Elvis makes another comeback

Sara Wheeler explains why an undead leader is always on his country's mind The Turkish Labyrinth: Ataturk and the new Islam by James Pettifer, Viking, pounds 18 Turkey Unveiled: Ataturk and after by Nicole and Hugh Pope, Murray, pounds 25

As the three authors of these two excellent books acknowledge, we don't seem to know what to make of Turkey these days. Is it East or West? Modern European nation or hotbed of Islamic fanaticism? Should we let it join the EU, or are we too worried about its human rights record?

Turkey Unveiled and The Turkish Labyrinth are far too sophisticated to offer pat answers, but they shed a good deal of light on a nation still crouching in the shadows of its heritage. Both books include a sprightly account of modern Turkey's background. Ataturk's consolidation, in 1923, of what was left after the post-Great War carve-up seemed to mark a definitive break with the Ottoman past, but the conflict between his secular legacy and the gradual reassertion of Islam continues to be bitter and far-reaching.

The two books cover roughly the same terrain. As well as the Islamic renaissance, they document the plight of the Armenians in Turkey, the Kurdish crisis and the German-centred Turkish diaspora. Both deal with the country's EU application (when Turgut Ozal made it, say the Popes, "the European establishment reacted as if one of the ugly sisters had asked the prince for a dance") and the country's role in the Balkans, Cyprus and new central Asian republics such as Tajikistan, which have Turkic or partly Turkic populations.

James Pettifer, who has already written a study of Greece, is a journalist and, latterly, an academic. His book is a political, economic and cultural portrait, firmly rooted in history and usefully divided into three thematic sections. The style is a model of clarity, and Pettifer reveals an eye for colourful detail that raises the narrative above the wasteland of academic prose (many Turks of the secular elite, he claims, see Ataturk as the Turkish Elvis, as he keeps coming back from the dead). He has heart, too, recognising the passing of something valuable in both the march of westernisation and the heat of religious fervour. "The wonderful diversity and richness in personal identity and daily life in Turkey", he opines, "are being lost: the Islam of mystery, imagination and The Thousand and One Nights is being reduced to a grim Koranic legalism, as a response to the emptiness of the technocratic West and its secular juggernaut".

The Popes' affection for Turkey is of a different strain. It is not romantic, like Pettifer's, but based on nine years spent reporting on Turkey. Noting the cult of Ataturk that pervades national life, they take a more critical look at the man, emphasising his autocratic tendencies, vanity and hard drinking. "He led Turkey on the path of westernisation," they write, "but left it stranded half-way to full democratisation because, deep down, he was not a democrat." They pay more attention to the personalities of Turkish politics, notably the reforming president Turgut Ozal.

The Popes are less willing than Pettifer to accept that Turkish history neatly divides into pre- and post-Ataturk; I think this is helpful. "A westernising trend," they note, "had in fact started in the Ottoman empire, long before this blue-eyed leader from Macedonia arrived on the scene." Turkey Unveiled develops chronologically. It is longer than The Turkish Labyrinth, covers each topic in greater detail and is more penetrating in its analysis. The Popes can be heavy going, and their text is slowed down by the monotony of the chronological structure (the 1980s, in particular, drag on interminably). Pettifer's thematic narrative escapes the tyranny of chronology, and he has produced a more digestible tome. The Popes, however, have adroitly marshalled a huge amount of material and they write well, despite lapses into infelicitous journalese ("The bloody curse of political violence bequeathed to Turkey by the 1970s had struck again ...").

Were I (God forbid) about to join the Turkish desk of the Foreign Office, I would choose the Popes' book. But for slipping into your suitcase before a holiday on the Turkish coast, Pettifer is your man. All agree that Turkey's face is set immutably westwards, but their prognoses for the country's future as it struggles with high inflation, endemic unemployment and crippling debt are desperately cautious.

Turkey is often perceived in the West as a kind of twilit semi-European third world. But beware. Many of the problems enumerated in these two books are instantly recognisable. "The radical right economics of Milton Friedman which have been followed in the last 20 years," writes James Pettifer, "have given the rich more and more opportunities to make profits out of the public sector". Sounds familiar?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn