#BookReview: The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

Header
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

How does one feel when he solves a complex puzzle, whose pieces are scattered all over the place yet the urge to make it whole out of those pieces is beyond the desire to give up? That is exactly how you feel after reading Elif Shafak’s Bastard of Istanbul. Shafak cleverly studies themes such as feminism, taboos and cultural values in her novel. Set in Istanbul and Arizona simultaneously, the author shows a very subtle comparison between the two places through the cultural values that are taken up there respectively. Almost all the characters of the story are seen to be struggling with themselves and are heading to find out their true identity or the pieces of their personalities that they are missing.

For instance, Zeliha opens a tattoo parlor to keep herself busy and continuing with her characters ability to defy the norms that the Turkish society has set for the women. Her entire character, through the book is seen defying whatever limitations have been imposed upon her, whereas her gender role is concerned. Her obsession with the tea cups is basically a very clever use of the symbolism technique in literature. The fragility of the tea cups that Zeliha abhors is basically the trait of lacking strength that she disapproves of in people- specially her brother. The rules that Zeliha mentions in the beginning of the chapters, also includes the tea-glass.

The other character Asya, who is Zeliha’s illegitimate daughter and calls her Aunt Zeliha, is seen to be struggling to break out of the cages she has built for herself and the ones that her family has imposed upon her. Her character seems to be suffocated in all the boundaries that exist in her world and her mind. Fearful of the past and deeming it as an unimportant aspect for the present, Asya is seen living her life on the edge, interacting with people beyond her age bracket and as much as being physically involved with a married journalist.

Armanoush, the third most important character in the book is rather settled in her life and is just keen on discovering old family secrets and history. Since she lives with a step-father from the Turkish background and a paternal family from the Armenian family, she is seen having strong opinions about the Turkish genocide. The book narrates the history with a neutral perceptive and thus tends to become a reader’s delight, forcing him to keep reading until he unravels all the mysteries aligned by the author.

Interestingly, back when the book was published in Turkey, the author was charged for “insulting Turkishness” and was presented before the court. The author rightfully said in her trial that she could not be held accountable for something a character in her book is doing. Soon, the court ruled out in her favor. The book has 17 chapters, each of which is one of the ingredients of a special dish that Mustafa, the only living man of the Kazanci family, loves i.e. ashure. Mustafa, one of the most peculiar characters in the books seems to captivate the attention of the readers in the last few chapters of the book when a dark secret from his and Zeliha’s past is revealed, justifying their characters’ composure and structure all along the novel.

All in all, Bastard of Istanbul comes off as a slightly boring and monotonous book in the beginning but as the story progresses, the reader starts taking the subtle hints left in by author and attempts to solve the puzzle laid beyond him. The strong theme of feminism and the patriarchal values that still exist, make you reflect upon your own society and force you peek through the striking similarities in terms of the treatment of women in Turkey and Pakistan. The drastic realities help us look at the world with a fresher eye and thus, this one is highly recommended for all those in need for a glimpse into the real world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *