The oldest literary legacy of the pre-Islamic period are the Orhon inscriptions in northern Mongolia, written in 735 on 2 large stones in honour of a Turkish king and his brother.
The notion of writer as social commentator took off in Turkey in the early 20th century, in the fertile grounds of WWI, the Russian revolution,the demise if the Ottoman Empire and the blossoming Turkish Republic era. Yasar Kemal is the internationally best known author of the time, his Mehmed, My Hawk a gut - wrenching, thrilling saga and utterly unputdownable insight into the desperate lives of villagers battling land-grabbling feudal Lord's. Yasar Kemal has been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature on several occasions, and jailed a number of times for supposed pro separatist sympathies. Certainly Memed, My Hawk is an insight into the socialist era.
Following in the footsteps of this agent provocateur is Turkey's other internationally acclaimed author and 2006 Nobel Prize Laureate, Orhan Pamuk.
While the foundation of Yasar Kemal's work was in the early decades of the Republic, contemporary Turkey has given Pamuk much food for thought. Although he's increasingly widely read, his works seem impenetrable to many. The most accessible, and simply his best read to date, is the award-winning Snow, set in the remote eastern town of Kars. It explores a society grappling with female'suicide epidemics'. Istanbul Memoirs and the City is also well worth reading for those interested in the author and his complex relationship with his beguiling city.
Elif Şafak is being touted as the next Orhan Pamuk. Her novel, The Flea Palace, certainly has mental chewing gum prose akin to Pamuk, so it's probably not the best choice for a beach read. However, this story of an elegant Istanbul apartment building fallen on hard times is a living painting of contemporary Turkish society and beautifully evokes Istanbul. Buket Uzuner is also worth seeking out . Her novels have been blockbusters in Turkey and have been well translated, though you probably won't find them in your local bookshop yet. Mediterranean Waltz is an unrequited love story set with the backdrop of civil war. Better yet is her Long White Cloud, Gallipoli, describing the fallout after a New Zealand woman claims a soldier revered as a war hero in Turkey is actually her great-grandfather. And in true Buket Uzuner style, the protagonist Dallas into a tangled love affair.
Same of the recent Novels by expatriates living in Turkey or Turkophiles are worth seeking out,too. Tales of an Expat Harem is a compilation of stories dealing with life in Turkey for expatriate women. It's an excellent holiday read, if a little unanimously positive about its host country. Barbara Nabel writes gripping whodunits, usually set in Istanbul around the chain-smoking,stubbled hero, Inspector Çetin Ikmen. Belshazzar's Daughter, her first, is still one of the best, but the award-winning Dance with Death is an easy and enjoyable holiday read,too.