Book Review-The Bastard Of Istanbul
Author- Elif Shafak
I have suddenly been taken in by the writings of Turkish authors Ayse Kulin & Elif Shafak . Their enchanting description of Turkey, a country that’s European and Islamic both at the same time have me enamored . Another Turkish author who holds me spell bound is Orhan Pamuk. The vivid imagery of that fairy tale land with the shimmering blues of the Bosphorous, the delectable cuisine ,the confluence and conflict of the conservative and the modern ,has kept me interested in the literature from this region .
Anyway, this is a book that’s already weighed down by the negative publicity it generated .Elif Shafak , the author was put on trial for disparaging Turkishness through her book “The Bastard of Istanbul” where she has discussed the Armenian Genocide at length .
The book ,just like Istanbul is teeming with characters .It weaves together the lives of 2 families , the Turkish Kazanci family and the Armenian Tchakhmakhchian family .The Kazanci family men die early , so the household comprises of women only .And each of the women , are unique individuals with their own set of eccentricities and idiosyncrasies .The household is ruled by their matriarch Gulsum. The “Bastard in the title is Asya who is the daughter of the youngest Kazanci woman Zelilah .Then there is Armanoush ,who is the Tchakhmakhchian daughter ,raised in America ,visiting Istanbul to discover her roots . And between their conversations, the 2 girls unravel common secrets of their past and family.
Many questions relating to the past and its significance in the present are pondered upon . At times ,I found the plot to be slightly overwrought and myself getting lost in the bevy of characters and their complex relationships .She has also touched upon the deportations from the Armenian genocide from 1915 which is not something that I have read anywhere else . So ,Shafak has successfully thrown spotlight on an event which has been practically forgotten and erased from public memory as also the ambivalence surrounding it .
The author’s real achievement however I believe is in bringing Istanbul home to the reader . With its smells ,sights ,hustle-bustle, chaos and confusion, description of food, the book is a sensory delight .Magical realist descriptions of Asya’s home & Istanbul are interesting ,and we see a morphing of fantasy and reality .
An entertaining read …