A Turkish Novel


comments on ‘Autobiography of a Turkish Girl’


The complete book is now available in English translation

Çalikuşu (The Autobiography of a Turkish Girl) now available in a complete, new English translation



This post contains a downloadable Word document (above). The document is comprised of my detailed notes and commentary on Çalikuşu (English title, The Autobiography of a Turkish Girl), which are based upon a recent reading of the novel.

My brief introductory comments on this extraordinary novel are below.


— Roger W. Smith

    January 2017



Çalikuşu (The Wren, 1922) is a Turkish novel by Reşat Nuri Güntekin (1889-1956). The novel was published in English translation in 1949 under the title of The Autobiography of a Turkish Girl. It has been made into a film and television series based upon the novel. There have been at least eleven translations from the original Turkish.

Many people know and love the novel in the film or television version. (See link to YouTube below.)

Çalikuşu is a story about the destiny of a young Turkish woman from Istanbul who leaves home in despair after being betrayed by the love of her life, her cousin, and pursues a teaching career with pluck and determination in Anatolia. I would characterize it as a coming of age novel cum love story.

The writing is extraordinary. The story is completely engrossing.

There is a touching subplot involving a little orphan girl, Munisé, in the young teacher’s class. The heroine shows kindness to the girl and eventually adopts her. She is one of the best and most affecting characters in the book.

You get a feeling for the life of a young woman: the heroine, Feridé Hanim. You get a feeling for Muslim culture and for a foreign country.

The first person narrator, Feridé Hanim, the Turkish girl — nicknamed Çalikuşu (the “wren”) — is educated in a Catholic girls school yet is Muslim; the novel bridges the gap between two worlds and makes what is strange and exotic interesting and intelligible. (Note – Hanim is not a last name like Smith or Jones; rather, one should probably translate “Feridé Hanim” as “Miss [or perhaps Mademoiselle] Feridé.”)

The author’s deft style, his use of metaphor, his use of telling details are impressive. The book is full of wry insights; humor; and memorable, affecting characters.

The English translation, The Autobiography of a Turkish Girl, published in 1949 in London by George Allen & Unwin Ltd, is by Sir Wyndham Deedes. The translation seems imperfect, and Deedes did not translate the entire novel. Some of the “flaws” in the translation seem to consist of the use by the translator of Briticisms that nowadays would not be familiar to many readers.

The English translation has long been out of print and is almost impossible to acquire. Few libraries own a copy of the English translation, and the few that do are mostly university libraries to which borrowing privileges for the public would probably not be available.

Attached (above) is a downloadable Word document with my commentary on the novel, based upon notes I took while reading it in English, plus a plot summary. I only recently discovered the novel. To say I was charmed by it would be to put it mildly.

— Roger W. Smith



Note: Film versions of Çalikuşu are on YouTube at


A list of the film versions viewable on YouTube, with some information useful for determining what language the sound track is in


I have been told by fans of the novel that the 1986 film version of the novel, which was based on a television series, is by far the best one.



A reader’s comment:

There are three films based on this novel. My favorite one by far is the original 1986 film. It starred the beautiful actress Aydan Şener. I highly recommend it. This film was based on a TV series.





The following is an exchange of emails regarding the English translation of Çalikuşu (The Wren, 1922), translated into English in 1949 under the title of The Autobiography of a Turkish Girl.


Hello, I came across your notes on an English translation of the book Çalikuşu by Reşat Nuri Güntekin via Google. I have been searching for a copy of this book for my wife for some time to no avail. Do you by chance know of a place that I could find a copy of this book?” — Dylan



The English translation is listed for sale by a Turkish bookseller at


However, I believe I directed someone else to this site (online bookstore), and I think they found that although the book was listed, the bookseller had already sold their only available copy.

You may wish to check, however.




Thank you so much for taking the time to help a stranger. I will definitely contact the seller you sent.

Thanks again!



Dear Dylan,

I just wanted to follow up with you regarding your request for a copy of the English translation of the novel Çalikuşu by Reşat Nuri Güntekin, which was translated into English in 1949 as The Autobiography of a Turkish Girl.

An enthusiast of the novel, an actress based in New York City, contacted me a while ago after reading my post and asked if I knew where she could get the English translation. She finally managed to procure one somehow, from a Turkish bookseller.

The actress and I started exchanging emails and we decided a new English translation was needed. We looked for a possible translator, and the actress suggested that a good choice might be an instructor and manager of a Turkish language school based in New York.

The actress and I met with the Turkish language instructor. She seemed interested, but unsure about whether she wanted to undertake the project. Over the course of time — and back and forth emails — the actress and the instructor became difficult to work with. They seemed to want to get rid of me. I had said that I wanted to be involved in the project in the capacity of proofreader and wordsmith/editorial consultant. The Turkish language instructor’s (our potential translator’s) knowledge of English is imperfect. I have extensive editorial experience. I felt that this was essential for the project’s success. They didn’t seem to think this was important. They were lacking in awareness of what such a project requires. Having completed a course in translation at Hunter College, I had learned how crucial knowledge of the target language is.

Eventually, the two stopped responding to my emails. But before that occurred, I did get an email on which I was copied from the Turkish language instructor (and would be translator) indicating that a new translation (into English) was in the works.

Her email, dated March 13, 2017, to me and the actress, read as follows:

Good and bad news! I heard that someone already started translating Calikusu. I am not sure what publishing company but I heard form first hand that they started. They did not tell me the name of the publishing company after I told this project.

Even though I wanted to do it myself, it is still good that you guys will be able to read it soon.

Once I heard more news, I will update you guys.

