of French and Ottoman, incomprehensible to those around them. Both novels also showcase characters who are well read and fluent not only in Ottoman and French, but also Persian and Arabic, in contrast to the dandies. In highlighting language, these novels also depict their authors’ view on how much Ottoman state and society should be willing to be transformed by encounters with European institutions in the empire’s effort to modernize and compete with European powers. Both novels illustrate how Istanbul was a contact zone, and how Tanzimat authors were consciously exploiting the particular transculturality of the era, actively trying to control the sphere of foreign influence. The protagonist of Araba Sevdası, Bihruz Bey, is a dandy who no longer feels that he belongs with the Ottoman society in which he was raised, thanks to the influence of romantic French novels he reads, but he is aware that he is not French, either. In a sense, Recaizade Mahmut Ekrem communicates through this novel some of the essential perils of not just writing, but also merely existing in the contact zone, such as “[m]iscomprehension, incomprehension, dead letters, unread masterpieces, [and] absolute heterogeneity of meaning.”46 Ahmet Mithat Efendi’s controlled transculturalism, however, proposes the modest, competent, and hardworking Rakım Efendi in contrast to the Tanzimat dandies. Rakım Efendi, a polyglot who does not forget where he comes from, can fit in with any community, be it the traditional Ottoman household that he manages, or an English family living in Istanbul.

During the Second Constitutional Era (1908–1920) and with the weakening of Ottoman sovereignty, nationalism in the Ottoman Empire took up a less unifying and more homogenizing agenda. With the growing influence of nationalist movements in Europe as well as in the Ottoman territories, a pan-Turkist movement also grew. The rise of Turkish nationalism revealed the fractured relations among imperial communities, putting an end to the ostensible unity and belonging of the imperial subjects and severing the already fragile ties that existed between these communities. Ömer Seyfettin’s 1918 novella Ashab-ı Kehfimiz: Bir Ermeni Gencinin Hatıraları (Memoirs of an Armenian Youth) gestures at this split. The novella tells the story of Ottoman intellectuals in pursuit of an Ottoman state with a common language and culture, who establish a club called “Osmanlı Kaynaşma Derneği” (Ottoman Fraternization Society), with members from different Ottoman ethnic groups (millet) as well as Turks. The story told by Hayikyan, a young Armenian, ends in disappointment and disillusionment, as each ethnic group goes its own way, and even Hayikyan begins to find the idea of the club childish and succeeds in provoking the Turkish populace by an article he publishes—which can be considered the moment of Turkish national awakening in the wake of the Balkan Wars. While Seyfettin meant this story to be a cautionary tale and a criticism of the Ottoman intellectuals still vying for an Ottoman identity, by depicting the Turkish club members as the legendary seven sleepers (Ashab-ı Kehf), the novel also sheds light on the distorted sense of late Ottoman identity, which disregarded the multiethnic nature of the empire itself and attempted to unify by purging rather than building on the differences among its communities’ identities.

Complexities of the “Nation” and Turkish Transnationalisms

The early Republican-era novels are marked by the distance the new state tried to put between itself and the now defunct Ottoman Empire. This distancing can be best described as an attempt to identify everything the Turkish Republic inherited from the Ottoman Empire that did not serve the purpose of advancing and industrializing the country as part of the Orient, therefore irrational, unscientific, and backward. As a result, the Republic opted into “Western” civilization, or, rather, selected elements of it and came up with an identity that was both “authentically” Turkish in terms of culture and “Western” in terms of civilization at the same time. This can be rightly described as an “internal transnational” condition, in which the Republican Turkish authors had an experimental sense of national identity and were tasked with creating the homogeneous society to which they would also belong. An important aspect of the internal transnational moment occurred during the Republican era, particularly as a result of the language reform of 1928, which required the purging of Arabic and Persian words and grammar from the Turkish language.47 This reform led to the translation of older texts into the new language, but also their transcription from Arabic to Latin script. As a result, early Republican-era novelists worked in a liminal condition, often translating and simplifying their own works to fit the standards of the new state.48

The question of belonging for the Turkish intellectual during the early Republican era manifested itself as an intellectual crisis in novels such as Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu’s Yaban (1932). Yakup Kadri was an active politician and a diplomat as well as a journalist during the early years of the Turkish Republic, which can be called a transitional era between the imperial past and the nation-state future. In Yaban, Yakup Kadri tells the story of Ahmet Celal, a veteran who withdraws from urban life to an unnamed and untamed city in Anatolia and struggles to feel kinship with the villagers, who identify themselves with Islam rather than Turkishness (being called a Turk has the derogatory association of being a nomad).49 Growing up with European culture and literature, Ahmet Celal observes the world through the eyes of Flemish painters and French philosophers, and yet he is disappointed at the armies of European soldiers invading Istanbul. What Ahmet Celal feels in the end, as with most early Republican intellectuals, is the impossibility of belonging—fitting neither within the “Turkish” nation nor the European civilization—which stems from the fragmented primal identity the Turkish Republic wanted to assume while attempting to unite the two. Another novel by Yakup Kadri, Bir Sürgün, first published in 1937, returns to the final decade of the Ottoman Empire and depicts an Ottoman gentleman, Dr. Hikmet, who escapes to Paris on a whim by jumping into a French passenger ship on the coast of Izmir. With this novel, Yakup Kadri extends the transnational identity crisis felt by the Turkish intellectuals back to the late Ottoman Empire, as Dr. Hikmet navigates the streets of Paris and is gradually disillusioned by the French as well as the young Turks living in exile there. Dr. Hikmet wanted to arrive in this new world “as if he were arriving in his proper homeland,” but quickly realized that being well versed in the language, literature, and culture of the French does not equate to belonging.50 The only character who is portrayed favorably in the novel is Dr. Pienot, who is culturally Jewish and French at the same time. He is depicted as a paragon of modesty and generosity, whose critique of the Western civilization’s contradictions feels like a breath of fresh air to Dr. Hikmet.51

