Tag Archives: The Bastard of Istanbul

The Bastard of Istanbul #BookReview

Book: The Bastard of Istanbul
Author: Elif Shafak

I’d recently finished The Forty Rules of Love and loved it. The Bastard of Istanbul was already waiting on my bookshelf.

The story

This is the story of two girls Asya, who is Turkish, and Armanoush, aka Amy, who is Armenian American. Asya, the bastard daughter of Zehila, is brought up in Istanbul in an all-women household with her aunts, grand mom and great grand mom. Though Armanoush lives in Arizona with her mom and step father, her birth-father’s household in San Francisco is also predominantly female, quite similar to Asya’s.

Asya is the quintessential rebel. Armanoush on the other hand is a ‘good girl’. Her Armenian roots intrigue her as does the Turkish-Armenian conflict. In search of the Armenian side of her identity she makes her way to Istanbul and the two girls meet.

So what happens then? Do they connect? 

Above all, there’s the secret of Asya’s birth. Who is her father? What will happen when the secret is revealed?

What I loved

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – the more I read the more I am made aware of my ignorance. I had no clue about the Turkish-Armenian conflict. I hadn’t heard of the Armenian genocide. It was horrifying yet fascinating to read about it. 

The interesting bit is that the Turkish Government still refuses to acknowledge the genocide while the Armenians have never forgiven them for it. The antagonism has festered for decades.

That is why I enjoyed Asya and Armanoush’s interactions. Armanoush is skeptical of going back to Turkey, apprehensive of some kind of a violent reaction, while Asya is completely unaware of her feelings. That’s just how resentment brews till people meet each other and then it magically falls away and love and warmth take its place.

At one point in the book Asya asks Armanoush’s Armenian friend: 
Tell me, what can I as an ordinary Turk in this day and age do to ease your pain?
And he replies: Your State can apologise. 
Then he goes on to say: You yourself can apologise.

That conversation is one of the best parts of the book.

There are other good bits too.
If you’re looking to get to know Turkey, specifically Istanbul, this is the book for you. Shafak’s tale is rich with descriptions of busy Turkish streets. She brings it all alive from rain-filled potholes to sounds of street vendors, the famous hammams, the curious customs and above all the food – delicious glorious food. I was constantly looking up dishes and their recipes, trying out the unfamiliar names and salivating as I mentally sampled them. Do keep google handy when you read this book.

There’s a bit of magical fantasy element too, which I liked.

The beginning is slow but the book gets interesting in the second half. I loved the way the lives of the two girls entwine and the end reveals a secret so horrifying one is blown away.

What could have been better

The book opens with Zehila (Asya’s mother) trying to get an abortion. She sounds like a wonderfully colourful character and the opening completely reeled me.

Within a few pages however the book changed course. It proceeded to loose its way, getting disconnected and mixed up and the first 150-200 pages proved to be a struggle to get through. Nothing much happens and Asya’s ennui and existential angst rubbed off on me making me restless with the book. So don’t pick up this one if you’re looking for a pacy read. It isn’t.

I like women protagonists but The Bastard of Istanbul had just too many making it difficult to keep track of all of them, specially on Armanoush’s side.

Shafak also states a few ‘rules’ along the way, a bit like she did in Forty Rules, but they dodn’t come together coherently in any kind of pattern.

I wish it were a shorter book, written/edited better. Oh and I want to read Zehila’s story. She is, by far, the most interesting character in the book. It was disappointing to see so little of her.

Last thought: Take on this trip to Istanbul with loads of patience and in close collaboration with Google.

Importance of Dissent #BookBytes 13

Here’s a quote from my current read The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafaq. This isn’t a book one can rush through and I’m making steady, though slow progress. More on that when I review the book. For now savour this quote.

“To her way of thinking, anyone who can’t rise up and rebel, anyone devoid of the ability to dissent, cannot really be said to be alive. In resistance lies the key to life. The rest of the people fall into two camps: the vegetables, who are fine with everything, and the tea glasses, who, thought not fine with numerous things, lack the strength to confront. It is the latter that are the worse of the two.” 

Elif Shafaq, The Bastard of Istanbul

Wise words, aren’t they?

Dissent is such an important thing for any healthy system – specially for a country, a democracy like India. Dissent implies a thinking, feeling mind.

I agree when Shafaq says so eloquently, if one is ‘okay’ with everything, one is but a vegetable. However, I’m not sure I completely agree with the second part of the quote – is it worse to feel something and not have the courage to stand up for it or to not feel at all? How frustrating it must be to not be able to speak your mind. I’d feel sorry for such a person.

What do you say?

Before you leave:

Here are two must-read posts with some fabulous quotes:
One, by my dear friend Anamika. These quotes need to go up as posters in the rooms of boys and girls. Do drop by her post here.
And the second one is by Nabanita who picked out some powerful quotes on feminism. Do drop by for a read.

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If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

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The next edition is scheduled for August 20th.