“Aşk-ı Memnu” by Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil

This article is also available in: Italiano

“Aşk-ı Memnu” by Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil is rightly considered one of the masterpieces of Turkish literature, capable of showing us both Ottoman splendor and a profound psychological analysis of the characters

Aşk-ı Memnu

Set in the bustling Istanbul of the late 19th century, the novel throws us into the lives of two distinct, yet interconnected families. On the one hand, there is the family of the unscrupulous Firdevs Hanım, made up of Firdevs herself and her two charming daughters, Peyker and Bihter. On the other side, we meet the family of the rich Adnan Bey, with his children Nihal and Bülent. When Adnan Bey decides to marry the young and seductive Bihter, the threads of destiny are woven into an intricate tangle of secret passions and unspeakable secrets. The rigid social conventions and restrictions imposed by society become insurmountable barriers for the ardent love that arises between Bihter and Behlül, Adnan Bey’s nephew. While their passion consumes them, the shadow of social judgment torments them relentlessly.

Aşk-ı Memnu

At the same time, an acute conflict arises between Bihter and Nihal, his stepdaughter. The two women find themselves involved in a subtle but intense struggle, in which they fight an emotional and psychological battle to affirm their identity and their role within the family. At the heart of this compelling story, Uşaklıgil takes us on an extraordinary journey into the psychology of the characters, without judging them, but showing their complex emotions, tormented desires and internal conflicts. First published in 1901, “Aşk-ı Memnu” marked a turning point in Turkish literature, paving the way for a new era of profound and engaging storytelling. This epic novel continues to capture readers’ hearts with its gripping plot, psychological reflections, and vibrant portrait of Turkish society at the time.

A great psychological novel

“Aşk-ı Memnu” is considered by many to be one of the greatest psychological novels in Turkish history and after reading it I can vouch for this first hand. Beyond the wonderful settings, in which we see the last splendors of the Ottoman Empire, what is truly striking is the depth with which Uşaklıgil manages each of his characters, managing to perceive thoughts, fears and traumas with a delicacy that would make the envy of modern psychologists. Nihal, in particular, despite not being the most lovable character in the novel, is told with extraordinary finesse and depth, to say the least, so much so that it is difficult to believe that a work of this kind came out in 1901.

Aşk-ı Memnu
Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil

In general, however, we notice an extremely elegant style and choice of words which, starting very calmly, will accompany you in the luxury of the Ottoman bourgeoisie of the time, then increasing the pace with the rhythm as you scroll through the pages and concluding with an adrenaline-filled ending to say the least. Unfortunately, precisely by virtue of the intensity of the latter, I cannot go further with the analysis to avoid potential spoilers, but I promise you that in the future there will be content in which I will express myself in more detail. For the moment I invite you to follow (or catch up on) the live broadcast of September 15th (only in Italian) with the Altano publishing house and Cristiano Bedin, its translator; I can only say that it is a masterpiece of Turkish literature and it shows.

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