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

Istanbul Istanbul

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  728 ratings  ·  111 reviews
“Istanbul is a city of a million cells, and every cell is an Istanbul unto itself.”

Below the ancient streets of Istanbul, four prisoners—Demirtay the student, the doctor, Kamo the barber, and Uncle Küheylan—sit, awaiting their turn at the hands of their wardens. When they are not subject to unimaginable violence, the condemned tell one another stories about the city, shade
Paperback, First, 256 pages
Published May 5th 2016 by OR Books (first published March 2015)
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 Istanbul Istanbul, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Istanbul Istanbul

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.06  · 
Rating details
 ·  728 ratings  ·  111 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Istanbul Istanbul
Viv JM
I came across this book when it was shortlisted for, and subsequently won, the first ever EBRD Literature Prize.

Istanbul, Istanbul is set over 10 days and is told by 4 prisoners who are being held without charge, underground in Istanbul and are subject to torture. To keep themselves going, they tell each other stories about the world above, some real and some mythical/imagined. They do not talk to each other about their politics, or about their experiences of torture.

Although the subject matte
Miriam Cihodariu
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: turkey
The stories weaved by captives (suspected of political crimes) held underground take on the air of resistance through art and humor. This echoes painfully the stories of dissidence in my own country, the so-called martyr poets of the communist prisons. But that's beyond the point here.

Especially as a person in love with Istanbul, I loved it. But anyone who likes good stories, fairytales and myth will love it too. Another great thing about it is that all the stories are somehow centered, directly
Chris Grieves
Nov 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
This is an absolutely incredible book. Beautifully written and perfectly translated by Ümit Hussein. At times it is harrowing and difficult to read - especially when you consider that the author was a political prisoner in Turkey - but it is more than worth the effort.

The dichotomy that Sönmez creates throughout - between reality and fantasy, both within and outside of the cell - is really interesting. He adds to this with beautiful and powerful descriptions of horrific circumstances; the delica
Anuja Chandramouli
Nov 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Turkish writer, Burhan Sonmez’s Istanbul Istanbul is about four prisoners who are held without trial and tortured deep in the bowels of the city. Locked away in a windowless cell they are routinely dragged away along a narrow corridor, past an iron gate to where a world of endless torment awaits. When the guards see fit to return them to captivity more dead than alive they pick up the pieces of a broken body with the help of a marginally more resilient spirit and their cellmates to live out anot ...more
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Lisa by: EBRD Literature Prize
It took a bit of fortitude to read this remarkable novel by Turkish author Burhan Sönmez: Istanbul Istanbul is too close to the real world of torture to be anything but difficult to read.
Like The Decameron to which it alludes in the text, it is based on storytelling over 10 days, and the stories mesh fantasy with reality. Four prisoners sharing a cell wait their turn for repeated interrogation sessions, returning afterwards each time with terrible injuries but with their spirits uncrushed. To pa
Najwa Sahmarani
Apr 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is an intensive exercise of empathy. Beautifully written and translated. Four political prisoners - deeply humanized by the author - locked in underground cells sharing stories at times where they were not being barbarically tortured. Some parts were painful to read - especially when you consider that these incidents were (and still) happening to thousands of people in different countries. The book is not bluntly political - more about love and the power of stories.
Jun 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: job-perks
Nope, so not my kinda book. Way too much telling and absolutely no showing. I found it utterly boring and the ending was a total let-down. My list foray into meaningful adult literature for a while... Maybe I'm just not mature enough to get the appeal.
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: turkish, contemporary
this was, hands down, the most powerful book i've read in a very, very long time.
Ashraf Bhat
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Istanbul Istanbul-- by Burhan Sönmez
“A wrenching love poem to Istanbul told between torture sessions by four prisoners in their cell beneath the city. An ode to pain in which Dostoevsky meets The Decameron.”
—John Ralston Saul, author of On Equilibrium; former president, PEN Internationa
Those who have been reading Orhan Pamuk’s best sellers like “Istanbul: Memories and the City”, "My Name is Red", or "Snow", would find the style and narratives techniques of Burhan Sönmez more interesting and enth
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I picked this little gem up at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August. The first couple of chapters take a while to grasp but quickly you feel as though you too, are sitting in that small cell. Through stories and the character's own accounts, you get a real sense of how things are both above and below ground. The original transcript would be wonderful to read as the English translation has so much flavour and colour of language. Would highly recommend.
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I came across this book when it won the EBRD (first) Annual Book Prize (which had the additional and welcome wrinkle of honouring the translator as well by sharing the prize). It is gripping, The story of a number of men in an underground Istanbul prison where they try to survive their torture by telling 10 stories over 10 chapters. It is about their imaginations and creativity under the harshest of conditions. It references the Decameron. It is not overly gruesome in a descriptive sense, not pa ...more
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read this book during the confinement in Barcelona, had bought it the year before and never got to read it. I couldn't have been a more fitting read for the situation. Reading about the prisoners locked up in a cell underneath the city of Istanbul, telling each other stories to pass the time ...
During the 10 days they share the cell, each of them tries to help the others, tells stories that introduce the reader to rural Turkey and sometimes even personal information escapes to inform the reade
Nov 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Ten days in the lives of 4 political prisoners incarcerated in an underground prison beneath the city of Istanbul barely remaining alive between one torture session to another. They are sustained by the stories they tell, fantastic tales of a mystical world that each of them brings to the small compassionate community they have created in their small cell. Through these stories, we also learn of the reality of the lives of each of the prisoners in the real world above them. The central pivot of ...more
Feb 03, 2020 rated it liked it
I didn’t rate it higher only because I believe I didn’t get half the hidden message under the surface of this story. We must know Istanbul and Turkey political background in order to fully understand it. I know Istanbul quite well and it’s my favourite place in the world, this book describes the city and city life very well, I could feel like I was there but if I was a local maybe I could go deeper into the message. Loving Istanbul may be a criteria to understand and feel the book. I would recom ...more
Siri Solheim-Kristiansen
May 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
A poetic approach to the stories of four political prisoners held three floors below Istanbuls chaos and happiness.