The purported translator’s fractured English reveals why she would have needed help on the project. She was very full of herself and couldn’t see this. She has studied linguistics and has taught English as a second language as well as Turkish. She prided herself on her ability to understand and presumably translate the dated style of  Güntekin, a writer from the early twentieth century. She could not see, being so caught up in her own linguistic abilities and professional certifications, the plain fact that someone with native fluency in English and with impeccable command of grammar, style, and idiomatic usage was essential to the success of the project. An advanced degree and a couple of professional certifications can blind many people to their own complacency and ignorance. The mark of a true scholar, in contrast, is a profound respect for true excellence and an appreciation for it when they come to the margins of their own areas of expertise.

Last week, I emailed the Turkish language instructor and the actress to see if they knew anything more. They did not respond. Dealing with them has been unpleasant, to say the least. I sent the Turkish language instructor a copy of the original novel in Turkish. She acknowledged this belatedly and barely thanked me.

I will keep looking on the internet to see if a translation does get published.


P.S. There is a downloadable electronic version of the English translation (PDF) available on the internet, I believe. I do not know whether the sites are safe.


See images from the 1986 film version below.











14 thoughts on “A Turkish Novel

  1. jasmeen2017

    Any news on whether there will actually be a new English version of the novel?? I read the first three parts translated in 1949 but would love to be able to read all of it!

  2. Roger W. Smith

    Hello. I am aware that many people wish to obtain an English translation of Calikusu (“Autobiography of a Turkish Girl”). And, in your case, a COMPLETE version (since the 1949 translation was incomplete).

    The existing translation, published, as you know, in England in 1949, is almost impossible to find for sale. Only very rarely does a copy appear for sale on the internet. Few libraries own the book.

    I tried to interest someone in doing a new translation – and offered to assist — but had no success.

    One fact that may be relevant is that on March 3, 2017, at the time when I was trying to find a translator, I got an email from Bengisu Peker. She is the director of Turkish Connexion, a Turkish language school in New York City.

    She said that she had heard that someone had begun a new English translation of Calikusu but did not provide any details.

  3. Brandi

    I’m curious about the English version I found online with three parts. What is it missing or is it just a bad translation. I already watched an incomplete but very beautiful version on Netflix but want the full story. Will this version suffice?

  4. Roger W. Smith

    The only existing English translation that I know of was in published in 1949 under the title of “The Autobiography of a Turkish Girl.” The book (i.e., the English translation) was published in London in 1949 by George Allen & Unwin Ltd; the translation is by Sir Wyndham Deedes. Deedes did not translate the entire novel.

    I do not have a copy of the book. Someone lent me the English translation. I believe the parts of the novel not translated were sections at the end of the book.

    I have heard that someone is doing a new English translation, but I do not have any specific information about this.

    I wish I could be more helpful.

  5. Brandi

    So you finished the book in English? I found and downloaded a PDF of that same book. Just curious does it just end, incomplete or are things just not translated throughout? Just wondering before I read this if I will be left on a cliffhanger forced to learn Turkish to finish the story.

  6. Roger W. Smith

    Brandi — I read the book a while ago in English, but do not have my own copy (of the English translation). The English translation is complete — as far as it goes — but the translation omits the third and final section of the novel. So, in other words, the story (in the original Turkish novel) does not end incomplete, the English translation does.

  7. Teresa

    Dear Roger,
    I read with great interest your comments and notes about the novel Calikusu. I recently watched the latest Turkish TV series based on this novel, and was engrossed by it.

    Like everyone else, I want to read the novel in its complete form and in a good translation.
    I have a question about a poem that Feride recites in the background to a harrowing scene in the TV series. I really love some of the lines, and I’m interested to know if it’s included in the novel. Did Guntekin write it, or is it by some Turkish poet?
    I hope you can help with this. I haven’t been able to find it in an internet search.

    Kind regards,


    Here is the poem copied from subtitles:

    The mourning of my life
    My fading season
    The nail inside of me
    The heat in my heart
    My broken neck is my offering
    They’re yours. Take them
    The paper cut in me
    The sunset in me
    The flower bud
    Resentful children
    And all the rains of the sky
    Are reminders from me
    Take them.
    Now the world is orphaned
    Gulls are missing the sea
    I’ve taken root in your absence
    Only a tree could understand me
    How do trees overcome longing?
    Or the seas?
    How do they cry?
    Oh, this autumn in me
    This broken branch in me
    The fading scarlet of my blood
    The snow on my eyelashes
    Is my longing for you, my love.
    Embrace me at least in dreams.

  8. Naomi

    Please keep us updated on where we can get a copy of this beautiful novel. If there is a PDF version of it I would appreciate a link. Thank you for your time.

  9. Denise Walsh

    Trying to find the English version is hard. I have watched the season 1 series on Netflix and now want to read the book, as the books are always better than the shows (usually). The end on the show was down right horrid after watching so many hours and then that ending was bleerrrr. Can anybody update if they have been able to get a version of the book in English, please?

  10. Roger W. Smith

    Thanks for your comment.

    Finding a copy of the English translation (book) is very hard. I read a Xerox copy that was loaned to me by someone who had copied the whole book (1949 translation) in a library.

    I do know of a couple of people who were able to actually find a copy of the 1949 translation on sale on the internet. They were very lucky. I think they both acquired it from a Turkish bookseller. But, it’s almost impossible to find.

    Someone told me that a new translation is underway. But, they provided no details. If I hear anything more, I will post this on my site.

  11. Roger W. Smith

    This is terrific, Angel. Many readers of my blog are going to be happy, indeed ecstatic, about this. Since I first posted my essay about Calikusu two years ago, the post has gotten approximately 4,500 hits. Many people have asked me where or if they could find a translation. Great news. Thanks!

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