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The Bastard of Istanbul Hardcover – January 18, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In her second novel written in English (The Saint of Incipient Insanities was the first), Turkish novelist Shafak tackles Turkish national identity and the Armenian "question" in her signature style. In a novel that overflows with a kitchen sink's worth of zany characters, women are front and center: Asya Kazanci, an angst-ridden 19-year-old Istanbulite is the bastard of the title; her beautiful, rebellious mother, Zeliha (who intended to have an abortion), has raised Asya among three generations of complicated and colorful female relations (including religious clairvoyant Auntie Banu and bar-brawl widow, Auntie Cevriye). The Kazanci men either die young or take a permanent hike like Mustafa, Zeliha's beloved brother who immigrated to America years ago. Mustafa's Armenian-American stepdaughter, Armanoush, who grew up on her family's stories of the 1915 genocide, shows up in Istanbul looking for her roots and for vindication from her new Turkish family. The Kazanci women lament Armanoush's family's suffering, but have no sense of Turkish responsibility for it; Asya's boho cohorts insist there was no genocide at all. As the debate escalates, Mustafa arrives in Istanbul, and a long-hidden secret connecting the histories of the two families is revealed. Shafak was charged with "public denigration of Turkishness" when the novel was published in Turkey earlier this year (the charges were later dropped). She incorporates a political taboo into an entertaining and insightful ensemble novel, one that posits the universality of family, culture and coincidence. (Jan. 22)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* The new Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk has faced charges for making anti-Turkish remarks regarding the long denied mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Acclaimed Turkish writer Shafak has also been hauled into court for "insulting Turkishness." The case was dropped, and her bold and penetrating tale of the tragic repercussions of the Armenian genocide will live on. In her second novel in English following The Saint of Incipient Insanities (2004), Shafak tells a many-faceted, mischievously witty, and daringly dramatic story that is at once a study in compassion, a shrewd novel of ideas, a love song to Istanbul, and a sensuous and whirling satire. The novel's ruling force is gorgeous Zeliha, the unapologetically sexy proprietor of an Istanbul tattoo parlor. An unwed mother at 19, she has raised her daughter, Asya (now 19 herself and obsessed with Johnny Cash), in a chaotic, food-centric household that includes her mother, grandmother, and three sisters: Banu, the pious clairvoyant; Cevriye, the high-strung history teacher; and Feride, the neurotic. The sisters haven't seen their Americanized brother, Mustafa, for almost 20 years, and are stunned when his 19-year-old stepdaughter, Armanoush, whose mother is from Kentucky and whose father is Armenian, arrives in Istanbul to search for her Armenian roots. As Asya and Armanoush forge a tentative friendship unaware of all that they actually share, others panic over the looming revelation of shocking secrets. Shafak weaves an intricate and vibrant saga of repression and freedom, cultural clashes and convergences, pragmatism and mysticism, and crimes and retribution, subtly revealing just how inextricably entwined we all are, whatever our heritage or beliefs. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (January 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670038342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670038343
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #508,910 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Elif Shafak is Turkey's most-read woman writer and an award-winning novelist. She writes in both English and Turkish, and has published 13 books, nine of which are novels, including: The Bastard of Istanbul, The Forty Rules of Love, Honour and her nonfiction memoir Black Milk. Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages. She has more than one and a half million followers on Twitter: @elif_safak
Shafak blends Western and Eastern traditions of storytelling, bringing out the voices of women, minorities, subcultures, immigrants and global souls. Defying cliches and transcending boundaries her works draws on different cultures and cities, and reflects a strong interest in history, philosophy, culture, mysticism, Sufism and gender equality. Her books have been translated into more than forty languages.
Shafak is also a political scientist and has taught at various universities in the USA, UK and Turkey. She has written for several international daily & weekly publications, including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Independent and The World Post/Huffington Post.
She was born in Strasbourg, France, in 1971. She is married with two kids and divides her time between London and Istanbul.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 97 people found the following review helpful By delphil on February 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I must admit I do not read fiction that often but after having read this book recently, I must revisit this.

Simply put, a beautiful book.

I heard Shafak's interview on NPR with Terry Gross and found her comments engrossing so that I decided to buy the book.