Halide Edip Adıvar is another transnational novelist, who not only wrote from abroad, but also wrote in English. Halide Edip was known for nationalist and Turanist views and was involved in the War of Independence, but she ended up having to live abroad in the UK and France for over a decade following the Takrir-i Sükûn law (law on the maintenance of order against religious reactionaries and rebellions) in 1925 as a self-imposed exile for supporting the American mandate, along with her husband Adnan Adıvar. She wrote multiple books, including her memoirs and her famous 1935 novel Sinekli Bakkal (The Clown and His Daughter), in English.52 The Clown and His Daughter tells the story of a family from the poor neighborhoods of Istanbul during the Abdülhamit II era. In the character of Rabia, the daughter of the shopkeeper of “Fly-Plagued Grocer,” Halide Edip hints at the possibility of uniting tradition (the Orient) and modernity (Europe). In Turkey Faces West, Halide Edip wrote, with regards to Kemalist nationalism, that “[a]lthough it also is called nationalist, it has in truth, apart from Turkish economics, a very anti-nationalist spirit. The Turkish dictatorship has made the next greatest effort after the Soviets to cut its people off from their past.”53 She saw the suppression of history as a disservice to the Turkish populace. The story told in The Clown and His Daughter, in this sense, could not be written in Turkish and meet with a Turkish audience in 1935 when Republican ideology was still trying to create a new nation with a new past as well as a distinct future. For this reason, she opted to write “in a language far better fitted to reach the world than my own.”54 Following the Independence War, in other words, she was forced to seek not only another home, but also another audience who would listen to what she had to say. As she became one of the “others” who diverged from the ideological future envisioned by the founder of the Republic, despite her contributions to its mission, writing in English enabled her to find a sense of belonging in the wider international world.

Constricting of a Nation and Pluralities Within

A homogenized national identity required strict policies and policing of language and literature. During the 1940s, with the establishment of village institutes with the purpose of redeeming and educating the rural populations of Anatolia, many local intellectuals wrote what came to be called köy romanı, village novels depicting the struggles and values of Turkish peasants.55 Via idealistic portrayals of rustic Anatolian life, the insularity of the national identity was being forged by targeting the old social village structures and separating the Turkish ethnic identity from the imperial Muslim identity, as well as constructing a geopolitical space for the Turkish identity to establish itself within the territories that remained from the Ottoman Empire’s dissolution. Village novels carried socialist undertones in their social realist style and ideology of progress. The 1940s and 1950s also saw the targeting of the non-Muslim populations in the Turkish Republic, via the varlık vergisi (the wealth tax) imposed on minorities and the Istanbul pogrom in 1955. During these early decades of the Turkish Republic, literature’s transnational, multiethnic, and multilingual elements were suppressed in favor of the institution of a monolingual and homogeneous society.

While Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar is considered as the author who attempted to reconnect the Ottoman past with the Turkish future and provide a continuity of the literary tradition, his novels, particularly Huzur (1948–1949), translated as A Mind at Peace (2008), illustrate a controlled reconciliation between the two traditions. Huzur’s protagonist Mümtaz’s search for an Ottoman dimension in his surroundings from the standpoint of a modern, rational Turkish intellectual impairs the task from the beginning, and sets the tone of the novel as predominantly nostalgic. At the same time, the novel manifests the transforming power of perceiving the Ottoman past as long gone and only fleetingly graspable in objects and persons.56 Although inseparably connected, the Ottoman era and modern Turkish period figure as two separate spheres influencing and shaping one another while in a constant state of contestation and reconciliation.

As strict language politics ceased to be as assertive in the 1980s, novelists have been “mix[ing] all registers in their works: Perso-Arabic (and Ottoman), ‘pure’ Turkish, colloquial Turkish and foreign words (French and English),” which, Erdağ Göknar argues, constitutes a transnational, or postnational literary production. Murat Uyurkulak’s Tol: Bir İntikam Romanı (2002), for instance, displays a “culturally specific transnationalism,” as Başak Çandar calls it, in its West to East train ride that constitutes the movement of the novel.57 Beginning with its title Tol, which means revenge in Kurdish, the novel resists the homogeneity imposed by the Turkish nation-state and draws attention to state violence, thus undermining the linguistic puritanism of the Turkish Republic. Başak Çandar defines Turkish transnationalism as “a concurrently transnational and nationally specific focus that shows the transnational dialogues that occur within Turkish literature and culture,” and argues that the local transnationalism of novels like Uyurkulak’s Tol stems from the multiplicity of languages within Turkish literature, as well as the local experiences they evoke, represent, or designate, that resist translation, and the humorous engagement with other cultures and languages, such as a scene with a parody of American movie dialogues dubbed into Turkish.58 They thereby attain the status of “world-literariness” in the sense of uniform national literatures claiming a spot in the world literature canon.59

International Connections

The late Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic had a close but fluctuating relationship with Germany since World War I. In 1960s, many Turkish citizens left for Germany and became Gastarbeiters—guest workers—which resulted in the emergence of a Turkish German diaspora. A compelling and transnational literary tradition ensued from the Turkish German diaspora, including names like Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Zafer Şenocak. However, Germany and the German language have been recurring features in the works of many modern Turkish novelists who visited Germany for various other reasons. Belonging—both existential and historical,—being in transit, and the act of writing vis-à-vis Germany are notable themes explored by Turkish novelists.

