Barracks Reading Part 1

July 6, 2006 | 3 books mentioned 5 3 min read

coverIt has, once again, been a long time since I wrote to The Millions. My hiatus this time around was due to constant travels and lack of time to read. I managed, nevertheless, to read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment as intended and began David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I do not dare comment on Crime and Punishment, since it is merely my introduction to Russian literature and so many people and scholars have already done a much better job than I can ever hope to do. Let it suffice that I really enjoyed every word in Crime and Punishment and look forward to continuing my Russian Lit. education through both Dostoevsky – Brothers Karamazov, I think, will be next – and Tolstoy – I have War and Peace in mind, please tell me your suggestions – before I move onto others such as Pushkin and Chekhov – whose The Cherry Orchard and some other plays I have read. Next I picked up Infinite Jest with the naive hope that I could make serious headway into it in one month. I enjoyed the 150 pages that I managed to read in my month-long quest to devour Wallace’s little monster. It was, I have to admit, very confusing and I constantly found myself in anticipation of stories that begun and were, in the mere 150 pages I read, not continued. The reason I stopped was not because of my growing frustration with the novel – as happened to a couple of my friends – but because I reported to the army to serve my mandatory military service. Infinite Jest is not quite the light read that I could manage in the barracks after a full day of marching and obeying orders barked at me, therefore I put it on hold. Thus far I have not managed to return to it.

[See Also: Max’s thoughts on Crime and Punishment]

While in the army I picked up Turkey’s bestseller Su Ciglin Turkler (Those Crazy Turks) by Turgut Ozakman. Ozakman studied both national and private archives related to the Turkish Independence War for over sixty years. About fifteen years ago the premise of his book and most of his research was complete and the novel in progress was turned into a movie script for a four-part TV series. I remember watching the series at a very young age and being very impressed by it. My father had read the newly published Su Ciglin Turkler during my parents’ visit to New York in January and left the novel for me to read. I took the novel to the army, where only pre-approved books are allowed into the barracks and subversive writers are banned, and began reading it there. Ozakman’s narrative is very simple and fluent. The story sticks to historic facts to the point of making Su Ciglin Turkler more of a history book than a novel. The author avoided writing a history book by narrating the individual lives and adventures of historic characters in fiction. The combination creates a very strong storyline that reflects the historic moments in Turkey’s three year long struggle to freedom following World War I and touches a nerve in the reader by relating the greatly humane stories of unheard heroes and heroines. Su Ciglin Turkler makes its readers laugh and cry out loud at certain points, infuses a healthy dose of nationality that makes the reader long for the determination and unity exhibited in the birth of the Turkish Republic – as well as wonder why such stamina and selfless goodwill is missing from the scene today – and provides a great glimpse of the nation’s foundations. Unfortunately, as with most Turkish novels I read, with the exception of Orhan Pamuk’s novels, Su Ciglin Turkler is only available in Turkish. If you know the language or the novel is ever translated, I strongly recommend it. That was my army novel, and I admit the setting proved perfect.

See also: Part 2, 3

breathes, eats, drinks, sleeps, reads, writes and works in New York. He also reports Live from Gybria. To maintain his sanity, Emre looks for stories in daily life and books. Should that fail, he orders Chinese food and watches the mind-numbing box.


  1. I highly recommend jumping centuries in your Russian odyssey and reading Bulgakov's 1936 (not published until the 60's) "The Master & Margarita." It will change your conception not only of Russian literature, but of how high of an art irony and satire can be taken.

  2. I was going to recommend "The Master and Margarita," but I see Bud beat me to it. It really is great, though, can't praise it enough. If you want a taste of Tolstoy before tackling "War and Peace," try "The Death of Ivan Ilyich." And I'm sure you don't have too much time on your hands, but if you're at all interested in Russian history, Robert Service's "A History of Modern Russia" (formerly "A History of 20th C Russia") is an excellent overview and very readable (you can also read parts of it, put it down and pick it up, etc). And good luck with "Infinte Jest," too.

  3. Hi Emre – -welcome back!

    I agree with the recommendations for Master & Margarita. It's one of my favorites.

    Definitely read Chekhov – especially his short stories (Lady with Lapdog & Other Stories is a good collection)

    Gogol – -his short stories are among the best I've ever read.

    And when you're exploring Dostoevsky, check out some of his shorter works too – -The Double, Notes From The Underground, The Gambler.

  4. "Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov is definitely a must read.

    If you would like a sample across Russian Lit, I would like to recommend "Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida" – edited by Robert Chandler, published by Penguin. It's a good selection of Russian authors across the years.

  5. Master & Margarita definitely tops my list now, I'll be looking into all your suggestions guys, thank you very much for the leads!

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