Read This: Longing for Istanbul: The Words I Haven't Said Yet

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

She's done it again. With her latest book, featuring 11 beautiful, powerfully written essays, author Lisa Morrow shares the joys and challenges of living in Istanbul, Turkey. The essays span the gamut of emotions and experiences of living abroad, from small daily details to larger, overarching themes, and from vocabulary to cultural differences to the magic of finding home. With a long relationship with Turkey (she first visited in 1990), and a plethora of honest observations on change and adaptation, Morrow is the epitome of the intercultural journey. Morrow's openness to always learning, alongside her ever-present curiosity, is exemplified here with a deep look inside both herself and her adopted country. 

Her writing is poetic and insightful, and beautifully shares the fluidity of intercultural living. I loved reading (and thinking about) this book. Highly, highly recommended.

Read This: Longing for Istanbul: The Words I Haven't Said Yet

We've interviewed Morrow about two of her previous books, Inside Out in Istanbul and Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul. Here she is again (thank you!), with the backstory on her latest book.

Author Lisa Morrow. From Read This: Longing for Istanbul: The Words I Haven't Said Yet

Please tell us about your new book, Longing for Istanbul: The Words I Haven't Said Yet...
Istanbul is jam-packed with ancient history, impressive Ottoman architecture, non-stop street life, and a blanketing, all-encompassing hospitality towards tourists that dazzles and blinds in equal measure. Being a tourist in Istanbul is easy and fun. You get to experience all the best the city has to offer, and many people leave starry eyed and desperate to return as soon as possible. Some even determine to move here right away, despite having not even scratched the surface of ordinary everyday life—a life fraught with wonderful and frustrating complications, cultural challenges, and sometimes just plain difficult to navigate problems. 

In Longing for Istanbul, I wanted to show how a place reveals itself in the small, almost mundane things that are easy to overlook. In the rhythms of daily life and human connections that turn a strange city into your home. A mother’s conversation with her child, people endlessly swapping seats on a bus, or someone throwing water on the ground. Seemingly inconsequential things, which when understood, show the paradoxical nature of living in Istanbul. These essays explore the Istanbul I love and the city I sometimes hate, because after all, if you can’t say what you don’t like about a place or a person, how can you really articulate what it is that you do? 

Musicians playing in the Istanbul metro. From Read This: Longing for Istanbul: The Words I Haven't Said Yet
Musicians playing in the Istanbul metro

You had a long journey, full of successes and challenges, to get to where you are now in terms of cultural adjustment and being an expat, and to penning this book. What inspired you to write and share these essays?
Every January, I sit down and choose a new direction for my writing. A few years ago, I got tired of getting angry, feeling sad or confused by different articles and social media posts I read, so I decided to write about the topics they raised, to clearly understand what I thought and believed. Then I read a popular article in the form of a love letter to Istanbul referencing ruby-coloured tea glasses, eating simits, feeding seagulls, drinking rakı, and travelling on Istanbul ferries. 

Where were the people, I thought, the daily interactions that make the city so human? I decided to put together a collection of essays about the Istanbul I experience, the one away from the tourist centres of Sultanahmet and Taksim, without the stereotypes. It meant revisiting my very first trip to Turkey, as well as events that took place outside of Istanbul too, because my understanding of Istanbul is informed as much by contact with different people in my travels throughout the country over the years as in my daily life now.   

Lisa Morrow sitting in front of a bowl of food in Eskisehir. From Read This: Longing for Istanbul: The Words I Haven't Said Yet
Lisa Morrow sitting in front of a bowl of food in Eskisehir

What do you hope readers take from this book? 
I hope after reading Longing for Istanbul that when faced with new situations in their lives and travels, readers will look beyond the obvious and go deeper. Everything we experience, be it positive or negative, can actually help form how we feel about a place, know what we love and why. The key is to look for similarities between ourselves and other people, no matter how alien you feel to them, rather than stopping at the differences. 

Cotton candy seller in Uskudar. From Read This: Longing for Istanbul: The Words I Haven't Said Yet
Cotton candy seller in Uskudar

What might people be surprised to learn, about Istanbul, and living as an expat there? 
I don’t think of myself as an expat, because traditionally expats go to other countries on work contracts for a specified time. Returning home is always part of the plan, but for me, Istanbul is home. The expats I have met frequently compare life here with things back in their countries of birth, and that’s something I rarely do. Instead, I try as much as I can to observe how life unfolds here and insert myself into it, without compromising on the principles I hold dear. It isn’t always easy. I’ve had to really think hard about what’s important to me, what I value, and then decide what to let go. Most essential to me is that my compassion, concern, and interest in others are appreciated far more here than in other countries where I’ve lived. Humanity is very much valued by ordinary Turkish people, which might come as a surprise given the way the international news media usually portrays Istanbul and Turkey. 

Fishmonger in Kadikoy. From Read This: Longing for Istanbul: The Words I Haven't Said Yet
Fishmonger in Kadikoy

How can people find your work? 
Longing for Istanbul is my fourth book, and like my other three titles, is available in paperback and ebook form through Amazon and other book websites. People wanting to know more about the everyday extraordinary of life in modern Istanbul can check out my blog On it, they can also find links to features, personal essays, and travel articles I’ve written for a variety of magazines and media outlets. 

What’s up next for you? 
I’ll always have something to say about Istanbul and Turkey, but January 2022 is coming up soon. I’m mulling over starting a completely different project next year, this time about my family.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 
Yes, there is. Tourism in every country in the world has suffered in the last few years, and Turkey is no different. If you’re thinking about where to visit next, come to Istanbul! If you read my books and follow my blog, you’ll see it’s nothing like the Middle East—and there’s nowhere quite like it. It’s a city where ancient history mixes with modernity, age old technologies are revised with new innovations, cultural differences blend through food, art is exhibited wherever there’s a wall, in a Turkish bath or underground cistern, and people talk, laugh, dance, and live 24 hours a day. It’s a place I never tire of, and where I’m never bored. 

Street shadow puppet show in Kadikoy. From Read This: Longing for Istanbul: The Words I Haven't Said Yet
Street shadow puppet show in Kadikoy


All photos courtesy and copyright Lisa Morrow, used with permission