For Sabahattin Ali, an educator and prolific translator, who was sent to Potsdam briefly by the Ministry of National Education, Germany features in the character of the Maria Puder, the Madonna in the Fur Coat in the novel with the same name.60 In Kürk Mantolu Madonna (1943), the protagonist Raif Efendi has a brief and mysterious affair with Maria Puder in Berlin, from which he never recovers. This cross-cultural romance and its repercussions on Raif Efendi allow a glimpse into the predicament of a politically dissident intellectual as an alienated figure, and it provides a critique of nationalism as well as bureaucracy.61 Tezer Özlü, on the other hand, wrote her autobiographical narrative Auf den Spuren eines Selbstmords originally in German in 1982, which was then translated into Turkish as Yaşamın Ucuna Yolculuk in 1983. The narrative details the solitary travels of a woman passing through European cities, with suicidal thoughts in the background. However, a sense of completion that never arrives, which always seems possible when one is away from it—but only ever so faintly—haunts the narrative’s flow from one street, city, or station to the next. The transnational journey is never completed.

Adalet Ağaoğlu’s 1993 novel Romantik: Bir Viyana Yazı takes the reader to the pre-nation-state German-speaking Holy Roman Empire in 1683 when the last Battle of Vienna finally marked the limits of Ottoman expansion in Europe. In the novel, the romantic history teacher Kamil Kaya has transnational and nostalgically imperial longings owing to the geographically expansive and transnational history of the Ottoman Empire, and becomes obsessed with Vienna, but instead of providing a sense of fulfillment, his longed-for visit causes him to mentally disintegrate and disappear. The theme these three novelists’ work have in common, in addition to traveling abroad, is that of writing and disappearance/violence/death, which perhaps gains more significance in Aslı Erdoğan’s words in a different country. In Kırmızı Pelerinli Kent (1998), Erdoğan’s protagonist Özgür (“free” in English) travels to Brazil for postgraduate studies but spends her time in Rio, trying to finish her novel in a state of torpor. At the very beginning of the novel, Özgür writes that she chose the most dangerous city in the world in order to look into the shadows of the humankind “from a safe distance.”62 But the impossibility of doing so becomes apparent as she continues writing, while complete integration into violence as an existential condition also proves preposterous unless she ceases to exist entirely.

While Turkish novels have been transnational in many aspects, their reception abroad has been limited. Many modern and contemporary Turkish authors have been translated into English and other European languages, such as Yaşar Kemal, Aziz Nesin, Bilge Karasu, Latife Tekin, Sema Kaygusuz, and Murathan Mungan, but their recognition abroad is negligible compared to Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak. Translated works in the US and British literary markets amount to less than 5 percent of the books published in any given year and, based on Duygu Tekgül’s 2011 report on translations from Turkish in the United Kingdom and Ireland, orientalist representations and “liminality of the modern Turkish society and culture” torn between the East and the West attracted the most attention since the 1990s.63 Novelists such as Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak have succeeded as transnational Turkish novelists since the turn of the century, partly due to their international presence, ready integration into Anglophone culture, as well as the deliberately translatable and transnational content of their novels.64 This success is also a result of extraliterary devices and the expectations of the foreign literary market and the promotion of foreign authors in these markets. Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red and Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul in particular satisfy such expectations, the former by representing Oriental and exotic motifs in a captivating plotline, the latter via characters struggling with identity crises founded on the postulated differences between East and West, past and present. Another aspect of Pamuk and Shafak’s writing can be described as “translating for the West,” that is, presenting their locale in a language that is not only accessible but also palatable to their audiences abroad.65 As such, while Turkish novels—novels originally written in the Ottoman and Turkish languages—have been transnational in terms of their evolution and content, their international circulation and reception have been limited due to extraliterary devices, such as publishers, translators, authorial strategies, politics, and marketing. Further studies highlighting the transnational aspects of the Turkish novel would contribute to and expand on the world literary discussions in critiquing the entrenched perceptions about non-Western literatures and change expectations of foreign literary markets regarding translated works from non-Western languages.

Discussion of the Literature

Although existing scholarship on the Turkish novel does not directly engage with the transnationalism of the genre, some new studies underline the cross-cultural, multilingual, and comparative aspects of the novel in the Turkish tradition since the 19th century. The contributions to Ottoman Culture and the Project of Modernity: Reform and Translation in the Tanzimat Novel (2020) highlight the cross-cultural and multilingual backdrop against which the Ottoman novel emerged, as well as the genre’s entanglement with French novels and culture in the Ottoman literary and cultural space. Contributions to Tanzimat ve Edebiyat: Osmanlı İstanbulu’nda Modern Edebi Kültür (2014), edited by Mehmet Fatih Uslu and Fatih Altuğ, provide a diverse panorama of the multilingual and multiethnic Ottoman literary culture and its complexities during the Tanzimat era. Contributions to Tradition, Tension and Translation in Turkey (2015) provide detailed discussions of translation practices in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey and reinforce the transnational background of the practices of translation, constituting an essential source for the novel genre in the Turkish tradition. Nergis Ertürk’s Grammatology and Literary Modernity in Turkey (2011) provides an insightful and timely discussion of the language reforms in Turkey and the phonocentrism which unfolds at the expense of the multilingual society it replaces. Azade Seyhan’s Tales of Crossed Destinies: The Modern Turkish Novel in a Comparative Context (2008) provides an astute overview of the Turkish novel with respect to European literature and thought as well as the Ottoman literary tradition and Turkish nationalism and offers clues to the transnational evolution of the genre in the Turkish literary space.

