The Blagger's Guide To: Turkish Literature

Turkey and all the trimmings on book fair menu

The annual London Book Fair begins in a week's time, and this year the cultural market focus is on Turkey. It will be the largest single representation of contemporary Turkish writers and writing ever presented in the UK, and will give readers here a rare chance to meet the authors. Many Turkish writers are unknown in the English-speaking world, although they may be published in a dozen or more other languages.

Author of the Day on Tuesday 16 April will be Elif Shafak, the author of 12 books (eight of them novels) which have been translated into 30 languages. Shafak is also a Chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Letters, has a PhD in political science, is a best-selling author in Turkey, Italy, France, and Bulgaria, and was longlisted for the Orange Prize for her second novel published in English, The Bastard of Istanbul. When the novel was published, charges were brought against her for "insulting Turkishness". (She was acquitted.) Her 2010 novel The Forty Rules of Love was the first novel not written in French to win the Mention Spéciale Littérature Etrangére award in France. She is a judge of this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and the paperback of her book, Honour, has just been published by Penguin.

Elif Shafak wrote Honour in English first before translating it into Turkish.

One of the books that most inspired Shafak when she was growing up in her grandmother's house was the Adventures of Nasreddin Hodja, a philosopher and Sufi from 13th-century Turkey. In one of his tales, two neighbours come to Hodja to complain about each other's behaviour. To each one he says separately: "Yes, dear neighbour, you are quite right." Having overheard this, his wife says to him: "Husband, both men cannot be right." Hodja replies: "Yes, dear wife, you are quite right." Shafak also found a copy of the Elementary Principles of Philosophy, she recently told The Independent, "which my leftist uncle had somehow forgotten and which, after the military takeover in 1980, would become the first book to be banned in Turkey…"

The first ever London Book Fair (then called the Small and Specialist Publishers' Exhibition) was held in the basement of Berner's Hotel, near Oxford Street, with 22 publishers exhibiting. This one will be held at the massive Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London, with over 1,600 exhibiting companies from 58 countries, and with23,000 vistors expected.

Previous Market Focus events have included China, the Arab World, India, South Africa and Russia. 2014's Market Focus will be on South Korea.

In all, 20 Turkish authors will be participating in this year's London Book Fair. They include Perihan Magden, the columnist and author of 2 Girls, which was turned into a film in 2005; the crime writer Ahmet Ümit – Turkey's answer to Stieg Larsson; Murathan Mungan, the writer of two of the most staged plays in modern Turkish theatre; and Ece Temelkuran, whose books are published in English by Verso. An interview with Elif Shafak will appear in these pages next Sunday. Tweet your questions for the author to @IndyonSunday by midnight on Tuesday.

The Market Focus Cultural Programme at The London Book Fair is curated by the British Council. For more information visit

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