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Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga

Portrait of a Turkish Family (1950)

by Irfan Orga

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Showing 4 of 4
A very gripping novel about the tragic family history of a young boy, later a young man, in Istanbul and other places of Turkey. All classic themes come by, father - son, mother - son, brothers, grandparents, all grief big and small. And then the first World War starts and all changes. And again a can of themes is opened: wealth, poverty, togetherness, religion, anxiety, ....
Near the end the story gets lengthy when the author tells about his own affairs in the military, while for me the depictions of the family, and especially the authors mother, are the best parts. The authors mother is a young beautiful wife at the start of the story and she gets confronted with the worst scenario in war. The relentless search for a new attitude, one would even say a new identity, after this tragic event is without doubt very courageous.
Masculin viewpoints by the author, with his cultural background, do prevent him from being completely aware, so it seems, of this journey his mother has to go. Only in the end comes pure sympathy but then it's too late.
Could have been written a bit more dense, a bit less selfcomplaining, and then it would have had more than the current 3,5 stars. Still very well worth your time. ( )
  Lunarreader | Mar 4, 2016 |

This was my letting-go-of-Turkey read. The Galeri Kayseri English Bookshop within shouting distance of the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya had evidently decided it was ideal for tourists wanting to read an Istanbul story, as there were big piles of it near the counter. They were right.

It's a memoir. Irfan Orga was born in 1908 into a wealthy family in Istanbul, then the capital of the Ottoman Empire. His mother, a great beauty who had married at 13, hardly ever went out into the world, and when she did she went veiled and chaperoned. His grandmother was the dominant personality of the household, and of the whole neighbourhood – an early chapter gives a richly comic account of five year old Irfan accompanying her on a trip to the Turkish baths. The family lived a blissfully entitled life within sight and sound of the Sea of Marmora (as he spells it) until the First World War, when Irfan's father, previously a successful businessman, was conscripted and killed. That, plus a fire that destroyed the family house and all their savings, completely overturned the family's fortunes, and what follows is a chronicle of terrible poverty and struggle. Nobody and no relationship emerges from the years of struggle unscathed, and the final scenes between Irfan and his mother

Meanwhile, Turkey itself was going through major upheaval: poverty was widespread, the Ottoman empire was defeated and in disarray, and by 1923 Kemal Atatürk had led the revolutionary forces to establish the Turkish Republic. The fez was banned and the introduced hat, seen by many as offensively Christian, led to violence in the streets. When Irfan's mother went out alone and unveiled, boys threw stones at her in the street. One day, in Ottoman Turkey, school students were beaten for arriving late at prayers; a few days later, in the secular Turkish Republic, the few who remained devout were likely to be beaten because prayers made them late for class.

The story of this family is heartbreaking, and though there is much hilarity and some high melodrama, the general trend is towards devastation and disintegration. Not that there's any nostalgia for the days of the Ottomans, but the human cost of the radical changes – political, cultural and economic – that happened in Turkey between 1914 and 1940 is made painfully real. An afterword by the author's son, Artes Orga, in 1988 makes it clear that the pain continued for the rest of his life. (He formed a liaison with a non-Turkish woman, whom he eventually married, and as this was somehow illegal he lived in exile, raising his son in a kind of cocoon of Turkishness in London. This book was a big hit, but he never really prospered or found contentment.) ( )
1 vote shawjonathan | Jul 26, 2012 |
I found the portrait of this “modern” Turkish family reminiscent of the family portrayed in Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy in that many of my preconceptions were totally inaccurate. The characters were vivid and heartbreaking. I appreciated the foreshadowing descriptions of what was coming, such as there will come a time I will eat grass because I am so hungry (paraphrased) as these helped me prepare for the awfulness that was to come. As tragedy built upon tragedy the sheer survival of the main character (the author fictionalized) became a startling miracle. The roots of modern-day Turkey are evident through the events narrated here. ( )
  kellyn | Nov 5, 2010 |
I don't tend to go in for autobiographies; they tend to have stupid, long titles with subtitles and joke names and so forth, and they're often ghost written and useless. The Dennis Wise autobiography is a good example - a couple of pages read over someone's shoulder and that was more than enough for me.

It wasn't always that way though. In the past, autobiographies tended to be more literary affairs, and there is no better example than this 'Portait of a Turkish Family.' It chronicles the early life and career of its author, and then is continued further by his son in an epilogue. This is very good writing (and, it turns out, was 'guided' in its English form by Orga's wife), and a fascinating exploration of Turkish life and culture in the years around Ataturk's coup. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Nov 16, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Irfan Orgaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hel Guedj, Johan-FrédérikTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orga, AteşAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Margarete, my wife, with love
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Sono nato a Istanbul il 31 ottobre 1908, primogenito della mia famiglia.
I was born in Istanbul, on the 31st of October 1908.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0907871828, Paperback)

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 sieclé 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 costs to maintain her traditional habits. But the war changed everything. Death and financial disaster reigned, the Sultan was overthrown, and Turkey became a republic. The red fez was ousted by the cloth cap, and the family was forced to adapt to an unimaginably impoverished life. Filled with brilliant vignettes of old Turkish life, such as the ritual weekly visit to the hamam, as it tells the ""other side "" of the Gallipoli story, and its impact on one family and the transformation of a nation. ""It is just as though someone had opened a door marked `Private' and showed you what was inside.... A most interesting and affectionate book.""-Sir John Betjeman. ""A wholly delightful book.""-Harold Nicolson

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:38 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Irfan Orga was born into a prosperous family in the twilight of the Ottoman Empire. His mother was a beauty, married at thirteen, who lived in the seclusion of a harem, as befitted a Turkish woman of her class. His grandmother was an eccentric autocrat, determined at all costs to maintain her traditional habits. But the First World War changed everything. Death and financial disaster reigned, the Sultan was overthrown and Turkey became a republic. The family was forced to adapt to an unimaginably impoverished life. In 1941 Irfan Orga arrived in London, and seven years later he wrote this extra.… (more)

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