The Lion and the Nightingale

UK edition (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019)

Italian edition (hopefulmonster editore, 2022)

The Lion and the Nightingale: A Journey through Modern Turkey (October 2019) from Bloomsbury Academic

‘One of the 6 Books to Understand Turkey’—Foreign Policy

‘In this masterful chronicle of Turkey, Genç sketches extraordinary lives in an extraordinary time. Intimate, intelligent, detailed, full of life: It will become a classic’Andrew Sean Greer, author of Less and winner of 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction

‘The brilliant Kaya Genç returns again to examine modern Turkey with his blend of deep historical learning, on-the-ground reporting, and hard-won, convention-defying nuance’ Molly Crabapple, contributor to The New York Review of Books and author of Drawing Blood

‘Kaya Genç is that rare beast: a freely operating Turkish writer… who is able to give you an eye-level view of what is happening in Turkey right now’ Christopher de Bellaigue, contributor to The New York Review of Books and author of The Islamic Enlightenment

‘The Lion and the Nightingale criss-crosses modern Turkey in an examination of the “contradictory soul of the Turkish nation”’—The Guardian

‘His interview with an octogenarian ex-bookshop owner is a fascinating sweep of Turkish history… Genç writes well about his own past, in particular his adolescent obsession with Marxism, which usefully grounds Turkish current affairs in the context of the past couple of decades and explains the attraction of extreme politics to the country’s youth’ The Times Literary Supplement

Kaya Genç, a Turkish novelist, translator, and journalist, captures the uncertainty of 2017 in The Lion and the Nightingale: A Journey Through Modern Turkey. He presents nearly a dozen profiles of “nightingales”-artists, actors, and writers, including himself-who want to experience the beauty of their country but cannot escape the presence of the “lion” that is state power. His account expertly weaves the details of individual lives into a historical tapestry, and each person’s experiences illuminate larger changes in Turkish society happening that year.

Genç’s skill lies in his ability to go beyond a simple indictment of the repressive state for crushing creativity. He is aware of the privilege of his own position, the guilty comfort strongman rule can offer, and the dogmatism present both in opposition political movements as well as among those in power. In his telling, Turkey emerges as a collection of perspectives and concerns not simply the domineering tendences of one man’—Foreign Policy

‘Genç is arguably the most important Turkish writer writing in English still living in Turkey… He wanted his nonfiction to read like fiction. If that is the litmus test, The Lion and the Nightingale earns its keep… Genç stands with the artists that he portrays so personally in The Lion and the Nightingale. Journalism, Genç defends, is an art. And he has proven its merit as literature… Adhering to principles of New Journalism, Genç reports in a way similar to Gay Talese, who confidently inked the thoughts of his sources… Reporting the thoughts and feelings of key witnesses makes for a stiff cocktail of literary journalism and crime drama… His English has a clear, distanced perceptivity underscored by his cultural and linguistic objectivity. The Lion and the Nightingale, however, enters deeply into the work of fellow Turkish journalists who write in Turkish, with special empathy for their struggles, personalities, and careers on the other side of a distinctly opaque language barrier’The Millions

‘In this uneasy exploration of life under the authoritarian rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Genc chisels away at the cracks in the Turkish psyche – the gap between the public and the private, between the liberals and the conservatives, between longing for freedom and the attraction of safety promised by the strongman’ —The Sydney Morning Herald

‘The book is deliciously paced. Kaya Genç artfully narrates Turkey’s dramatic recent history by lucidly transporting the reader to the mesmerizing views of a glorious Istanbul, a cruise of the Bosphorus, the idyllic landscape of Rize and Trabzon, the once perilous port of Dover, all the way up to concrete jungles of Hong Kong. It is a poetic, imagistic and atmospheric work. Genç pays a bloated homage to the works of French surrealist Stéphane Mallarmé, as if the events of 2016 and 2017 took place only to end up as a book… A gifted storyteller, Kaya Genç thinks like a sociologist, researches like a historian and writes like a novelist. He presents The Lion and the Nightingale as a mindful meditation on the perils of a people lost in a farrago of fundamentalism and freedom. It may end up being his magnum opus’ —The News International

‘While ostensibly written by a nightingale — a liberal leftist with a secular upbringing — The Lion and the Nightingale is reliably neutral in its assessment of Turkey’s political spectrum, critical of the shortcomings and benefits on both sides, and aware of how, in Turkey, they remarkably overlap and occupy each other’s space according to the changing guards of what might be called, simply, the power establishment’ —The Fortnightly Review

‘Genç accomplishes to give a sophisticated understanding of modern Turkey. The use of elegant language and alluring descriptions feed the imagination of the reader, making it able for them to envision the scenic neighbourhoods of Istanbul, visit the cities on the western Turkish coast and wander through the formerly Armenian-inhabited villages in the mountainous east of Turkey… It gives a good understanding of Turkey’s reality with all its features and difficulties, within a sophisticated historical context… Genç includes the seemingly irrational choices individuals make and takes the reader with him on journeys through their lives, hence, the author’s focus on individuals’ agency strengthens the book’s narrative. This strength engages readers to loudly voice their disagreements with the decisions taken by characters… Overall, the book provides the reader with great insight into the lives of the characters that Genç has chosen to portray. By politically analyzing these lives, the author manages to lay out the ongoing processes and peculiarities of modern-day Turkey as well as its historical foundations… A valuable addition to the existing scholarship on Turkey… Through The Lion and the Nightingale, Genç has penetrated a soul of Turkey’—Politics, Religion & Ideology

