Much of early-modern history, up until the early 20th century, was characterized by empire—not just or even particularly the colonial projects of Britain and Spain, but contiguous empires of Russia, Austria-Hungary, China and the Ottomans. These latter were multi-ethnic and—using modern sensibilities—in some ways multinational edifices. They all came to an end around the time of the First World War: China and Russia morphed into republics and largely kept their territories; the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires were replaced by a welter of new countries.
What if Michelangelo had not, as history concurs he had, declined the Sultan’s invitation to come to Constantinople in 1506 to design a bridge over the Golden Horn? This is the conceit behind Mathias Énard’s new novel, or rather novella, Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants (a perhaps anachronistic borrowing from the preface of a collection of Rudyard Kipling stories). What if Michelangelo had instead accepted?
Although set in an exotic late-Ottoman Istanbul, a city of harems, dervishes, veils and fezzes, Ahmet Altan’s Like a Sword Wound nevertheless reads like a familiar and recognizable Western European period classic.
A few years ago, Robert Dankoff and Sooyong Kim edited a much-needed and generous selection of Evliya Çelebi’s Seyhatname or Book of Travels. Evliya (1611-1682) spent the better part of forty years traveling around the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia Minor; he’s perhaps the best-known of all Ottoman explorers and travelers, which is not to say a great deal, because non-European travel-writers are still sadly under-represented in English translation.
So you’re planning a trip on the Silk Road. You’re looking for tips on what to take, routes, currencies, visas.
Contemporary Blue-and-White: Turkish Ceramics is an exhibition featuring some forty ceramics by by Mehmet Gürsoy and Nida Olçar, two award-winning contemporary Turkish artists. This is so-called “İznik pottery”; finely-decorated ceramics have been produced in İznik, the ancient Nicaea, since the last quarter of the 15th century.
The misdirection starts with the novel’s cover. Hasan Ali Toptas’s Shadowless is, in spite of its title, full of shadows.