Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Portrait of a Turkish Family” as Want to Read:
Portrait of a Turkish Family
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Portrait of a Turkish Family

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,499 ratings  ·  176 reviews
Describes in chilling, yet affectionate, detail the disintegration of a wealthy Ottoman family, both financially and emotionally. It is rich with the scent of fin de siecle Istanbul in the last days of the Ottoman Empire. His mother was a beauty, married at thirteen, as befitted a Turkish woman of her class. His grandmother was an eccentric autocrat, determined at all cost ...more
Paperback, 316 pages
Published June 13th 2003 by Eland Publishing (first published 1950)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Portrait of a Turkish Family, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Büşra It is moving. But the harsh realities of the war were reflected from the perspective of a child.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.18  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,499 ratings  ·  176 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Portrait of a Turkish Family

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
Portrait of a Turkish Family is as close to time-travel as one can get--not the kind of time travel where one is merely an observer but the even more intense kind of time travel in which the reader becomes someone from another world.

The book opens in Istanbul the fabled and romantic capital of a crumbling Ottoman Empire when Irfan Orga is just five years old; it reaches its poignant close in October 1941 as Orga, now a young pilot in the Turkish air force and ready to ship out to England, spends
Jen Holman
Jun 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I started out on our trip to Istanbul reading Pamuk's quintessential book "Istanbul: Memories and the City" but I did not find myself getting very far in it. The melancholic Istanbul that Pamuk describes was not what I was seeing around me and I felt disconnected with his book. This book, A Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga, was recommended by a friend and as soon as I looked at her copy I was sucked in. I bought (and paid probably too much for) a paperback copy at an english bookstore ...more
Aug 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, wwi
Ah, this book just wound me around its little finger and transfixed me with its heartbreaking saga. I found it an utterly fascinating story- a telling of the fortunes of a Turkish family from the early 1900s through horrendous WWI and on into the 1940s. I originally was expecting a story to juxtaposition against the Armenian story I just finished reading since the Armenian holocaust happened in Turkey. But this story does not mention that holocaust; this wealthy Turkish family suffered its own d ...more
Omar Taufik
Apr 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-challenge
This non fiction / autobiography book read was enjoyed as if reading a novel.
The author starts his story in last decade of the Ottoman empire in it's capital Istanbul with his family considered a rich family at the time.

With the start of the Great War the life of the family changes radically expressed by the author through the eyes of a child, to view hardships including death, hunger, poverty, wartime disaster, family crisis .. etc

Things change when the author actually receives his education an
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Portrait of a Turkish Family is a gem of a book, and I could not put it down. Told by the eldest son of a wealthy Istanbul family, the story begins in the days of the early 20th century when women wore many jewels (and veils), the family had servants, and there was a large, pleasant garden to sit in drinking coffee. All that is torn asunder by World War I, when the men in the family are called away to fight, food is scarce, fires break out from bombing, and finally the Ottoman Empire collapses. ...more
Jun 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
What a wonderful book! This was a recommended read in my Lonely Planet guidebook so I purchased it to take on our trip to Turkey. I didn't read much of it while over there, we were too busy, but wish I had because I would have looked up some of the places where the author lived or went to school. As it was I loved reading about a place in Istanbul and knowing just where it was and what it looked like. Sometimes writers have a way of writing or describing that makes you visualize everything so cl ...more
John Donnelly
Aug 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is truly one of the most spellbinding reads I have ever had. From the begging you are drawn into another world, a world we find it difficult to imagine now, Ottoman Istanbul, as the first world war is about to change everything forever.
We see the dramatic and heartbreaking changes through the eyes of a young boy born into a rich family, as the war turns Istanbul and their happy carefree lives upside down.
I really cannot do this book justice and is a must read for anyone interested in cultu
Jun 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I graduated from Kuleli which İrfan Orga graduated from too. I can clearly understand what he felt when he was a cadet in military high school. And it's an honor!
Thinking that you also walked on same road that İrfan Orga walked on,and maybe eating at the same mess hall or sitting on the same chair etc. effected me deeply. I felt as if I was carrying whole of history of Kuleli Military High School on my shoulders. I'm proud of it.
Carl R.
May 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Portrait of a Turkish Family is another Turkey/WWI story, a memoir, which I allowed myself to be talked into buying by a bookseller in Istanbul despite its price--about $24 for a paperback? He swore it was fantastic, offered me a moneyback guarantee (Sure, I’m going to mail it back from CA for a refund.) But I bought it, and it passed some hours on the plane and added some insight into Turkey past and present. The Turkish family in question is a moneyed one, or was until WWI came along. I imagi ...more
Mar 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
This was a required text for my Muslim History class. At first, I found it quite uninteresting but when the time came for me to read 150 pages in three days, it became very interesting. ;) No, this book is a very good read. There were points were I couldn't put it down. My professor was right in having us read this in our study of the late Ottoman Empire. It is by no means a happy-go-lucky story about a boy and his family. The first word someone in my class said about this book was "depressing" ...more
May 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An incredibly insightful look at the family life of Irfan Orga, from the detached air of weathly family with servants who do everything to the desperate requirement of his mother and grandmother to learn everything required to survive when they lose everything and must fend for themselves.

It is refreshing as always to have the inside view and this is as much a memoir of the effect on a young child and a young man of a mother who didn't warm to a maternal role. Heartbreaking but compelling and t
Well that got a little bit wave the flag toot the nationalist horn towards the end, but I guess you would too if you weren't Ataturk's favorite person. Review soon!
Shariq Chishti
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have never been a big fan of memoirs but this book made me realize my mistake. We should read memoirs not only of famous politicians, entrepreneurs & sportsperson but of common people, of strangers, of no-ones. This book is a window into the life of a Turkish family from the time of last Sultans to the WW2 through the Ataturk Era from the eyes of a young boy.