The structure of the book is the Armenian genoicide and role of memory, past, present and future and the different roles they play in Turkish and Armenian society.

More than this, the travels through to the US and back, relate a sense of flightlessness which helps shape the feelings of identity. The look inside at the relationships among Turkish women is conveyed in a delightful manner. The intergenerational relationships and ties are also brilliantly expressed.

A must read, a really, really beautiful book.
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on May 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Any review of Elif Shafak's latest novel, THE BASTARD OF ISTANBUL, is sure to mention the surrounding controversy. When the book was published last year in Turkey, Shafak ended up facing a prison sentence because of what her fictional characters say about the massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, a tragedy not officially recognized by the Turkish government. This drama could overshadow the book itself, but instead it should contribute to the poignancy of the story.

The titular bastard is Asya Kazanci, a young woman living in Istanbul in a house of eccentric and loving women. Asya is rebellious, even though her "aunties" are fairly tolerant. She is obsessed with the music of Johnny Cash, smokes cigarettes behind her family's back, and ditches the ballet lessons they pay for so that she can sit and drink in a cafe with a bunch of world-weary existentialists. Asya's rebellion is inherited from her mother, the stunning "auntie" Zeliha who had Asya when she was just 19 and now runs a tattoo parlor catering to the artistic and secular of Istanbul. Shafak suggests that Asya's rebellion is part of being an Istanbulite, and the city itself is a major character in the novel. Zeliha has never revealed the name of Asya's father, and much of Asya's identity is tied up in her being a "bastard." But her identity as a woman, as a Turk and as a daughter of Istanbul will be challenged when a bold Armenian American woman arrives on her doorstep.

Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian is a college student in Arizona. Raised between her Armenian family in San Francisco and her mother and Turkish stepfather in Tucson, she, like Asya, struggles with identity.
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33 of 41 people found the following review helpful By E. S. on August 6, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a poorly written novel that I honestly wish I had never picked up. I can't believe it received so many good reviews. Since that is part of the reason I decided to read it, I felt compelled to offer another opinion. The author's writing technique is generally poor. The prose is juvenile and reads like mediocre young adult fiction. There are a few good passages and I think with time and practice Shafak could be a better writer, but generally she spent too much time explaining things that were obvious to the reader (she needs to consider the old "showing, not telling" adage.) Her characters were flat and unbelievable. Because of this it was difficult to take them seriously and thus difficult to find the major revelation of the book remotely plausible. It is noble of Ms. Shafak to want to deal with the issue of the Armenian genocide in Turkey, but this novel fails to do that in a compelling fashion. For those who want to read a more moving (and better written) novel confronting the Armenian genocide I suggest Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s "Bluebeard." For those interested in Turkish literature (another reason I picked up this book) you are better off with Orhan Pamuk or Yashar Kemal.
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36 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 29, 2011
Format: Paperback
Elif Shafak's novel "The Bastard of Istanbul" is set in contemporary Istanbul with important scenes in Arizona in San Francisco. The novel was written in English and published in the United States in 2006. Earlier, in 2003, the novel was published in Turkey where it resulted in a prosecution of the author that was subsequently dismissed. The book has several themes, some of which are important, but all of which are patched together. The book examines the relationship between Turks and Armenians particularly in 1915. Many people have concluded that the Turks practiced genocide of serious proportions on the Armenians. The Turks officialy deny this. The novel shows modern day Turks and Armenians wrestling with their history and with the tragic earlier events. The book is also about two young women in their early 20s who are thrown together somehow and, who, like many people, struggle with with the illusive, ill-defined concept of personal identity. The book also is about the relationship between women and men as shown through the eyes of quirky, mostly appealing female characters, and much less sympathetic and largely absent men.

The plot of the book and the family structures are complex and tangled. There are two family groups. The first family is Turkish and located in Istanbul and consists of four sisters and no men. The men in the women's lives have died or disappeared in various ways. The sisters have a brother, Mustafa, who moved to the United States to study when he was 20 and who has remained in the United States, when the events of the book occur, at the age of 40. One of the sisters is mentally ill while another sister reads tarot cards and has clairvoyant powers, including two spirits which accompany and advise her.
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