The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak.

unnamed-6Book Review:

The story takes place in Turkey and USA.

In Istanbul live four generations of ladies, the grandmother, the mother Gulsum (which incidentally is also my name) her four daughters and the child born out of wedlock to the youngest of them, who is the bastard of the story, Asya.

The four sisters’ only brother Mustafa lives in USA with his American wife Rose and her daughter Amy. The father of Amy is an Armenian. Rose has married a Turk to embitter her ex-husband’s Armenian family.

Running through the novel is the theme of the hatred between the Turks and the Armenians and their different views of the 1915 incident where millions of Armenians died. The diaspora community of Armenians can never forget that, while the Turks cannot remember it. This theme that the writer wishes to standout and be the integral part of the story could have been dealt with more prominently.

The novel is peopled by so many colorful characters, that after sometime it is difficult to keep track of who is who. (There are even two dijnns who help the eldest sister know who the father of the bastard of Istanbul is.)

Luckily for the readers, all the characters are accounted for in the end and all loose ends are tied up.

My thought on the novel: I was captivated with the first chapter of the novel. It was gripping with descriptions of a rainy day when the youngest of the 4 sisters traverses over the cobbled streets of Istanbul to go to the doctor to have an abortion. Even the incident at the clinic was interesting.

But too much of even a good thing is too bad. After a few chapters, the book feels weighty, crammed with story within a story, descriptions and superfluous words that were bursting at the seams ready to spill over.But I did enjoy the description of Istanbul city which is an amalgamation of the old and the new.

The overall feel of the novel is that of an Indian period drama which is telecasting its 365th episode or so.

Another thought I had while reading the story was that food was mentioned too often. People are always eating, laying the table, cooking or feeding each other or a cat. (If I wrote a novel aimed at the western audience, I would contrive situations to have my heroine eat bhel puri or her mother cook biryani or her grandmother buy ingredients for a vegetarian thalli)

This is the first book review that I have written but most definitely not the first book I have read. I read a whole lot of reviews about this book and many other books and wanted my flag-of-turkey-100219861-1assessment to be different and less erudite. A fresh look, which my friends on gulsumwrites can relate to.

Would I recommend this book?

If you are the type who likes ‘light reading,’ this book is definitely not for you.

But if you are the literary type with a penchant for the English language and eagerness to learn about alien cultures, you might like Elif Shafak’s verbosity.

By mapichai,


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