Thinking Aloud: “The Sultan of Byzantium”

Feb. 23, 2015 by Darius

While I was away, I read The Sultan of Byzantium by Turkish novelist Selçuk Altun.  Though it had an interesting plot, the main thrust of The Sultan of Byzantium is a homage to Byzantine and later Ottoman history.

The plot of the book is fairly straightforward: a Turkish professor is one day contacted by members of a secret organization, who claim he is a descendent of the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI, who was thought to have been killed in 1453 when the Ottomans took Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire fell for good.  The organization claims to have been safeguarding the last will of Constantine XI over the centuries.  Can the professor pass a series of tests to prove he is worthy of becoming the next Byzantine emperor?

Mostly, though, The Sultan of Byzantium’s purpose seems to be to raise awareness and respect for the achievements of Byzantine civilization.  The plot is secondary.  Altun’s respect goes beyond the Byzantine, though, also encompassing the later Ottoman period.  In his descriptions of history (for example, in the Istanbul neighborhood of Galata), Altun’s writing is very lyric.

As a novel, I can’t really recommend The Sultan of Byzantium.  If you’re interested in history, though, I can think of few more historically focused novels.

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