- What’s On
Ahmet Midhat Efendi’s famous 1875 novel Felâtun Bey and Râkim Efendi takes place in late nineteenth-century Istanbul and follows the lives of two young men who come from radically different backgrounds. Râkim Efendi is an erudite, self-made man, one who is ambitious and cultivated enough to mingle with a European crowd. In contrast, Felâtun Bey is a spendthrift who lacks intellectual curiosity and a strong work ethic. Squandering his wealth and education, he leads a life of decadence.
The novel traces Râkim and Felâtun’s relationships with multiple characters, charting their romances and passions, as well as their foibles and amusing mishaps as they struggle to find and follow their own path through the many temptations and traps of European culture. The author creates a rich portrait of stratified Ottoman life through a diverse and colorful cast of characters-from a French piano teacher and an Arab nanny, to a Circassian slave girl-each deftly navigating the shifting mores of their social class. Written during the Ottoman Empire’s uneasy transition to modernity, the novel’s protagonists embody both the best and worst elements of two worlds, European and Ottoman. The novel provides readers with an elegant yet powerful appeal for progressive reforms and individual freedoms. Levi and Ringer’s fluid translation of this Ottoman classic stands as a landmark in the history of Turkish literature in translation.