A Turkish Novel



See images from the 1986 film version below.











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.







Addendum: 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?




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.



























































About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
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2 Responses to A Turkish Novel

  1. jasmeen2017 says:

    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. 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.

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