There have been studies on different aspects of Turkish German literature, which also contribute to studies on transnationalism and modern Turkish literature. Azade Seyhan’s Writing Outside the Nation (2001), Tom Cheesman’s Novels of Turkish German Settlement: Cosmopolite Fictions (2007), and Venkat Mani’s Cosmopolitical Claims: Turkish-German Literatures from Nadolny to Pamuk (2007) provide important discussions of Turkish German literature with a view to fleshing out the complexities of transnational identity and belonging, multiculturalism and migration. These works contribute to discussions on the transnationalism of the novel in Turkish literary tradition by bringing in new perspectives on the complexities of national histories. Similarly, a study on Turkish American literature, Toward Turkish American Literature: Narratives of Multiculturalism in Post-Imperial Turkey by Elena Furlanetto, calls attention to the “commuting” aspect of authors and works as a mark of transnationalism.

Further Reading

  • Adelson, Leslie A. The Turkish Turn in Contemporary German Literature: Toward a New Critical Grammar of Migration. Studies in European Culture and History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
  • Alkan, Burcu, and Çimen Günay-Erkol, eds. Turkish Literature as World Literature. Oxford, New York, and London: Bloomsbury, 2021.
  • Ertürk, Nergis. Grammatology and Literary Modernity in Turkey. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Fisk, Gloria. Orhan Pamuk and the Good of World Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018.
  • Furlanetto, Elena. Toward Turkish American Literature: Narratives of Multiculturalism in Post-Imperial Turkey. Frankfurt and New York: Peter Lang, 2017.
  • Göknar, Erdağ. Orhan Pamuk, Secularism and Blasphemy: The Politics of the Turkish Novel. London and New York: Routledge, 2013.
  • Gürçağlar, Tahir, Saliha Paker Şehnaz, and John Milton, eds. Tradition, Tension and Translation in Turkey. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2015.
  • Jay, Paul. Global Matters: The Transnational Turn in Literary Studies. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010.
  • Jay, Paul. Transnational Literature: The Basics. New York: Routledge, 2021.
  • Konuk, Kader. East West Mimesis: Auerbach in Turkey. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010.
  • Mani, Venkat. Cosmopolitical Claims: Turkish-German Literatures from Nadolny to Pamuk. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2007.
  • Mani, Venkat. Recoding World Literature: Libraries, Print Culture, and Germany’s Pact with Books. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016.
  • Ringer, Monica, and Etienne Charrière, eds. Ottoman Culture and the Project of Modernity: Reform and Translation in the Tanzimat Novel. London: I. B. Tauris, 2020.
  • Seyhan, Azade. Writing outside the Nation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.
  • Seyhan, Azade. Tales of Crossed Destinies: The Modern Turkish Novel in a Comparative Contex. New York: Modern Language Association, 2008.
  • Uslu, Mehmet Fatih, and Fatih Altuğ, eds. Tanzimat ve Edebiyat: Osmanlı İstanbulu’nda Modern Edebi Kültür. Istanbul: Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2014.
  • Wiegandt, Kai, ed. The Transnational in Literary Studies: Potential and Limitations of a Concept. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2020.


  • 1. Guido Mazzoni, Theory of the Novel, trans. Zakiya Hanafi (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 66–67. See Sharon Marcus, “Same Difference? Transnationalism, Comparative Literature, and Victorian Studies,” Victorian Studies 45, no. 4 (2002): 677–686, where Marcus argues that “comparative approaches informed by transnationalism’s inherent historicism pay more attention to genre-formation as a process” (682).

  • 2. Here, it is important to remember Mikhail M. Bakhtin’s formulation of “novelization”: Genres, when they are novelized, “become more free and flexible, their language renews itself by incorporating extraliterary heteroglossia and the ‘novelistic’ layers of literary language, they become dialogized, permeated with laughter, irony, humor, elements of self-parody and finally—this is the most important thing—the novel inserts into these other genres an indeterminacy, a certain semantic open-endedness, a living contact with unfinished, still-evolving contemporary reality.” Mikhail M. Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 3–40, at 7.

  • 3. See John D. Pizer, “Goethe’s World Literature Paradigm: From Uneasy Cosmopolitanism to Literary Modernism,” in A Companion to World Literature, ed. Ken Seigneurie (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2021).

    Referring to an unnamed Chinese novel Goethe was reading in 1827, Venkat Mani says: “Without reference to the imperial and commercial routes that were bringing books to him, Goethe established world literature as Gemeingut [shared property], a philosophical, humanistic ideal, a mode of transnational arrangement of texts.” Venkat Mani, Recoding World Literature: Libraries, Print Culture, and Germany’s Pact with Books (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017), 23. Mani stresses the circulation and possession of books and manuscripts in the establishment of world literature, which brings to light that “the hegemonic Western positions . . . are in fact formed precisely because of contact with non-Western parts of the world” (246).

  • 4. Cohen and Dever say, “[f]rom a Bakhtinian perspective, it is simultaneously perverse and yet understandable that the novel would signify the coherence of national identity; it is a genre that dwells at borders whose policing is crucial to the nationalist project.” Margaret Cohen and Carolyn Dever, The Literary Channel: The Inter-national Invention of the Novel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), 6.

  • 5. For Dirlik, “transnationalism assigns a formative power to encounters between people of different and national backgrounds, who are transformed by the encounters in different ways.” Arif Dirlik, “American Studies in the Time of Empire,” Comparative American Studies 2, no. 3 (2008): 287–302, at 296.

  • 6. Pheng Cheah, “World against Globe: Toward a Normative Conception of World Literature,” New Literary History 45, no. 3 (2014): 303–329, at 326.

