Chrissie's Reviews > Portrait of a Turkish Family

Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Mar 01, 2015

it was amazing
bookshelves: bio, history, kindle, text-checked, turkey, favorites
Read from April 21 to 24, 2011


I am making a bet with myself. Here it is. Let's see if I am proven correct! I think I will end up giving this book four or five stars! So far I have only read 13%, but I am totally captivated. The author, Irfan Orga, begins by describing his early childhood, growing up in Istanbul. He was born in 1908. It is, as usual, how an author expresses himself that makes or breaks a book. I adore the writing style. Please, do yourself a favour and check out the excerpt available at Amazon. Click on the look-inside button.
Why should I rewrite it here, when it is available there?!

As a child he lives in a white house with green shutters, beside the Marmara Sea. The author has you, the reader, listening to the gentle sounds of the sea, as he does, as he lies in his bed. The morning rituals are not what I would have expected in a Muslim household. The festivities, related to a boy's circumcision, are delightfully described. The fear, the excitement and the celebration are marvellously depicted. There is a lot to be learned from this book. Look at the date. Look at the place. The journey is sure to be captivating!

On completion:
Yes, I will give this book five stars. Near the end, 98% of the way through, one finds the line:

Now there was no one who remembered my childhood.

Had this book not been written……… yes, all of this would have been lost! I am very glad I was given then opportunity to read this book. The topic is interesting and the writing is wonderful. I will try and explain why I thought the topic was so interesting. You have the possibility of tasting the writing style by clicking on the link above.

This book depicts the life of one family living through WWI, and that family is Muslim and one belonging to the German-Ottoman side! This is not historical fiction; it is real life, grittingly and enchantingly described. All of it – the ups and the downs. Real people and real events. There is even real magic related by several witnesses, if you dare to believe them. There are so many memoirs and biographies concerning life during WW2, but here you get an amazing book on WW1. I felt I learned much about an ordinary Muslim family, not one that bows down to Mecca numerous times every day, but one that I personally could be part of. These people were little different from you or I. I liked how the book was able to show me a new perspective concerning those of the Muslim faith. You get WW1, the Muslim perspective and the experiences of a Turkish family.

The family is Turkish – not Armenian, not Greek. They lived when Kemal Atatürk ruled. Again, I was given another perspective. I have previously read many books about the Armenians; here we are presented with a family living on the other side. Atatürk was loved and honored by many.

I must state clearly this is not a book centered on the historical aspects of the time period 1914-1945. No, it is instead about a family and how their lives were so dramatically changed by the historical events. The emphasis is on the family, not the historical events. The emphasis is more on the time-period of the first rather than the seconds world war because the central focus is on the author's childhood, his parents' and his grandmother's lives.You get a wonderful view of life on the Bosporus, life in Istanbul, life in Izmir – all these places that play a role in historical events. Mostly you learn about a family and the separate individuals of that family. Each individual responded differently to the same events! You learn about people, how we all react differently. You learn about the author, his mother, his brother and sister, his grandmother, his father and grandfather and others too. Who was strong? And what actually is strength? And is survival the ultimate goal? And what happens to us as we age?

I will finish with one quote from the book, because I love the author's descriptive talent:

I wish I had the words to paint the strange enchantment of Izmir: the little crooked streets with the air of secrecy and squalor; the haphazard shops in the side ways; the open carriages and the noisy trams and the hooting of the boats, overriding all other sounds; the casinos fronting the harbor, with the never ending strains of music issuing from them; the hot sunlight and the blue sky and the golden sands, the tree-lined roads and the wisteria and bougainvillea that hangs everywhere like a scented purple curtain. (88%)

Recall these lines when you read of the atrocities that happen in Izmir.

I love this book. A life of plenty becomes one of nothing and then still life goes on. How do each of us respond to life's roller-coaster ride? Five stars.
28 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Portrait of a Turkish Family.
Sign In »

Comments (showing 1-4)

dateUp arrow    newest »

message 4: by Petra X (new)

Petra X When I was in Zonguldak I saw a circumcision procession. Much pomp and glory and one terrified little boy being led on a white horse. Later at the party in the biggest of the open air cafes, the little boy, dressed in a pseudo military outfit half sat and half lay while all around him celebrated.

I was in Turkey for quite a while, but not the tourist areas which I've never visited. I have to say that it was one of the most aggressively chauvinist places I have ever been to. Ironic that, since Ataturk (one of my heroes and whose tomb I went to visit) certainly wasn't.

message 3: by Chrissie (last edited Apr 29, 2011 09:14AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chrissie I like books that show the "other" side. The circumscion festivities well portrayed the fear and the festivities. It was very well done. So was the portral of a priveleged life and a life with nothing. His mother was one minute portrayed a hero and the next a woman to be pitied. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I want more to read this book. Oh, and I appreciate a book that well portrays WWI. There are so many on WWII.

That you liked my review puts a smile on my face. thanks. DO read the book. I hope you will like it as much as I did.

message 2: by Travelin (new) - added it

Travelin Nice. Sounds like everything Pamuk should have been. Have you been to Istanbul?

Chrissie Unfortunately, no.

back to top