The modernization of the Ottoman Empire began in 1839 when the state started adapting western ideas; following an almost century long struggle for constitutional rule, the shift culminated in the formation of a secular republic in 1923. It is possible to celebrate, or scrutinize, certain aspects of this process but one thing is certain: A novel about Turkey’s modernization process would not lack the kind of subject matter that led literary theorist Frederic Jameson to famously argue that “all third-world texts are necessarily … allegorical.” There is the ordinary individual coming from an ethnic and cultural background with long held religious beliefs, struggling to fit into the model of a new citizen molded for her by the state apparatus. There is the frustration of a new class of secular citizens pretending to act like Italian gentlemen or French ladies, despite coming from decisively non-European backgrounds. And last, but not least, there is the powerful centralized system of bureaucracy that awards the best imitators of European manners while punishing the less successful ones.
Had The Time Regulation Institute, Ahmet Hamdi Tanp?nar’s magnum opus translated into English by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe, only concerned itself with those societal effects of the process of late Ottoman and early republican modernization process it would still be a good book. But it is a great deal more than that. Although it is a deeply political book that undermines the very foundations on which the modernization project had been placed, The Time Regulation Institute is by no means a work of political propaganda or a shallow political allegory. It is one of the best comic novels of twentieth century in any language.