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The Bastard of Istanbul Paperback – January 29, 2008
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"In An Instant" by Suzanne Redfearn
A deeply moving story of carrying on even when it seems impossible. | Learn more
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"Zesty, imaginative . . . A Turkish version of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club."
"Shafak's writing is seductive. . . . The Bastard of Istanbul portrays family as more than merely a function of genetics and fate, folding together history and fiction, the personal and the political into a thing of beauty."
"[This] saucy, witty, dramatic, and affecting tale in the spirit of novels by Amy Tan, Julia Alvarez, and Bharati Mukherjee should prove irresistible to readers. . . . A grandly emphatic and spellbinding story."
—New York Newsday
"Beautifully imagined . . . this wonderful new novel carried me away. And reality was different when I returned."
About the Author
- Item Weight : 11.4 ounces
- Paperback : 360 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0143112716
- ISBN-13 : 978-0143112716
- Dimensions : 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
- Reading level : 18 and up
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Reprint edition (January 29, 2008)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #105,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I read it over a quiet Easter weekend and the first hundred pages were a struggle. While I loved a novel that challenged stereotypes of women in the Middle East and provided some insights about the Armenian genocide, sometimes it felt like Shafak was trying too hard to make her political points known.
The other issue I had is both nineteen year old protagonists didn't sound like teenagers in their dialogue. In some cases they sounded like late 20 something graduate students discussing a thesis.
I was confused by some of the characters and the hundred year old family histories. By the end it was clear why family trees were not included.
I visited Turkey a few years ago and having a general understanding of the nation's history and current political situation was helpful.
I think Shafak tries to tie things together near the end, but like many family and national issues- they sometimes are messy.
She is a great writer and if you are up for a challenging read into sometimes intense subjects: female empowerment, genocide and rape and you have an interest in the Middle East- this is a book worth checking out.
This is an artfully constructed book with two contrary agendas, both essential, but not entirely comfortable with one another.
First, the literary agenda: The quirks, foibles and virtues of a large number of complex characters, understandable even when not exactly lovable, are described in rich and vivid language, their personal dramas interwoven and mostly resolving in surprising and satisfying ways. The literary ambition is signaled in the opening chapter -- the sounds and sensations of rush hour in Istanbul in a rainstorm, and the furious and impious thoughts of young Zeliha as she hurries through the broken streets to a critical appointment, are delightful, frightening and hilarious, and will be unforgettable. And then we meet the other badly split family of the Armenian American girl, and then back to Zeliha and her three sisters, each eccentric in a different way, and her mother and grandmother living in sweet but comical confusion.
But there is another agenda, political and didactic: Elif Shafak wants us to face a terrible tragedy -- the killings and deportations of Armenians in 1915 -- and to help all of us, but especially Armenians and Turks, to come to mutual comprehension and forgiveness today.
The contemporary Turks of the novel (and, I think, in reality) have no problem whatever with their Armenian compatriots. None of Zeliha's friends thinks it remarkable that her lover, Arman, is Armenian; for them, "Armenian" is just another variety of Turk. But when Zeliha's now 19-year-old daughter Asya introduces her new friend Amy -- or Armanoush -- to her friends in the bar as an Armenian American, they are suddenly on the alert.
"Now the word Armenian wouldn't surprise anyone at Café Kundera, but Armenian American was a different story. Armenian Armenian was no problem -- similar culture, similar problems -- but Armenian American meant someone who despised the Turks."
As Asya begins to tell the tragedy of Armanoush's Istanbulite family, the execution of her great grandfather because he was an intellectual, one of the drinkers at the table blurts out, "That didn't happen."
The problem is that Armenians in the diaspora cannot forget their terrible history, while Turks cannot remember it or, if they have even thought about it, accept a version where both sides did awful things and nobody now is to blame -- 1915 was a long before they were born, Turkey was a different country, and none of that has anything to do with them.
But Shafak insists that it does have to do with them, because until Turks recognize and acknowledge the pain of the Armenians they are in effect accomplices of a massive cover-up. But on the other side, would Armenians in the diaspora ever accept any reasonable concessions or admissions by the Turks?
When Armanoush gets Asya to take part in an on-line forum of Armenian Americans, one of them immediately demands that she as a Turk recognize the genocide. The young but well-read Asya writes back, "Genocide is a heavily loaded term... It implies a systematic, well-organized, and philosophized extermination. Honestly, I am not sure the Ottoman state at the time was of such a nature. But I do recognize the injustice that was done to the Armenians. I am not a historian. My knowledge is limited and tainted, but so is yours."
And then she asks, "Tell me, what can I as an ordinary Turk in this day and age do to ease your pain?" And the Armenian Americans, never before confronted by such a question, have no plausible answer. Apologize, says one after a long pause. For something she had no part of? Get the Turkish state to apologize, demands another. But how could she get the Turkish state to do anything?
