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LPT Symbol Reviews of Best Books about Turkish (and Turkey)

Is there anything more riveting than a scandalous tell-all book review...?
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Books in Review
Turkish Reflections...
An Elementary Turkish Language Text...
Turkish Food, Good Eats...
Culture Shock...
Harem Nights...
Istanbul Guide (with shiny pages)...
Language Learner...
Turkey -- Lonely Planet travel...
Ancient Civilizations and Ruins...

Eat Smart in Turkey:
How to Decipher the Menu, Know the Market Foods & Embark on a Tasting Adventure

by Joan and David Peterson

What's this?...Another book-reviewing Turcophile in our midsts? Why, they're springin' up like daisies...And this one likes good eats! So she must be at least half right when she says...

This novel guide is a culinary sourcebook for travelers who put food first.

Traveling foodies who like to get to the heart of a culture through its cuisine, yet never find enough material about the topic in general guidebooks, can get a quick handle on eating in Turkey with this EAT SMART destination cuisine guide -- which contains a treasury of Turkish culinary surprises and language tips for navigating the menu and the food bazaar.

Because this guidebook helps to remove the guesswork, less adventuresome eaters can be more at ease in experimenting with the new and exotic Turkish foods and food preparations. And, of course, really fussy eaters can quickly learn what to avoid. Ever wonder why McD's is everywhere?

This lightweight, easy-to-carry guide is a paean to Turkish cuisine, replete with color photos and original black and white illustrations to get those salivary juices flowing. It also contains a rich historical perspective on the origins and varieties of Turkish food and provides extensive background on the delectable regional dishes. Turkish phrases are included to make one's culinary adventure even more successful.

At the core of the guide are two extensive glossaries in Turkish with English translations. The Menu Guide de-mystifies food selection, allowing visitors to order with confidence in restaurants. The Foods & Flavors Guide is a comprehensive list of foods, spices, cooking utensils, cooking styles, etc., to make shopping in the colorful outdoor markets easy and fun.
One sometimes wishes for similar lists in English with Turkish translations, but the index suffices well enough without the added weight such additions would generate.

The authors (inveterate travelers, cooks, seekers of unusual herbs and spices, and new ways to prepare familiar ingredients) have added a delicious bonus by providing a chapter of recipes for travelers to preview the tastes before departure, thus broadening the guide's appeal to cookbook lovers as well.

Despite the relative paucity of recipes [hey, this is a guidebook!] it often receives unsolicited reviews as a cookbook. But don't be mislead. It's shelved in the travel section of your favorite bookstore.
JP (June '97)

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Elementary Turkish
by Lewis V. Thomas (revised and edited by Norman Itzkowitz)

Our McGill University reviewer has two main intellectual passions -- Psychology and the Turkish language. Wait a minute! Does this imply that he secretly teaches Turkish to pigeons -- behind closed-cage doors at the McGill Psych lab? Hmmm. We wonder...

"This superb grammar and exercise text, used successfully for years at Princeton University, enables English-speaking students -- in and out of the classroom -- to gain a quick and thorough understanding of modern Turkish."
(from back of book)

I have to agree wholeheartedly with the above statement; this book helped me learn the basics of Turkish quickly and (fairly) painlessly.

And at least some of the credit for that must go to the logical organization of the book's 23 lessons. The lessons start out at a basic level: the alphabet, pronunciation and basic vocabulary. Then, more advanced subjects are presented: suffixes and verbs. Throughout the lessons, new words are introduced to expand the student's vocabulary.

Each lesson begins with an example of what is covered in that lesson. Next, the lesson is explained in detail -- with many examples. Finally, there are self-test exercises at the end of the lesson...and they are not always easy. Luckily, the answers are at the end of the book, so there is a way to correct yourself.

The book has a thorough table of contents, but unfortunately, there is no index. So if you need to find something specific, you're left to find it yourself, and your only search-aid is the table of contents.

On the bright side, there is a comprehensive (albeit one-way) mini-dictionary at the back -- and it's great for looking up new Turkish words. However, if you are doing a self-test exercise, and can't remember a required Turkish word, you are at a loss -- because it only provides Turkish to English translations. [This became annoying for me, so I soon bought a small bi-lingual dictionary.]

Vocabulary is presented quite well in this book. To get you started with the lessons, you're given a basic set of words -- but not so many that you feel overwhelmed. During the first few lessons new words are added, but not in excessive number, so that you can become accustomed to the format of the lessons -- and also so that you understand the basic patterns of Turkish. [If too many new words were added at first, you'd waste all of your time using the dictionary.] In later lessons though, new words are added in greater number -- making a dictionary a must.

There are many positive points about this book.

  1. It is well organized; the lessons are arranged in such a way that each one seems to flow into the other.
  2. It is challenging, but not overly so.
  3. The language is explained thoroughly; patterns are demonstrated, and small details explained.
  4. The vocabulary is built up very well.

In general, once you've finished this book, you'll have a good beginner-level understanding of the Turkish language. You may not be able to speak or write it perfectly, but you will have the tools to break apart sentences, and to understand the components. With this knowledge, and with lots of practice, you should be on your way to speaking and writing Turkish properly.

As for the book's negative aspects, there are a few.

  1. Since it was copyrighted in 1967, there may be some modern terms that are missing. It is a little outdated.
  2. As mentioned, there is no index, so looking things up is a pain.
  3. Sometimes, the English terms are more difficult than the Turkish ones. You need to know about English grammar to understand this book. [At first, I had no idea what the "objective definitive" was, but I sure do now!]
  4. There is no "summary" self-test exercise. I had hoped there would be a few pages of self-test exercise at the end -- covering all 23 lessons. Or perhaps a summary text to translate. There wasn't.

All in all, this book taught me a lot about the Turkish language -- in a thoroughly enjoyable way. And even though I hadn't quite finished it when I first visited Turkey, I was able to pick out many spoken words rather easily, and to make logical sense of basic written sentences. And [perhaps, best of all] I really surprised and impressed my Turkish friends!

JB (September '97)

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