It is also a very powerful anti-war book without being political or even trying. Most of the books & movies regarding wars are based on
Mawa Sando
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book about loss. Poignant and extremely detailed in it's descriptions. It is perhaps one of the saddest books I've ever read. Loss is experimented in several forms, each one more tearsome than the previous one.
It is also a story of fraternal alienation, of guilt and uncondemned hatred inside men's primary sphere of identity's construction.
And, as if this wasn't enough, it is a prolific account of the historical transformation of the Middle East's most unorthodox country. It is the arab consc
Feb 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
One of the best memoirs I have read, this story of a family living through WWI and the aftermath in Istanbul was really hard to put down. This book is over 50 years old but is very readable from the first chapter. The author was the oldest son in a family that was nearly destroyed but survived the violent end of the Ottoman Empire, through determination and resourcefulness. The author went on to write travel books and cookery books about Turkey, and his understanding and appreciation of Turkish ...more
Gretchen Freeman
Read Orga's family story while visiting Istanbul and his description of life before, during and after WWI were all the more vivid. Remembering that this was completed in the 1940's for publication in 1950, it is remarkably fresh in its detail of family life in and around the city during that time. I am grateful that the Galeri Kayseri bookstore commissioned a new printing of this title and recommended it to me.
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A poignant tale of a prosperous Turkey family torn asunder by the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Orga is a captivating narrator, at turns playful, poetic, and melancholic. His mother Şevkiye is a fascinating and tragic character – a woman who foreshadows the social reforms of the Atatürk era and shoulders her family through hunger, poverty and loss, enclosing within her the mental scars of these experiences. A fine addition to the literature on the loss of empire.
Nina Silvia
Jun 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
1. For a Turkish writer who flew out of Turkey to become a writer and English is barely his language, he wrote such as incredible English book.
2. It was sort of time machine to the colonial era of Turkey. I travelled old Istanbul while reading this.
3. I love its bold cultural setting
4. And love biography of a family.
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Really, really interesting. I read this as part of a WW1 challenge, though it works as a biography even without the war. A different viewpoint from Turkey and one that I enjoyed learning about. Oh and beautifully written in English by a man that could barely speak the language, impressive.
Banu Pluie
Apr 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
will write about later...
Marea Bouma
Sep 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You just never know what's gonna happen. Some trust in chariots,....
Nov 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Perfect for a trip to Istanbul, a well written memoir that spans 1900 to the 50s.
Jason Mahoney
May 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
The death of the Ottoman Empire & birth of Atatürk's Republic as seen through the eyes of a Turkish family. ...more
Karen Murphy
Feb 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It's a true story of an Ottoman family living before the collapse of the Empire and after. The author brought the characters alive for me.
Roopa Prabhu
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful serene book that let's you live the old Turkish life for those 300+ odd pages...
Jo Stafford
Jul 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A moving and fascinating account of life in Istanbul during the First World War, beautifully descriptive and emotionally gripping. I loved it.
Rami Saber
Apr 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
A Master Piece,,,
Simon Hollway
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
Devastating and lyrical. Two thirds in, the pace picks up, starts skimming across the years and boils over in a mad rush at the end. I wish it had been longer, lingered more along the final stretch - it felt as if clumpfulls of hair had been yanked out of its scalp. I then read in the afterword by the author's son, that it had originally been far longer, filling in these details. Tragically, the English agent Curtis Brown had insisted on this invasive chemotherapy, suggesting massive cuts. A pla ...more
Jane Foulks
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the first book I have read about the Turkish experience. I read it as preparation for my adventure in Turkey. If I hadn't already had a trip planned, I would after reading this book.
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Bu Ülke
  • Gör Beni: İki Devrin Hikayesi
  • The Courage to Create
  • Gog
  • Göbekli Tepe ve Ön-Türkler  Şamanların Gökyüzü Tapınağı
  • Kuyucaklı Yusuf
  • The Bridge on the Drina (Bosnian Trilogy, #1)
  • Beyaz Zambaklar Ülkesinde
  • Beyinde Ararken Bağırsakta Buldum
  • Koşuyorum Öyleyse Varım
  • Aşkımız Eski Bir Roman
  • Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü
  • Hakkâri'de Bir Mevsim
  • Değişim Sürecinde Türkiye: Osmanlı'dan Cumhuriyet'e Sosyo-Ekonomik Bir Değerlendirme
  • Yaban
  • Gizli Anların Yolcusu
  • Anadolu'dan Bir Tanıklık - Bengüboz'un Objektifinden Mudurnu'da Erken Cumhuriyet Dönemi
  • Ayaşlı ile Kiracıları
See similar books…
Irfan Orga was a Turkish fighter pilot, staff officer, and author. He published books on many areas of Turkish life, cookery, and history, as well as a biography of Atatürk, and his own autobiography (Portrait of a Turkish Family). He also wrote two children’s books. Orga was born into a wealthy Ottoman Turkish family in Istanbul. Soon World War I broke and his life was changed forever. Orga witne ...more

Related Articles

Need another excuse to treat yourself to new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our lis...
47 likes · 12 comments
“My head was dizzy, but what of that? Float, stupid wooden head, and care nothing for tomorrow.” 4 likes
“A whole new life at fifty, all because I had become entranced with both the Turkish culture and with Kazim—who one friend called a careening festival of a human being and another called an alcoholic Kurdish carpet salesman. I called him a catalyst.” 2 likes
More quotes…