While it took me a few chapters to get into the poetic style of storytelling mixed with the brutality of prison and torture (however little torture is described, it's still present at all times when focused on happenings inside the prison), I ended up truly enjoying the stories shared between the characters - the descriptions so good I could picture every street corner, every build
Vibhor Jain
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant work depicting the hardships (read torture) faced by political prisoners in the underbelly of Istanbul. The mental agony and dilemma has been amazingly captured by the author. Though this work is based on Istanbul, it can be true for any place and any prisoner in the world.
The book neither glorifies the prisoners nor the state. There are no judgments passed in the book. The prisoners have been shown to be anti state, that is it.
The last two chapters especially disturb you with clear
Kamal Karan
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
A tale of four prisoners kept in an underground facility in Istanbul, this book is more about surviving the torture through the means of stories and fantasies and less about the torture itself. Nowhere it is mentioned why these people were kept locked up (there are hints of a revolution going on but no clear mention) or what happened to them in the end.
I felt I was with them in the prison, I could understand their emotions.
The way you connect to the characters shows the sheer brilliance Sonmez
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An absolute treat reading this one! It is not every day that an author gets compared to Italo Calvino. The blurb piqued my interest and I was glad I picked this incredible book. Excellent story line revolving around four prisoners swapping stories in an underground prison, in between torture sessions. Having read the English version, the translator has done a commendable job in making this book accessible to English readers.
Mar 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Umit Hussein did a good job translating this book. It was a very easy read. The only things I had to look up were some buildings, places, food, and people mentioned. The glossary at the end explained a lot. I liked that the characters went to imaginary places but that they didn't give too many details so I was able to imagine the places and things too.
Aug 26, 2018 rated it liked it
“Hell is not the place where one suffers, it is the place where no one hears is suffering.”
A novel about suffering physically and healing mentally. Unhappiness and suffering cannot get to us as long as we clutch on dreams and hopes.
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
An enchanting book, despite, or may be even due to, the cruel scenes it also contains. Istanbul becomes a mythical city you want to get to know. It made me want to go there, and so I did.
May 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
When you think there's nothing new left to say about İstanbul, here comes this book. Impressing!
2.5/5 or 5/10
Luminiţa Cristina
Sep 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Very similar to Decameron with which is compared by the author himself, the book is very captivating through all the stories it contains, which interlap fiction with reality, fairytales with memories. The tension of the tight space and periodic torture intensify the perception of the reader. The characters include a student, Demirtay, a doctor, a hairdresser, Kamo, an "uncle", Kuheylan, a young woman, Zine Sevda and several others which are related to these (for instance, the doctor's son, Mine ...more
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: català, finished, 2019
It's a beautiful novel that enhances hope against despair.
The lives and secrets of the prisoners are narrated mixed with different tales so the final result is a story with a blurred line between reality and fantasy.
It's moving how fiction and the friendship created in a cell can make them forget for a while all the suffering, sadness and pain they are going through.
The style in which the novel is writen is exquisite, sometimes it felt like I was reading a poem. I also found myself re-reading so
Aug 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Istanbul, both the city and Sonmez's book are two things I've fallen in love with. It's wonderfully written, a magical and poetic narrative of four men locked in the cellars beneath Istanbul, recounting each other life tales, fairy tales and tales of love to make each other forget about the ugliness and pain.
Dec 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book won me over quietly. If the English translation was so profoundly moving, I don't know how the original might have impacted me. The stories that these prisoners tell each other to keep alive are more like puzzles about life's unresolved questions. I am so completely won over by the prose of this book. Pamuk doesn't even compare.
Feb 17, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would like to be able to read the comments written in Turkish. I think I missed a lot in this book by coming to it as a "tourist". It is a powerful account of prisoners tortured underground while they talk of Istanbul above.
Ms. Reader
Mar 09, 2016 rated it liked it
I received this book from Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review...
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Nohut Oda
  • Gölgesizler
  • Tarihî Kırıntılar
  • Bizim Büyük Çaresizliğimiz
  • Beni Kör Kuyularda
  • Saklı Bahçeler Haritası
  • The Days of the King
  • The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies
  • Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü
  • Kara Yarısı
  • Sarıyaz
  • Mesafenin Şiddeti
  • Barbarın Kahkahası
  • Istanbul: Memories and the City
  • Kâğıt Ev
  • Shyness and Dignity
  • Kambur
  • Sinek Isırıklarının Müellifi
See similar books…
Burhan Sönmez was born in Haymana in central Turkey. He completed his primary and secondary education in Polatlı. He graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Istanbul and worked for a time as a lawyer. He wrote for various newspapers and magazines on literature, culture and politics.