  • 7. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “On World Literature (1827),” in World Literature: A Reader, ed. Theo D’haen, César Dominguez, and Mads Rosendhal Thomsen (London: Routledge, 2013), 9–16, at 13.

  • 8. As Henitiuk argues, “[l]iterature is worlded through conflicting and often conflicted readings—the process by which it makes a successful cross-cultural journey is rarely, if ever, straightforward.” Valerie Henitiuk, “The Single, Shared Text? Translation and World Literature,” World Literature Today 86, no. 1 (2012): 30–34, at 30. The expectation is that the activity of reading is transformative, that world literature “dynamically creates readers who question, explore, and come up with new readings of their own” (34).

  • 9. See “François Pétis de la Croix,” Encounters with the Orient.

  • 10. Cohen and Dever, The Literary Channel, 9, express a similar concern when they say “in fact a range of novelistic forms were crudely condensed into a single teleological model figured as the rise toward realism” in studies on the history of the novel such as by Ian Watt and Georges May, despite the acknowledgment of a transnational origin genesis of the novel.

  • 11. As Watroba argues, “[t]he global circulation of texts depends to a great extent on conditions that have nothing to do with their aesthetic qualities, but rather with political and economic power.” Karolina Watroba, “World Literature and Literary Value: Is ‘Global’ the New ‘Lowbrow?’Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry 5, no. 1 (2018): 53–68, at 63; See Rebecca L. Walkowitz, Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017) on the notion of novels that are “born translated.”

  • 12. See Hülya Yıldız, “The Making of World Literature: Turkish Fiction as a Case Study,” Neohelicon 46 (2019): 411–433, for a discussion of the translatability built into Orhan Pamuk’s works.

  • 13. Following Amy Kaplan, I consider the empire as “a form of transnationalism.” Amy Kaplan, “Violent Beginnings and the Question of the Empire Today: Presidential Address to the American Studies Association,” American Quarterly 56, no. 1 (2004): 1–18, at 10. Marcus, “Same Difference?” 682, similarly argues that “transnational approaches have complicated the identity of European nations and genres by subsuming nations within empires.” She says “transnationalism has transformed comparative literature, even for those who do not study empire, for two reasons. First, transnational approaches encourage us to see how, even in its heyday, print culture was international and the nation was a relative, hybrid, comparative category. Second, transnationalism has been an important vector for historicizing comparative literature . . . transnationalism’s inherent historicism pay[s] more attention to genre-formation as a process.”

  • 14. See Şerif Mardin’s “The Mind of the Turkish Reformer 1700–1900,” Western Humanities Review 16 (1960): 419–426, as well as his The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought: A Study in the Modernization of Turkish Political Ideas (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000), for more on the Tanzimat reforms and the Ottoman modernization.

  • 15. For more on the subject of the modernizer class in the Ottoman Empire, see Fatma Müge Göçek, Rise of the Bourgeoisie, Demise of the Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).

  • 16. Paul Jay, “Transnational.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature, 31 Mar. 2020, Accessed 25 Mar. 2021.

  • 17. Venkat Mani, Cosmopolitical Claims: Turkish-German Literatures from Nadolny to Pamuk (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2007), 7.

  • 18. Ottoman intellectuals/authors like Ahmet Mithat and Beşir Fuad were involved in theoretical discussions of realism and romanticism as well as the history of the novel (its beginnings in the East and West), and its distinctions from short stories in the 19th century. See Elif T. Gümüş, “İlk Türk romanlarına getirilen ilk akademik eleştiriler üzerine,” RumeliDe Dil Ve Edebiyat Araştırmaları Dergisi 15 (2019): 116–127. Ahmet Mithat Efendi also explores the evolution of the novel from supernatural (havarık-ı hayâlât) to real in both the Eastern and the Western traditions in his 1890 book, Ahbar-ı Âsâra Tamim-i Enzar (Istanbul: Dergâh Yayınları, 2014), which complicates the perception of Tanzimat novelists as non-differentiating readers of European novels.

  • 19. Tanpınar, for instance, says that the Turkish novel arrives as a foreign genre, and is not related at all to traditional literary forms. Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, “Romana ve Romancıya Dair Notlar,” in Edebiyat Üzerine Makaleler, ed. Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar (Istanbul: Dergah Yayınları, 1977), 57. Berna Moran also thinks the novel is imported, yet somehow adapted to more traditional forms in order to be acceptable to the reader; see Berna Moran, “Âşık Hikâyeleri, Hasan Mellah ve İlk Romanlarımız,” in Türk Romanına Eleştirel Bir Bakış 1, ed. Berna Moran (Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1984), 23–37, esp. 37. Niyazi Berkes, “Literary Developments in Modern Turkey,” University of Toronto Quarterly 29, no. 2 (January 1960): 225–242, reiterates the notion that earlier novels had technical flaws, and other than Ahmet Mithat Efendi, who did not imitate the Western novels but rather adapted traditional folk storytelling to his novel, Tanzimat novels never attained the technical level of the European novel.

