Felatun Bey and Rakım Efendi.

Kaya Genç writes about one of those famous untranslated works that has finally been translated:

When a Turkish literary scholar announced in the 1980s that he was the “socialist Ahmet Midhat Efendi,” many intellectuals voiced their surprise at this left-wing writer’s unabashed sympathy for a traditionalist novelist of the late nineteenth century. One of the most productive writers of Ottoman literature, Midhat Efendi single-handedly set the fundamentals of Turkish journalism and the Turkish novel. He was also one of Sultan Abdülhamid II’s favorite writers and for a long time, Ahmet Midhat Efendi’s perceived conservatism made him an unattractive figure to Western publishers, until this year when a U.S. publisher, Syracuse University Press, published “Felatun Bey and Rakım Efendi: An Ottoman Novel.” Translated by Melih Levi and Monica M. Ringer, this slim, 166-page book has a beautiful design. […]

First published in 1875, Midhat’s novel, available for the first time in English, is surprisingly fresh, experimental and even a tad bit post-modernist. Unlike moralist and purportedly progressive texts of the same era that support a specific political cause, 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. […]

In her informative and illuminating afterword to this edition, Holly Shissler writes about the significance of “Felatun Bey and Rakım Efendi”‘s characters. Ahmet Midhat did not invent the alafranga, dandy-type of Turkish literature, she notes, “but his drawing of it in ‘Felatun Bey and Rakım Efendi’ is so vivid that it has served as its quintessential expression in Turkish letters until today. In this sense, it might be compared with Turgenev’s ‘Diary of a Superfluous Man.’ […]

The Syracuse University Press edition of the novel features interesting material: the image of the front page from the Ottoman publication of the novel, published in 1875 by Mehmet Cevdet, with a “Reader’s Map” of Istanbul by Rana Irmak Aksoy that shows the locations where Rakim Efendi took boat trips with Josephine and the Ziklas family, whose daughters were educated at home by Ottoman gentleman. Another map in the book shows Felatun Bey’s home, Rakım’s household, Josephine’s house and the Ziklas household.

“Felatun Bey and Rakım Efendi’s chatty style is fun to read today: “Have you heard of Felatun Bey?” the first sentence reads.”You know who I’m talking about: old Mustafa Meraki Efendi’s son! Doesn’t it ring a bell? Well now, he’s a lad worth meeting.” In these pages, Ahmet Midhat’s style seems raw and unpolished: these are the qualities that make the novel so precious. “Mustafa Meraki Efendi lives in a district near Beyoğlu, in Istanbul’s Tophane neighborhood,” the narrator tells us. “There is no need to provide the name of this district. You know the neighborhood, right? Well, that’s all you need to know.”

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? And I confess I’m more likely to buy such a book if it’s fitted out with informative afterwords and maps. (Thanks, Trevor!)


  1. Ken Miner says

    And I confess I’m more likely to buy such a book if it’s fitted out with informative afterwords and maps

    I too. But it is a pain. Reading old books encounters the problem that works originally published in several small volumes are now accessible only in single enormous hardcover editions which are made even larger by apparatus – notes and timelines and such – you cannot conveniently carry them around, let alone put them in your pocket. My edition of Gil Blas is like that. Such books were not meant to be tomes.

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    Could Felatun be a form of Eflatun “Plato”? (All hits on Google seem to lead to the novel.)
    “Plato Bey” would be way cool as a name …

  3. Hmm, I’ll bet you’re right. I hope someone who knows will weigh in…

  4. SFReader says

    From review of the novel on the Net:

    The plot builds on the contrast between the two characters named in the title. Felatun Bey is born into riches but squanders his sizeable fortune on a French mistress and gambling, pursuing what he considers to be an alafranga (foreign) life style. Ironically, his name means Plato in Turkish, but his intellectual side is mainly pretention, while his demeanour is often abrasive, and he shows up at his clerical job only three hours a week.

  5. Thanks!

  6. SFReader says

    Turks do use Western (well, mostly Greek) names, but it takes some getting used to.

    Once I was watching a popular Turkish TV show and only by the sixth episode it dawned on me that the main heroine’s name is actually Daphne.

  7. alafranga

    Is it à la française?

  8. marie-lucie says


    Could it be from the “sabir”, a kind of pidgin formerly used in the Mediterranean?

  9. marie-lucie says

    In that pidgin, the French were still “Franks”.

  10. David Marjanović says

    Alla franca as a pun on alla turca?

  11. ə de vivre says

    Alafranga is a cromulent, but not super-common, word of non-pidgin Turkish.

  12. Such books were not meant to be tomes.

    Actually they were meant to be, because tome originally meant one of the volumes into which a long book was divided, and only later came to mean the long book as a whole. It’s the same root as -otomy, which forms words that have to do with cutting or division.

  13. marie-lucie says

    ə de vivre Alafranga is a cromulent, but not super-common, word of non-pidgin Turkish.

    Sure, but it could have come from the pidgin. I don’t know too much Turkish but this word does not look like a typical Turkish word.

  14. SFReader says

    It’s said to be from Italian – alla franca.

    But could be from lingua franca pidgin too.

  15. marie-lucie says

    From Italian to pidgin to Turkish, I would guess.

  16. Well, research is easy nowadays in a sense that one can run into the state of “evidence is suggestive, but inconclusive” just in a few minutes.

    From The Cümbüş as Instrument of “the Other” in Modern Turkey, a thesis by Eric Bernard Ederer

    alafranga. (Fr. Italian, “in the Frankish manner.”) Music or other cultural expression in (any) Western (i.e., European) style; conceived of by the mid-18th century as exemplifying modernist ideas and trends. Currently an old-fashioned term (see O’Connell 2005).

    alaturka. (Fr. Italian, “in the Turkish manner.”) Music or other cultural expression in a traditional Turkish style; conceived of (by the 19th century) as the opposite of alafranga, and exemplifying backward-looking traditionalism. Currently an old-fashioned term (see O’Connell 2005).

    If you want to know what O’Connell 2005 thought about the subject or how much rigor went into the Fr. Italian attribution, you are on your own. You and internet.

  17. SFReader says

    If I am not mistaken, correct Italian term would be ‘alla francese’, so ‘alla franca’ sounds either dated or not exactly standard Italian.

  18. marie-lucie says

    SFR: ‘alla franca’ sounds either dated or not exactly standard Italian.

    Both reasons to link the words to the “sabir” rather than directly to Italian.

    Are these terms only used in music?

  19. Alla Franca and alla Turca seem to be quite old and not related that much to music. Google search on the first one finds The Life of Leopold, Late Emperor of Germany, &c. printed in the year 1706 with those terms applying to ordinary household objects. Apparently, the opposition existed in English language as well (if transiently), because OED quotes
    1688 London Gaz. No. 2336/5 Two Led Horses, richly furnished, one after the Franke, and the other after the Turkish Fashion.

  20. SFReader says

    It doesn’t seem likely that Italian would describe Western European customs as ‘Frankish’.

    The only Romance language where it would make sense is lingua franca.

  21. minus273 says

    Where did the Muslim/Easterly custom of referring to Latins as Franks come from?

  22. SFReader says

    From the battle of Poitiers on 10 October 732, when Franks under Charles Martel defeated Arab army of Ummayad Caliphate. Since then, all Western European Christians were referred to as Franks in medieval Arab sources.

  23. Actually they were meant to be, because tome originally meant one of the volumes into which a long book was divided

    And still does in Russian; a двухтомник is a two-volume work.

  24. We discussed the term “Frank” a couple of years ago. (In European use, it dates from the eleventh century.)

  25. minus273 says

    Wow! Thanks.

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