We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. ~Isaiah 64:8

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Bastard of Istanbul - book review

Last weekend I finished reading The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak. I'm no literary critic, so I'll just share with you my impressions.

This book starts right off with a bang. One of the central figures is in a situation where she must make a life-altering decision. (From the title, perhaps you can guess - but I'm not giving it away!) The rest of the plot flows on from here - like a river flowing from a spring. Other turning points occur along the way, but they are much more subtle until the very end of the book. These two major events (one at the beginning and one at the end) become as book ends to the tale. In between those two bookends, the author draws us into two seperate but connected families: the Kazancis and the Tchakhmakhchians, one Turkish and one Armenian-American (from the Diaspora).

The main characters are the two youngest members of these families, both daughters. They meet when the Armenian-American daughter travels to visit her Turkish stepfamily in Istanbul. While very different, these two young women come to understand each other and provide a glimpse of an unrealized dream: peaceful relations between Turks and Armenians.

Toward the end of the book, I felt the need for some confrontation that might lead to a final resolution to either destroy or cement the relationship between the Turkish and Armenian family. While this didn't happen, the two daughters did demonstrate how future generations might come to live with each other through shared trials and triumphs and the realization that they share more than they might realize.

I recommend this book for anyone who is just learning about the Turkish-Armenian conflict. It certainly doesn't go deep enough, but helps one begin to have an understanding of the their entwined history.

The author has a gift for descriptions of her character's psychological and emotional states. She also has a gift for all sorts of other descriptions - especially interior spaces and the mouth-watering food! The cultures are fascinating and the characters interesting. You will see, feel, hear, smell, taste as you read this book.

Some books I can't put down because the author's writing leaves me feeling unsettled until I've finished the whole book...but this book I could read a chapter at a time and feel I'd had a good read. Each chapter was like a delightful meal leaving me not too full (that I didn't want more), but not needing to consume more to feel satisfied. My mind was intrigued and my senses delighted.

A couple warnings: 1) there is one character who successfully talks with an evil and good "jinn" to discern secret events and 2) one of the themes discussed in the book is incest (which I found unnecessary - while it did provide the ending "book end", I wish the author had found a different way to wrap up this story).

If you've read the book, I'd love to hear your thoughts!



You can find more book reviews at Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books.

4 comments:

DebD said...

Great review! I know only a little about the forced expulsions and this book sounds like a good addition to my growing interest in it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kerry,

I purchased this book and will be reading it on the plane!!

Sonia

Kerry said...

Sonia, you'll enjoy it! Another one I'm reading right now and enjoying (although I'm only 3 chapters in) is by Peter Balakian "The Black Dog of Fate". When I'm finished I'll review that one, too.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I already read that one...enjoyed it immensely, but it can get pretty depressing.

Sonia