  • 20. For more information on earlier literary forms in the Turkish tradition, see Britannica; See “Hüsn ü Aşk,” Britannica, for a quick overview. Arif Çamoğlu’s “Loving Sovereignty: Political Mysticism, Şeyh Galib and Giorgio Agamben,” Comparative Literary Studies 58 (2021): 1–22, sheds light on Şeyh Galib’s poetry and its explorations of the concepts of infirmity, sovereignty, and the afterlives of Ottoman imperialism; Ünlü argues that classical Turkish stories and mesnevis can be considered as the origins of Tanzimat and post-Tanzimat short stories and novel, but most scholars deny the existence of a connection with these genres in order to render their claim about the novelty of the short story and the novel as new genres brought from Europe with no preparation for, similarity to, or relationship with the existing Ottoman literary tradition. See Osman Ünlü, “Modern Araştırmacının Klasik Hikâyeye Bakışı Üzerine Değerlendirmeler,” TÜBAR 29 (2011): 461–474. See also Güzin Gonca Gökalp, “Tanzimat edebiyatında gelenekten gelen unsurlar (Sözlü kültür etkileri doğrultusunda XIX. yüzyıl yazılı anlatılarında yapı: Konu, kurgu, öykü, kişi)” (PhD diss., Hacettepe University, 1999)—which delineates the movement from folk tales to individual narratives in Ottoman-Turkish literature. In “Osmanlı Dönemi Türk romanının başlangıcında beş eser,” in special issue, Hacettepe Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Dergisi 16 (1999): 185–202, Gökalp describes the first five works that prepare the foundations of the Turkish novel—Muhayyelat (Aziz Efendi, 1268/1796), Akabi Hikayesi (Vartan Paşa, 1851), Hayalat-ı Dil (Hasan Tevfik, 1285/1868), Müsameretname (Emin Nihat Bey, 1288–1292/1872–1875), and Temaşa-i Dünya ve Cefakar ü Cefakeş (Evangelinos Misailidis, 1872)—as original works that unite the minorities and the Turks, as well as the oral and written traditions in the Ottoman Empire. Esen calls these “threshold texts”: “writings that hovered on the threshold between traditional storytelling and the new genre called the novel.” See Nüket Esen, “The Turkish Novel: From Model of Modernity to Puzzle of Postmodernity,” in Turkey’s Engagement with Modernity: Conflict and Change in the Twentieth Century, ed. Celia Kerslake, Kerem Öktem, and Philip Robins (New York: Palgrave, 2010), 323–335, at 324. Erdağ Göknar says “mystical verse romances (mesnevi) and oral epics (destan), the Karagöz shadowplay and meddah storyteller improvisations, Turkish commedia dell’arte (orta oyunu) and minstrel (âşık) tales, as well as Qur’anic and sufic parables” still have an influence on the novel in Turkish. Erdağ Göknar, “The Novel in Turkish: Narrative Tradition to Nobel Prize,” in The Cambridge History of Turkey, ed. Reşat Kasaba (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 472–503, at 473.

  • 21. See a brief biography of Aziz Efendi: Petra de Bruijn, “Ali Aziz Efendi,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, ed. Kate Fleet et al. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Online, 2009). Zeynep Uysal, Olağanüstü masaldan çağdaş anlatıya: Muhayyelât-ı Aziz Efendi (Istanbul: Boğaziçi Üniversitesi Yayınevi, 2006), provides a detailed reading of the work and its place in Ottoman literature as marking the progress from supernatural tales to modern narratives.

  • 22. Giridî Ali Aziz Efendi, Muhayyelât-ı Ledünn-i İlahi (Istanbul: Matbaa-i Amire, 1852), 2.

  • 23. “Der Mann, mit dem jede Darstellung der türkischen Modeme anheben müsste, ist der Kreter Aziz efendi.” Andreas Tietze, “Aziz Efendi’s Muhayyelat,” Oriens 1 (1948): 248–329, at 248.

  • 24. See Hülya Argunşah, “Tanzimat’tan II. Meşrutiyete Türk Romanı,” Türkiye Araştırmaları Literatür Dergisi 4, no. 8 (2006): 23–100, esp. 30–32, for a quick overview of Muhayyelât’s reception by Turkish scholars.

  • 25. See Anca Parvulescu, “Istanbul, Capital of Comparative Literature,” Modern Language Notes 135, no. 4 (2020): 1232–1257. See also Kader Konuk’s East West Mimesis: Auerbach in Turkey (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010). Leo Spitzer also lived in Istanbul as an exile in the 1930s. For more, see Fırat Oruc, “Rewriting the Legacy of the Turkish Exile of Comparative Literature,” Journal of World Literature 3, no. 3 (2018): 334–353.

  • 26. Johann Strauss, “Who Read What in the Ottoman Empire (19th–20th Centuries)?” Middle Eastern Literatures 6, no. 1 (2003): 39–76, esp. 44–45.

  • 27. See Etienne Charrière, ““We Ourselves Must Write About Ourselves”: The Trans-Communal Rise of the Novel in the Late Ottoman Empire” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 2016), 91n., and Johann Strauss, “What Was (Really) Translated in the Ottoman Empire? Sleuthing Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Translated Literature,” in Migrating Texts: Circulating Translations around the Ottoman Mediterranean, ed. Marilyn Booth (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019), 57–94, esp. 90n. Johann Strauss writes that French became a semiofficial language in the Ottoman Empire, and local booksellers made French books available to all communities of the empire. Strauss, “Who Read What in the Ottoman Empire?” 42.

  • 28. As Erdağ Göknar says, “the novel was arguably ‘Ottoman,’ ‘Muslim,’ ‘Turkish’ and ‘European’ all at the same time. Moreover, as a space of representation and contestation, it was in itself a part of an alternative modernity that did not simply imitate Europe but experimented with its innovations in multiple ways.” Göknar, “The Novel in Turkish,” 476.

  • 29. Although Arabic was a language of the Ottoman Empire, Arabic novels that began to be published in the 1850s are part of the Nahda (Renaissance) tradition. Rebecca Johnson’s Stranger Fictions: A History of the Novel in Arabic Translation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2021) offers a study of the Arabic novel in the context of the genre’s global circulation.

  • 30. Emily Apter, “Introduction,” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 117, no. 1 (2002): 68–71, at 70.