But then another Armenian American forum member joins in, one who calls himself "Baron Baghdassarian" and whom we have been taught to expect to be wiser than the others, and surprises everyone by typing:
"Well, the truth is... some among the Armenians in the diaspora would never want the Turks to recognize the genocide. If they do so, they'll pull the rug out from under our feet and take the strongest bond that unites us. Just like the Turks have been in the habit of denying their wrongdoing, the Armenians have been in the habit of savoring the cocoon of victimhood. Apparently, there are some old habits tht need to be changed on both sides."
And whether or not you believe that a real Armenian American might write that in an on-line forum, it is clearly the opinion of Elif Shafak.
The on-line forum allows Shafak to introduce political discourse by characters who have no existence beyond their cyber presence. And to describe events for which there is no human testimony, an ancient djinni who has been magically enslaved by Zeliha's eldest sister, the clairvoyant Banu, gives his eye-witness account.
In this literary tale all the decisive actors (actresses) are women and the men, whether comical, sympathetic or pathetic, are necessary but secondary figures like Poins or Bardolph in Henry IV, useful for displaying some aspect of the more complex (and always female) protagonists. That for me was one of the pleasures of the book, allowing me to enter the consciousness of so many and such complex girls and women.
The blatantly political segments interrupt the flow of the other, literary story, sometimes jarring the reader's willingness to believe. But they enable Shafak to describe that terrible history.
The book is charming, sometimes stunningly beautiful, often outrageously funny, sometimes deeply sad. And because of its political content, it is also a very brave book. Elif Shafak knew she was taking a major risk when she published the original version in Turkish, that she would offend powerful members of the state and risk imprisonment. And I imagine that her version of events will also greatly offend members of the Armenian diaspora, for the very reason "Baron Baghdassarian" expounded. And for all these reasons, it's a book we need to read.
I can see how, if you are a person who already knows about the things I have described above, this novel would not suit you. The characters and scenes have a double purpose - to entertain and inform. Often, there is too much informing and not enough entertaining. Also, many of the descriptions are too long for a modern novel.
However, if you are interested in learning about Turkish culture, Armenian culture, and historical events in a less didactic way (knowing that there are some flaws in the writing, but not enough to make me put the book down - I finished it in 2 days) I highly recommend it!
Top reviews from other countries
This is a book that touches on real life sensitive issues but handles them with dignity and a maturity that only Elif Shafak is capable of. If you get the chance to read this book-please do x
The story revolves around two families, a Turkish family in Istanbul and an Armenian family in San Francisco, who are descended from children rescued by American missionaries in 1915. When a daughter of the Armenian family visits the Turkish family many dark family secrets emerge and the families are shown to be more closely linked than they realised. The historical back story of the families I found intriguing and interesting and there are genuine surprises in the revelations. The descriptions of life in Istanbul are fascinating and perhaps more interesting than the American parts.
I began with 10 mins and 38 seconds at the start of the year
Followed by Honour
After finishing Honour
I had this sudden urge to Re read the 40 rules of love. When i finished that, the Bastard of Istanbul was her only book that remained in my collection.
This book is not for everyone, ill be honest, it might be slow in patches for some readers and partially uninteresting, but i personally found it engaging and captivating, after the first 50 pages i found myself hooked, unable to put it down. I was yearning to learn how the story unfolded
How the Armenian family from California is linked by history to the Kazanci, an upper middle class Turkish family in Istanbul.
We are reminded about the hatred the Armenians in the diaspora have for the Turks, for too many have lost a loved one during the events of 1915, a forgotten chapter in the history of the modern Turkish republic that wanted to break up with its Ottoman past with the Rise of secular Kemalism.
The story begins with Zaliha Kazanci who is at an abortion clinic hoping to get an abortion, but upon hearing the call to prayer despite being an agnostic has a change of heart. She chooses to have her Bastard daughter, Asya who is the title character of the book. Though given how much attention other characters in the book get also, one wonders if the title was apt.
Fast forward we are transported to Arizona and California. The former where Armanoush, a young Armenian American lives with her American mother and Turkish step father, while visiting her father and grand mother in California regularly.
In order to discover her families Aremenian Istanbul heritage, Armanoush travels to Istanbul and lives with her step father’s families, only for life’s interesting surprises. What i liked was how the writer tried to humanise the Turks and Armenians to one another, and see beyond how tradition dictates. Another mysterious puzzle in the book that remains till the last few chapters, why Asiya refers to her mother as Aunty all the time.
Towards the end of the book, we learn how the 2 families are connected, generations apart, linked through someone who was there in 1915 towards the end of the Ottoman empire. The deep connection of the two families without the knowledge of their deep connection, makes for compelling story telling.
We also learn about the bitter truth behind who the father of the Bastard of Istanbul is.
Family abandonment it seems is a common theme in most of Elif Shafak’s novels
It featured in Honour, 40 rules of love, 10 mins and 38 seconds, and the Bastard of Istanbul.
I hope one day, Elif manages to write a happy book, about family love, unity, and loved ones being there for one another.