Portrait of a Turkish Family

Irfan Orga

Eland 1988 [1950]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2010 http://dannyreviews.com/
An autobiography, Portrait of a Turkish Family begins with the author at age six, in 1914, and ends with the death of his mother in 1940; most of it covers his childhood in Istanbul, during the First World War, the end of the Ottoman Empire, and the early years of the Turkish Republic.

Irfan Orga's account paints a vivid picture of a well-off family declining into poverty. The death of his father and uncle in the war and then the loss in a fire of the family savings, kept as cash, leave his mother and grandmother struggling to survive and raise three children. From having four servants, his mother is reduced to sewing in an army depot. The family fortunes eventually improve, however, and Orga ends up attending military school and becoming an air force officer.

Portrait stays with the domestic and personal, only touching on broader political, economic or social history where it impacts on the family's life. Orga describes how his mother rejected first the kafes that occluded windows and then the veil, for example, and how his school received Ataturk's decree banning the traditional fez in favour of European hats, but he doesn't digress into the background to those changes. Portrait is still informative about everyday life in a turbulent period in Turkish history, however, and its focus on the personal gives it something of the feel of a novel.

An afterword by his son describes Orga's later life, which saw him marry an Irishwoman and move to England. It also provides some background on Portrait of a Turkish Family, which Orga drafted in Turkish and roughly translated, with the polished prose we read his wife's work.

July 2010

External links:
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Related reviews:
- books about Turkey + the Ottoman Empire
- more Turkish literature
- more diaries + autobiography
%T Portrait of a Turkish Family
%A Orga, Irfan
%I Eland
%D 1988 [1950]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 090787181X
%P 316pp