I read this book recently, and I must say that Elif Shafak has not yet managed to let me down as this is the third book of hers that I have read. I was hooked on to Elif Shafak’s writing since the day I read Forty Rules of Love; her narrative is so simple, and compelling at the same time that one just keeps turning pages till you realize that you are out pages to read.
Elif Shafak so brilliantly portrays life, religion, culture, and everything in between that one is just sucked in to a roller coaster of words penned down by her. When I first started reading this book I was distracted by too many things, but once I got in to the book without those said distractions I was blown away.
The Bastard of Istanbul is about this young American-Armenian girl Armanoush, in search of her identity, the “bastard” in the title is young Asya Kazanci who lives in an all female konak as all the men in their family had a habbit of dying at an early age. With only one uncle of Asya still alive and living in Arizona America married to a woman named Rose. Armanoush is the daughter of Rose from her first marriage to an Armenian American, she sets out to Istanbul secretly and comes and lives with the Kazanci family.
The plot is brilliant, Asya is the daughter of Zeliha Kazanci a free spirited, fierce tattoo artist the youngest among the Kazanci sisters. Zeliha gave birth to Asya when she was only 19 years of age, and as to who is the father it remains a mystery right till the end of the book. When Armanoush comes to live with the family, she and Asya develop a strong friendship.
I don’t think while talking about this book I can not not mention the other characters that strongly contribute to this book as well; such as Banu the oldest sister to Zeliha, she is self discovered clairvoyant, Cevriye a widowed high school history teacher and Feride a hypochondriac. Then there is Petite-ma, the oldest woman in the household and Grandma Gulsum the mother of the four women. The Kazanci konak is described as Zeliha and often by Asya as neurotic, with Auntie Banu who has djinnis under her power, to the schizophreniac Auntie Feride, the stern history teacher Auntie Cevriye and the rebellious Auntie Zeliha. Asya is just like her mother in many ways except the look, but calls her mother (Zeliha) Auntie as the family tried to keep it under wraps that she was born out of wedlock.
Then there are the people or friends you can say that Asya hangs out with, the Dipsomaniac Cartoonist who is in love with her and everyone can see it but Asya and his wife, The Non-nationalist scenarist of Ultra nationalist Movies, the closeted gay columnist.
All these characters bring their own purpose to the book’s plot, but with so many characters it was a bit hard at time to keep up with them at times. My favourite character was definitely Zeliha, as she was fierce rebellious headstong person with a strange obsession with the fragility of glass teacups. As the book progressed and certain discoveries were made one could not help but love and respect this character more than before. Banu also makes the reader fall in deep awe of her towards the end, being the eldest sibling she always protects her sisters even if meant doing somethings that can condemn her in God’s eyes.
Elif Shafak has beautifully managed to go in to her country’s troubling past with the Armenians, the workings of a normal konak in the city of Istanbul and create a masterpiece of a book when you reach the end of the book, and you find out certain things; you have no chance but to put down the book for a few minutes and take a deep breathe, question life itself and continue on.
This book for it makes one question what is the truth and how far is one willing to find it?
“The past is anything but bygone”
I would give it 4 out 5 stars, cause as much as some of the questions we had in the beginning of the book that were answered in the end. I had some other questions after I was done reading the whole book.