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From wild horses to twirling dervishes


It’s time for this month’s chain of reading, set off by Kate’s Six Degrees of Separation, in which we are invited to build a chain of 6 books that bear some form of connection to the one before them – be it author, theme, style, location, title, era, language, ….. – all starting from a book suggested by Kate.

This month we start with Ned Kelly as our prompt, in the format of The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey, bringing the famous horse thief, bank robber and police-killer back to life.

From here my thoughts jumped immediately to a very recent read – The Last Wild Horses by Maja Lunde. This emotional story takes us from 1880 to 2064, following three people in their efforts to save the wild horses from extinction. It is a captivating tale that will make you fall in love with the Przewalski horses. More dominant than the horse theme, though, is that of climate change. In what is in many ways a very scary story, Lunde is able to highlight the positives and keep us turning the pages.

Next we’ll pick up They burn thistles by Yashar Kemal. This classic piece of Turkish literature takes us into the wilds of Turkey in the 1920s, where we encounter a bitter war between the poor Turkish peasants of the Taurus Mountains  and the greedy Aghas who seize their land. 

And why is this the next in our chain? Well, a strong and beautiful stallion is key to establishing the story line. Plus, I was just heading off to Turkey to see the wild horses in Cappadocia. 

The quality of the writing in this novel is as important as the story. Kemal’s use of words is graceful and captivating. In fact, reading just the first chapter of this book is a great way to make a short visit to Turkey. But you may find it hard to put the book down at this point as the characters drag you into the story: it’s hard not to like Memed, Osman and Kamer and their affection for each other. A wonderful read.

Now let’s turn to another highly regarded Turkish author, Orhan Pamuk, the first Turkish recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

He has written many great novels, but my choice today is Red haired woman, a story of childhood, puberty and marriage. Behind that classic theme there lies a number of traditional stories and myths which repeat themselves in real life. There are also glimpses of a growing Istanbul and its political history. 

The characters are well drawn, developing through the book. I could see them all clearly. A book I wouldn’t want to see as a film as the actors wouldn’t look like the ones fixed so clearly in my head. 

As Pamuk has taken us to the capital of Turkey, let’s leaf through the pages of Ara Guler’s Istanbul,  a wonderful photographic record of daily life in Turkey’s capital, from the 1940s to the 1980s. The introduction is written by Orhan Pamuk who says “Ara Guler’s Istanbul is my Istanbul. It is the city where I live; the city I know and think I know; the city I see as a single world and as an indivisible part of myself. Every time I look at the details in AG’s Istanbul photographs, I want to rush to my desk to write about the city.”

To aid the viewer’s journey around Istanbul, there are maps at the back to show where the images were taken. 

Time for more fiction and yet another wonderful Turkish author, Elif Shafak.  I could pick any of her books to go in here, as I’m a big fan of her writing, but as we’re in Istanbul let’s go with The Bastard of Istanbul. This bold and vigorous story, full of strong female characters, set Shafak in the ranks of top fiction writers, and put her permanently on my bookshelves.

We will finish this month’s chain with A Tale of Four Dervishes by Mir Amman.

This wonderful piece of Urdu fiction from 1803, translated by Mohammed Zakir, introduces us to a despairing King of Turkey who has no son to succeed him. He leaves his palace to live in seclusion but happens across four wandering dervishes who have been guided to Turkey by a supernatural force. Each dervish tells of their own disappointments in life, of their adventures and mishaps, opening to the reader a magnificent world of romance, fairies and djinns. No better place to finish our reading chain this month.



I hope my chain of six pieces of fiction prompts a good read for you in May.
Next month we’ll be setting off from xxxxxxxx by xxxxxxxxx.

Note: Most of my links this week are to Hive, an online bookseller that gives part of the income to local booksellers, and you get to choose the bookshop you’d like to receive the benefit. I’m delighted that my local bookshop, Books on the Hill, is on the list, and have been happily supporting them in this way.



Copyright Debbie Smyth, 10 January 2022

Posted as part of Six Degrees

8 replies »

  1. Oh, marvellous, Debbie. I’m so glad you posted late as I largely missed out on this month’s Six Degrees, what with being in That Europe place. We seem to enjoy a similar taste in books, so I’ll be bookmarking all of these, none of which I know (though like you, I love Shafak’s writing).


    • Yes. I’m think you’ll like them all. The horses author is particularly known for her one about bees. A good writer who does her research. And the note by the translator is very interesting too.


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