He is member of Turkish PEN and English PEN. He lectures in Literature and Novel at the METU.

He has sp

News & Interviews

“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” That’s Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani human rights...
33 likes · 12 comments
“In that place there were no train stations, crowded ferries, or boulevards where everyone bumped into each other as they walked. There were no lampposts, bridges, or towers either. Everything consisted of a great meaning. One part of that meaning was haste, the other part was agitation. Every tiny thing was a reflection of that greater meaning. Drawn curtains, leaving the workplace at the end of the working day, and the squares where lovers arranged to meet, were all reflections of it. If it rained, and washed and cleansed the city’s dirt for days, it would still be that meaning that emerged with the first ray of sunshine. Time that ticked on in maternity hospitals, in back streets and in late night bars, toyed with the city’s pace. People forgot the sun, the moon, and the stars and lived only with times. Time for work, time for school, time for an appointment, time to eat, time to go out. When it was finally time to sleep, people had no more strength or desire left to think about the world. They let themselves go in the darkness. They were dragged along by a single meaning, a meaning that was hidden in every single thing. What was that meaning and where was it taking us? People created small pleasures for themselves to stop their minds from clouding over with such questions, and chased after them relentlessly. They ran away from life’s hardships, slept peacefully, and thus lightened their minds’ burden. And their hearts’. They believed that. Until a wall inside them came crashing down and their hearts were crushed.” 1 likes
“My father used to say that we had another life in the sky. Our world had a reflection, like a mirror. And each of us had a double living in the world in the sky. The people there slept during the day and woke up at night. They felt cold in the heat and got hot in the cold. They couldn’t see when it was light but could make out the furthest object in the dark. The men in this world were women there, while the women were men. They didn’t take life seriously, but attached great importance to dreams. They liked hugging strangers. They weren’t ashamed of being poor, but of being rich. For them laughing was crying, while crying was laughing. When someone died they sang songs and danced. When I was a child I often stared at the sky to try and catch a glimpse of my other self. I wondered what I was like in that other life.” 1 likes
More quotes…