  • 31. Apter, “Introduction,” 70.

  • 32. Günil Özlem Ayaydın Cebe, “To Translate or Not to Translate? 19th Century Ottoman Communities in Fiction,” Die Welt Des Islams 56 (2016): 187–222, esp. 197.

  • 33. Discussing how texts were translated from other translations (mostly from French versions) and were misattributed in 18th and 19th centuries, Strauss says: “Textual travels between languages . . . remind us that we cannot assume that linguistic itineraries are straightforward; in other words, that a translation was made from the language of its own ‘original.’ And it reminds us that in the nineteenth century, the relative ‘weight’ and local purchase of languages were not necessarily the same as they are now.” Strauss, “What Was (Really) Translated in the Ottoman Empire?” 66–67.

  • 34. Strauss, “Who Read What in the Ottoman Empire?” 46.

  • 35. According to Johann Strauss, “[t]he style and the method employed in translating Fénelon’s Télémaque, conventionally regarded as the first literary translation into Ottoman Turkish, certainly did not give readers an adequate idea of what a novel was for readers in Europe.” Strauss, “What Was (Really) Translated in the Ottoman Empire?” 59.

  • 36. See Evangelia Balta, “Periodisation et typologie de la production des livres karamanlis,” Deltio tou Kentrou Mikrasiatikon Spoudon 12 (1997–1998): 129–153, for more on works published in Karamanlidika.

  • 37. Ayaydın Cebe, “To Translate or Not to Translate?” 217. Millet meant a self-governing community in the Ottoman Empire, which was mainly made up of non-Muslim minorities.

  • 38. According to Strauss, “[t]he Turkish-speaking Greek Orthodox (‘Karamanlı’) and Armenians read Turkish folk-literature and even novels of contemporary writers like Ahmed Midhat Efendi (1844–1912) in Greek or Armenian characters. Ahmed Midhat seems to have enjoyed particular popularity in the Armenian community; in 1879 his novel ‘Filatun Bey and Rakim Efendi’ appeared in Armeno–Turkish. Two other novels by him, Yeniçeriler (‘The Janissaries’) and Şeytan Kayası (‘The Devil’s Rock’) were published in Karamanlı versions in 1891. The Karamanlı version of his Yeniçeriler appeared first serialized in Misailidis’s Anatoli, where numerous novels, mostly translated by the editor himself from Greek or French, were published”: Strauss, “Who Read What in the Ottoman Empire?” 53.

  • 39. See Özlem Berk, Translation and Westernisation in Turkey from the 1840s to the 1980s (Istanbul: Ege Yayınları, 2004), 67. Ayaydın Cebe argues that the translational activities in the late Ottoman Empire were imperialist—actively appropriating rather than displaying passive cultural subjugation to European fiction. Ayaydın Cebe, “To Translate or Not to Translate?” 215. See also Arif Çamoğlu, “Inter-Imperial Dimensions of Turkish Literary Modernity,” Modern Fiction Studies 64, no. 3 (2018): 431–457, for more on literary modernity’s entanglements with imperiality.

  • 40. Ayaydın Cebe, “To Translate or Not to Translate?” 191.

  • 41. According to Paker, “the appropriative disposition that lay at the heart of the tradition of Ottoman interculture,” is exemplified by Şeyh Galip’s Hüsn ü Aşk, a work that blends Rûmi’s Mesnevî and Fuzûlî’s Leyla and Mecnun in an innovative manner. Saliha Paker, “On the Poetic Practices of ‘a Singularly Uninventive People’ and the Anxiety of Imitation: A Critical Re-appraisal in Terms of Translation, Creative Meditation and ‘Originality,’” in Tradition, Tension and Translation in Turkey, ed. Şehnaz Tahir Gürçağlar, Saliha Paker, and John Milton (Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2015), 27–52, at 42.

  • 42. Paker, “On the Poetic Practices,” 47.

  • 43. Ayşe Özge Koçak Hemmat, The Turkish Novel and the Quest for Rationality (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2019), 45.

  • 44. Namık Kemal, “Son Pişmanlık: İntibah Mukaddimesi,” in Namık Kemal’in Türk Dili ve Edebiyatı Üzerine Görüşleri, ed. Namık Kemal (Istanbul: Edebiyat Fakültesi Basımevi, 1989), 66–67; Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, XIX. Asır Türk Edebiyatı Tarihi (Istanbul: YKY, 2006), 23.

  • 45. Ahmet Mithat (“Dekadanlar” Sabah, nr. 2680 (March 22, 1897) quoted in Zeynep Seviner, “Thinking in French, Writing in Persian: Aesthetics, Intelligibility and the Literary Turkish of the 1890s,” in Ottoman Culture and the Project of Modernity: Reform and Translation in the Tanzimat Novel, ed. Monica Ringer and Etienne Charrière (London: I. B. Tauris, 2020), 19–36, at 21.

  • 46. I merely extend Mary Louise Pratt’s description “autoethnography, transculturation, critique, collaboration, bilingualism, mediation, parody, denunciation, imaginary dialogue, vernacular expression—these are some of the literate arts of the contact zone. Miscomprehension, incomprehension, dead letters, unread master pieces, absolute heterogeneity of meaning—these are some of the perils of writing in the contact zone” to the fictional existence of Bihruz Bey and his historical contemporaries: a bilingualism that never was competent in either language, resulting in failure of comprehension as a result, letters that are lost, and the impossibility of pinning down meaning. See Mary Louise Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Profession (1991): 33–40, at 37.

  • 47. According to Ertürk, the language reform was “intolerant above all of what we might call mingled supranational affiliation.” Nergis Ertürk, Grammatology and Literary Modernity in Turkey (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 14.