‘Explores Turkey’s conflicted soul’ —Index on Censorship

A masterful chronicle of Turkey… His anchoring moves the reader through various human experiences — disappointment, failure, representation — with thorough exploration and deep empathy, while also examining potential future projections of a young nation… The rising number of trained and qualified people deciding to leave Turkey, in other words, ‘brain drain’, is an essential topic of Kaya Genç’s study. He explains this reality by highlighting that “the best-educated minds of the Republic found themselves lost”… What gives this book substantial weight is that Kaya Genç expresses his experiences through a literary art of political storytelling. Yet, the primary critical outcome of The Lion and the Nightingale is the essential need for freedom in the country’—Full Stop

‘Kaya Genç is one of the most interesting Turkish writers to emerge in recent years. In his essays as well as his fiction, he converses across borders, while forging his own distinct voice and perspective and challenging dominant narratives’—Maureen Freely, author of Enlightenment

‘Genç’s work has the scope and sweep that evokes for me such late twentieth century writers as Gabriel García Márquez and Czesław Miłosz’—Andrew Singer, The Pennsylvania State University

‘Whether he’s putting us in the shoes of Binevş, a Kurdish cleaner, or Özge Ersoy, a Turkish curator living in Hong Kong, Genç conveys the on-the-ground experience with great empathetic clarity. The Lion and the Nightingale reminds us that, now more than ever, anything that clouds our vision – be it ignorance, credulity, cliché, fluff, propaganda, the silencing of journalists, fake news, romanticism – must be urgently dissipated’ —The Culture Trip

‘The enigma which is Turkey is quite brilliantly explored in this fascinating, indeed poetic, treatment by an author who uses a mixture of interviews, autobiography and reflection to chronicle ‘the awkwardness of the New Turkey’… Genç is an accomplished novelist and essayist of international repute who gives us a lucid account of extraordinary times. He is also a juggler of paradoxes, an assailer of conventional wisdoms and a challenger of foolish optimism. For students and politicians of the European political scene this volume is a unique meditation on a key and on-going problem of international import’ —Journal of Contemporary European Studies

‘Genç is an amazing chronicler of life’ —Kutluğ Ataman, visual artist and 2004–5 Carnegie Prize winner

‘A charming autopsy of the contradictions of the neighboring country… With his skillful pen Kaya Genç outlines the concerns, complexities and transformations of modern Turkey through the stories of the people he met and spoke to. It is a testimony—an autopsy, one that the outside observer needs to place in his hands as many parts as possible in order to form an image of Turkey… Yılmaz Cingöz, a barber whose story is told in the book, could be a literary hero of Orhan Pamuk, like Mevlut in his novel A Strangeness in My Mind. He is a wandering man on the streets of Istanbul. He could even be Jim Jarmusch’s hero Paterson, who spends his days following the same routine, writing poems and lyrics during the breaks of the boring pattern of his life’ —Ta Nea

The Lion and The Nightingale is the excellent new book by Kaya Genç. It wonderfully follows individuals in Turkey, reflecting on their lives. I couldn’t put it down’ —Katie Lambert, British diplomat

‘In describing what it means to be a writer Pankaj Mishra once said it was to engage rationally with, rather than retreat from, the world, “to concern oneself particularly with the fate of the individual in society.” In The Lion and the Nightingale Kaya Genç has done just this: the work of a writer in the truest sense; his assessment of a post-2016 Turkey is fair and measured, wise and generous. I loved this book’ —Hilal İşler, contributor to The Paris Review and The Los Angeles Review of Books

‘This Turkish novelist and essayist’s latest work is what I imagine myself to be reading at a café in Istanbul as I peruse the city’s landmarks and make plans to head out further into Turkey– just like Kaya Genç who travels around his country to compare Turkey’s contemporary life with its rich and glorious past’ — HELLO! Magazine

‘Tells the stories of very different people following the attempted coup in 2016’ —Solidarity

‘The book is a result of comprehensive field work, interviews, observations and historical records. The author does not only cover Turkey in 2017, but also presents a crash course on Turkish history in an attempt to contextualise various aspects of the country’s social and political dynamics’—TRT World Research Centre

‘Absolutely fascinating’Pat Yale, author of the Lonely Planet Guide to London

‘Kaya Genç knows how to write’Albana Kasapi, BBC World Service

‘A beautifully written, delicate, to the point book on New Turkey. I want to suggest it to all Germans and other foreigners interested in what has been happening in Turkey. “Maybe it was the real success of New Turkey,” Genc writes, “it became a selfish country”‘Barbaros Altuğ, author of Wounds in My Soul

