In four previous novels, Jason Goodwin’s Inspector Yashim, the eunuch detective, has led us through stylish, suspenseful, and colorful mysteries in the Istanbul of the Ottoman Empire. Now, Goodwin — and Yashim — are back with The Baklava Club, and Goodwin was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about what he reads, what makes him cry, and what’s good for his soul.
What’s one book you return to over and over again?
From now on it’ll be Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. I can’t believe I’ve lived so long without reading Turgenev, and this must be the first book I’ve finished and then immediately wanted to read all over again. It’s about a young nihilist, Bazarov, and his admiring friend Kirsanov, who come away from town to visit their respective parents in the countryside. Kirsanov’s father and uncle live together — it’s such a touching portrait, as is the whole story of Bazarov’s reluctant return home to the elderly parents who dote on him with such anxious humility. It’s also terribly funny, and he’s a master at expressing character through dialogue.
I was speaking about him to a Russian friend the other day: he said that Turgenev was slightly tainted by having spent so much time being lionized in France. Other Russian writers thought he was a bit too French, and possibly sentimental. My friend — a Russian Jew who emigrated in the 1970s — assured me that the Soviets loved Turgenev, but only because at heart they were so petit bourgeois.
What book would you consider an ‘ancestor’ of your own most recent FSG book and why?
No way I could settle on one book — the ancestors, plural, would have to include Graham Greene’s The Confidential Agent, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, and Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. But I hesitate to say that The Baklava Club is a cocktail of those three: in the end, you write your own stories, in your own voice.
What’s one book you’ve tried to finish but couldn’t?
Anna Karenina. I’ve tried twice, enjoyed reading it, and I have read and loved other Tolstoy novels — but Anna Karenina? It’s so doom-laden, I think I can’t quite bear it.
What’s the last book that made you cry?
It was Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. My son was studying it in English, so I read it again, sobbing.
If possible, can you send a photo of your bookshelf?
What’s your favorite indie bookstore?
Square Books in Oxford, Miss.
What are you reading now?
Home of the Gentry, by Turgenev, of course; plus Alev Scott’s Turkish Awakening: A Personal Discovery of Modern Turkey.
What is the first book you ever remember reading (or having read to you)?
It must have been The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and illustrations — wonderful, eccentric illustrations — by Robert Lawson.
What’s one book that ended up different from what you expected, whether for better or for worse?
Moby-Dick. I thought I should read it for the good of my soul — and wound up absorbed.
JASON GOODWIN is the Edgar Award–winning author of the Investigator Yashim series. The first four books—The Janissary Tree, The Snake Stone, The Bellini Card, and An Evil Eye—have been published to international acclaim. Goodwin studied Byzantine history at Cambridge and is also the author of Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire, among other award-winning nonfiction. He lives with his wife and children in England.