  • 48. Albachten emphasizes the translational activities in the Republican era pertaining to the translation of works from Ottoman, where “simplifying” and “Turkifying” the vocabulary of Ottoman texts took place as a result of the Republican ideological agenda. Many authors rewrote their own works, including Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil, which produced multiple results. This was, to an extent, a transnational translation by an author of their own text, between the old and the new. Özlem Berk Albachten, “The Turkish Language Reform and Intralingual Translation,” in Tradition, Tension and Translation, ed. Gürçağlar, Paker, and Milton, 165–180. Parla’s work on the simplification of the Turkish language during the Republican era is also illuminating. See Jale Parla, “The Wounded Tongue: Turkey’s Language Reform and the Canonicity of the Novel,” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 123, no. 1 (2008): 27–40.

  • 49. Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu, Yaban (Istanbul: Iletişim Yayınları, 2012), 153.

  • 50. Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu, Bir Sürgün (Istanbul: Iletişim Yayınları, 1983), 152.

  • 51. See Jakob Egholm Feldt, Transnationalism and the Jews: Culture, History and Prophecy (London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), for more on the relation between the rise of the concept of transnationalism and “Jewishness.”

  • 52. Published 1935 in London by George Allen & Unwin.

  • 53. Halide Edip, Turkey Faces West (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1930), 258.

  • 54. Halide Edip, The Turkish Ordeal: Being the Full Memoirs of Halide Edib (New York and London: The Century Co., 1928), 132.

  • 55. For village houses and the following village institutes, see Asım Karaömerlioğlu, “The People’s Houses and the Cult of the Peasant in Turkey,” Middle Eastern Studies 34 (1998): 67–91. Kemal Karpat writes that the literature taught in village institutes aimed to “promote love of nation and country, strengthen enthusiasm for reforms, reive the past glory of Turkish history” among other things, therby promoting the populist ideology of the Republic. See Kemal Karpat, “Social Themes in Contemporary Turkish Literature: Part I,” Middle East Journal 14, no. 1 (1960): 29–44, at 35.

  • 56. See Koçak Hemmat, The Turkish Novel, 118–131, for a reading of Huzur as reflecting an orientalist effort to contain and control the past.

  • 57. Göknar, “The Novel in Turkish,” 474–475; See Başak Çandar, “World Literature’s Outsides: Transnational Turkish(es) in Murat Uyurkulak’s Tol,” Critical Multilingualism Studies 7, no. 3 (2019): 7–31. Modern Kurdish literature, with its own transnational underpinnings and complex relation to Turkish identity politics and literature, should be treated separately. See, for instance, Mehmet Uzun’s novels written and published 1985–2007.

  • 58. Çandar, “World Literature’s Outsides,” 8.

  • 59. Çandar, “World Literature’s Outsides,” 22–25.

  • 60. Kürk Mantolu Madonna, first serialized in 1940–1941, first published in book format in 1943.

  • 61. For a comprehensive volume on Sabahattin Ali and his works, see Seyda Ozil et al., eds., The Transcultural Critic: Sabahattin Ali and Beyond (Göttingen, Germany: Universitätsverlag Göttingen, 2017).

  • 62. Aslı Erdoğan, Kırmızı Pelerinli Kent (Istanbul: Everest Yayınları, 2018), 14.

  • 63. See Duygu Tekgül’s 2011 report, Literary Translation from Turkish into English in the United Kingdom and Ireland, 1990–2010, Making Literature Travel Series (Aberystwyth: Literature Across Frontiers, 2011), 22.

  • 64. If one were to do a quick web search on “Orhan Pamuk” in 2021, the search engine would return over 3 million results in under 8 seconds; for “Elif Shafak,” the results would be close to 2 million, and “Halide Edip” would return 1.5 million results. A search for “Sabahattin Ali” returns over 3 million results, but one should keep in mind that his short stories are regularly taught in translation in courses on Turkish or Middle Eastern literature. If one searched for “Turkish novel” the results would be less than 50,000 (using “Türkçe roman” returns about 17,000 results, “Türk romanı” around 500,000 results). Compare this to about 160,000 results for “Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar,” around 50,000 for “Oguz Atay,” around 175,000 for “Yasar Kemal,” or 439,000 for “Adalet Agaoglu.” The mere numerical comparison is astounding in that Orhan Pamuk returns significantly higher results than the genre and literary tradition to which he belongs. What is more, if the search was conducted by using “Turkish novelist” as the keyword, the very first entry is on Orhan Pamuk, with Elif Shafak appearing on the first page of results. These results are meaningful in understanding the selective translation, marketing, and appeal of Turkish novels in translation (mostly in English).

  • 65. In discussing Tanpınar’s novel, Huzur (translated as A Mind at Peace), Meltem Gürle formulates what I call “translating for the West” as “a performance for the imagined Western gaze.” See Meltem Gürle, “‘Wandering on the Peripheries’: The Turkish Novelistic Hero as ‘Beautiful Soul,’” Journal of Modern Literature 36 (2013): 96–112, at 98. Shouleh Vatanabadi’s chapter “‘The Uneven Bridge of Translation’: Turkey in between East and West,” in Between the Middle East and the Americas: The Cultural Politics of Diaspora, ed. Evelyn Alsultany and Ella Shohat (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013), 299–319, esp. 305, highlights that, in contrast to other translated texts from the Middle East, “Turkish modern literature in translation finds representation as an Other that fluctuates and is suspended in the ‘in-between-ness’ stretching across the ‘West’ and the ‘East,” captured and characterized by the bridge itself.”