"Ahmet Midhat, among other things, invented the East-West novel, which later became a genre in Istanbul. This is his most humorous, strange, and interesting book."—Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Prize–winning author of My Name is Red
"A fascinating historical artefact. . . . Felâtun Bey and Râkim Efendi by Ahmet Midhat Efendi is one of the earliest examples of the Ottoman novel and it is today seen by many as the representative work of its era."—Times Literary Supplement
"Ahmet Midhat was the initiator and the popularizer of the novel in Turkey. Felâtun Bey and Râkim Efendi illustrates the author’s reformist zeal as the guardian of traditional morals and manners at a time of cultural and epistemological transition."—Jale Parla, Istanbul Bilgi University
"One of the first novels written in Turkish. Lots of fun to read. Midhat dominated the literary scene in Istanbul towards the end of the nineteenth century. This is his most symptomatic novel about people caught between two cultures, east and west."—Nüket Esen, Bogazici University
"Felâtun Bey and Râkim Efendi is a seminal work by one of the most prolific first wave Tanzimat writers."—Iclal Vanwesenbeeck, associate professor of renaissance and Middle Eastern literature, SUNY Fredonia
"Midhat's narrative is thoroughly and consistently irreverent—it is the kind of novel Czech author Milan Kundera would surely like because of its imperfections, unwavering innovations and hilarious blend of different types of writing."—Daily Sabah
Ahmet Midhat Efendi’s famous 1875 novel Felâtun Bey and Râkim Efendi takes place in late nineteenth-century Istanbul and follows the lives of two young men who come from radically different backgrounds. Râkim Efendi is an erudite, self-made man, one who is ambitious and cultivated enough to mingle with a European crowd. In contrast, Felâtun Bey is a spendthrift who lacks intellectual curiosity and a strong work ethic. Squandering his wealth and education, he leads a life of decadence.
The novel traces Râkim and Felâtun’s relationships with multiple characters, charting their romances and passions, as well as their foibles and amusing mishaps as they struggle to find and follow their own path through the many temptations and traps of European culture. The author creates a rich portrait of stratified Ottoman life through a diverse and colorful cast of characters—from a French piano teacher and an Arab nanny, to a Circassian slave girl—each deftly navigating the shifting mores of their social class. Written during the Ottoman Empire’s uneasy transition to modernity, the novel’s protagonists embody both the best and worst elements of two worlds, European and Ottoman. The novel provides readers with an elegant yet powerful appeal for progressive reforms and individual freedoms. Levi and Ringer’s fluid translation of this Ottoman classic stands as a landmark in the history of Turkish literature in translation.
About the Author
Ahmet Midhat Efendi (1844–1912) was a journalist, novelist, playwright, translator, and social critic who authored more than two hundred original works. He wrote for and edited the Tercümani Hakikat, the most influential and longest-running Ottoman newspaper.
Melih Levi received his BA from Amherst College, where he studied English literature.
Monica M. Ringer is professor of Middle Eastern history at Amherst College. She is the author of Pious Citizens: Reforming Zoroastrianism in India and Iran.
Series: Middle East Literature in Translation
6 x 9, 198 pages, 3 black and white illustrations, 2 maps