Straddling the continents of Europe and Asia, Turkey is the realization of a dream, for better or worse. In the middle of Turkey is its capital, Ankara, and in the middle of that city, a park. Swans swim in circles in a small pool in the park. They are known as ‘mute swans,’ and they never leave. Every day, at least a few of the people strolling through the park will stop and stare at the swans as though the swans might know something they cannot remember having forgotten.

In the summer of 1980 Turkey was a hot spot in the Cold War. The spring of ’68 had left behind armed revolutionaries on university campuses and professional far-right militias supported by the state. Just like today, Turkey was going through a period in which the lines between good and bad, between beautiful and ugly, and between right and wrong, were blurred by blood. As sporadic civil war raged in the cities, everyone did their best to adapt. The country had become ungovernable but life went on as though the approaching coup would somehow never arrive. This story, which begins at the beginning of the summer and ends with the September 12, 1980 coup, describes Ankara, the heart of Turkey, during that summer so many have tried to forget.

A strange coincidence… Swans began migrating from Siberia to the Turkish coast of the Black Sea for the first time in 1980, the year of one the bloodiest coups in modern history. The swans continued to visit Turkey every year after that. Then, in the summer of 2013, a summer in which the people rose up against an authoritarian regime for the first time since 1980, the swans suddenly stopped coming.


Street battles, kidnapping, torture, fascists, communists, rocky marriages and class tensions — and most of it seen through the eyes of two 8-year-old children living in Ankara, in the summer before the 1980 coup in Turkey. Going by the author’s dedication, to her two nephews “who lived through the July 16, 2016, coup attempt at the same age I lived through the September 12, 1980, coup,” Temelkuran is drawing on her own experiences in constructing this political bricolage.

Her guides are Ali, a “weakly boy” from the poorer side of town, and Ayse, the daughter of a troubled middle-class couple. Despite their class differences, the families are on the same side politically — the left — and the children become friends after Ali’s mother takes a cleaning job at Ayse’s house. As the political unrest escalates, the children do their own plotting, first to release butterflies inside the Turkish Parliament, then to save the swans of Swan Park, which are apparently being subjected to “an Avian Deflighting Technique.” “Until the swans are saved,” the children pledge to each other, “and the butterflies get into Parliament … Even if we get really tired, even if we get sleepy … we will resist … I swear it! O.K., we’re done.”

It’s a perilous undertaking to tell such a complicated story through the imagined magical thinking of childhood.

The New York Times


“Who knew they still wrote books like this? Gloriously immersive, filled with details of family life, childhood and love that had me in tears. Epic and miniature; funny and terrifying; it’s everything I want in a book. What a lucky reader to pick this up!”

Andrew Sean Greer

Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli and Less

“[The Time of Mute Swans] moves skillfully between history and fiction. . . . Set in Ankara in the tense summer leading up to the Turkish coup of 1980, this novel centers on two children . . . who contend with the strife of the adult world. . . . The end of [their] innocence is vividly evoked.”

The New Yorker

“The children in The Time of Mute Swans notice a great deal that their troubled elders miss, and though their understanding is often incomplete, their insights are compelling. Like tiles in a Turkish mosaic, their observations fit together to create a vivid picture of the impact of political conflict on individuals, families, and communities.”

Jean Hegland, author of Into the Forest and Still Time

“Controversial Turkish journalist and novelist Temelkuran . . . reimagines one of Turkey’s darkest times with hope for its future.”


“In the amnesiac liberal understanding of Turkey, the crisis is sudden, of recent vintage. But it has roots in the rise and fall of Turkey’s left, from which Temelkuran’s writing draws much of its strength. . . . Narrated in turn by two children, The Time of Mute Swans acts as a kind of inverted young adult work: it portrays the world of its child narrators not as the dramatic and limitless truth of the shallow repressions of adults, but rather the seriousness of the adult political world as it might appear to children, mistranslated and experienced anew.”

William Harris, n + 1

The Time of Mute Swans provides the opening scene of the movie we’re now living.”

Hürriyet Daily News (Turkey}

“This novel creates a lump in your throat when you can’t decide whether to laugh or cry.”

Diken (Turkey)

“Have you ever heard people laugh as if birds were flying out of their mouths? Or thought about how alive objects can be? Everything seems possible in Ece Temelkuran’s latest. . . . Those who are not familiar with Turkish history, will learn a lot about this dark era. . . .[A] wonderful novel.”

Mine Krause, Turkish Literature Blog

“The Time of Mute Swans has all the richness and the secret poetica of the Turkish language. A flawless novel with many layers.”

Oya Baydar, author of The Lost World

Ece Temelkuran has written a modern fairy tale and has packed her own story, the present, and the endless tragedy of Turkey into a elegant . . . novel.”

Neues Deutschland (Germany)

“Reading The Time of Mute Swans is like looking through a kaleidoscope. . . . From the individual fragments, the portrait emerges of a country that has been in politically exceptional conditions for decades.”

Die Wochenzeitung (Germany)

“A poetic and at the same time political novel whose naïve-realistic narration captivates.”

Der Bund (Germany)

“Ece Temelkuran is one of the most important voices of contemporary Turkish literature.”

Deutschlandradio Kultur (Germany)

“The Turkish author Ece Temelkuran combines elaborate research with a poetic vision in her novel Time of the Mute Swans and draws a picture of her country that is always surprising.”

SRF (Germany)