‘Turkey is a confusing, contradictory nation, and its swing to Islamism and extreme repression surprised many Western observers. Those seeking the truth about Turkey – and running into government lies and indifferent citizens – report constant frustration, so Genç’s hard-earned observations prove especially welcome and useful; they also speak to the author’s bravery. Genç has produced an unusual, revelatory narrative. Most recent books about Turkey focus on its tyrannical leader, but Genç traveled the country specifically to elicit the vox populi and to create a rich, multilayered portrait. He writes like a poet, paying great attention to emotion while never neglecting the hard, practical realities of Turkish life. His report is a treasure for all readers, and especially for politicians, diplomats, students and anyone seeking a greater understanding of this pivotal nation’—getAbstract Journal

‘What does it mean to be an artist in Turkey? Can you be artists for the simple pleasure of making art in a context where everything is permeated by politics? Herein is the meaning of the latest book by Kaya Genç, writer, journalist, but above all, a man of culture. Kaya Genç has chosen to investigate the detail to explain the general. He tells the personal stories of this slice of the Turkish population of which he himself is a part: poets, photographers, dancers and directors are among his subjects. Through their experiences, Genç traces the country’s last ten crucial years, providing a sincere portrait of a society that has faced the most difficult years of its history from the point of view of freedom of expression’—East Journal

‘In The Lion and the Nightingale Genç treads familiar ground through a different method, using artistic license to see the world through his protagonists’ eyes… As a book about Turkey, there is no shortage of interesting characters and we are introduced to most of them through a brooding style – it is, after all, a narrative about post-coup-attempt Turkey… Genç is very good at picking up on loose ends that Turkey seems to leave laying around through rapid succession. The Lion and the Nightingale operates like an almanac. It takes a longer view of things – longer than our social media trained minds have almost ceased to process. It helps us look back to, if not discover a pattern, to see what bits of the stories that we have been consuming since 2017 have the most relevance today. This taking stock is a precious exercise, if for nothing than for a tentative measure to understand which of the stories we are exposed to today will be the defining features of tomorrow’ —Daily Sabah

‘Even the great lion’s roar cannot silence the nightingale, that is one key takeaway from the new book of reporting by Istanbul-based novelist and journalist Kaya Genç’ —Ahval

‘His book is artistically visiting the aftermath of the attempted military coup. Genç has found a way to immortalize what he believes was his nation’s survival over violence’—Showcase

Amazon best-seller in Middle Eastern Literary Criticism section 

Foreign Policy Editor’s Pick: ‘One of the 6 Books to Understand Turkey

HELLO! Pakistan Editor’s Pick: ‘Five Must-Read Books From The Lahore Literary Festival’


May 1, 2023 – Foreign Policy, Reuben Silverman

December 22, 2022 – East Journal, Eleonora Masi

August 3, 2021 – getAbstract Journal, David N. Meyer

March 11, 2021 – Politics, Religion & Ideology, Jesse van Duijl

December 11, 2020 – Full Stop, Taner Doğan

December 5, 2020 – Ta Nea, Vassiliki Souladaki

August 30, 2020 – The News International, Eman Omar

May 27, 2020 – The Fortnightly Review

May 22, 2020 – The Millions, Matt A. Hanson

May 4, 2020 – TRT World Research Centre, Semanur Pekkendir Darbaz

April 15, 2020 – HELLO! Pakistan, Amna R. Ali

April 14, 2020 – Ahval, David Lepeska

January 17, 2020 – Culture Trip, Neil McQuillian

December 26, 2019 – Daily Sabah, Nagihan Haliloğlu

November 22, 2019 – The Sydney Morning Herald, Fiona Capp

November 8, 2019 – Journal of Contemporary European Studies, Derek Hawes

October 31, 2019 – The Times Literary Supplement, Alev Scott


May 2022 – Avvenire, Eugenio Giannetta

May 2020 – Bloomsbury Academic Podcast, Rebecca Morofsky

April 2020 – Talking Turkey, David Lepeska

April 2020 – Solidarity, Pete Boggs

November 2019Showcase, Elif Bereketli

October 2019 BBC Weekend, Paul Henley

Turkey is a land torn between East and West, and between its glorious past and a dangerous, unpredictable future. After the violence of an attempted military coup against President Erdogan in 2016, an event which shocked the world, journalist and novelist Kaya Genç travelled around his country on a quest to find the places and people in whom the contrasts of Turkey’s rich past meet. As suicide bombers attack Istanbul, and journalists and teachers are imprisoned, he walks the streets of the famous Ottoman neighborhoods, telling the stories of the ordinary Turks who live among the contradictions and conflicts of Anatolia, one of the world’s oldest civilizations. The Lion and the Nightingale presents the spellbinding story of a country whose history has been split between East and West, between violence and beauty – between the roar of the lion and the song of the nightingale.

Weaving together a mixture of memoir, interview and his own autobiography, Genç takes the reader on a contemporary journey through the contradictory soul of the Turkish nation.