I made it a point to read some new authors and different genres this year. The result was that I enjoyed reading all the more as monotony never set in. I had never read Elif Shafak before and so I picked up The Bastard of Istanbul as I was intrigued by the title. Also I assumed that the book would be set in Turkey and it would be lovely to read about an altogether different culture.
The Bastard of Istanbul is an entertaining tale of two families whose fates are intertwined. It follows the story of two girls: Asya Kazanci who is Turkish and Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian who is Armenian American. Asya Kazanci is the illegitimate daughter of Zeliha, the youngest of the Kazanci women. Zeliha has never disclosed the identity of her child’s father. Raised by a group of eccentric aunts and grandmothers in Istanbul, Asya is now 19 and quite a rebel. She spends most of her time listening to Johnny Cash records and philosophizing with a group of older political outcasts at the Cafe Kundera. 19 year old Armanoush lives in Arizona with between her over-protective American mother Rose and Turkish step-father Mustafa. She spends her vacations with her father Barsham’s large Armenian family in San Francisco. Armanoush is struggling with her identity as an Armenian and to know more about her roots, she decides to travel to Turkey and stay with her step-father’s family, the Kazanci’s. Little does she know that a secret links the two families together!
The story is written beautifully and vividly with a liberal dose of politics, history, philosophy, religion and the familiar struggle for personal identity. The female characters are vigorous, quirky and unforgettable. The Kazanci sisters are an eccentric lot, but their collective support of one another is remarkable. Zeliha stands out as the strong, rebellious woman who brings up a daughter out of wedlock. And yet her tormented feminine side is revealed when she is faced with the prospect of meeting her child’s father.
Shafak has portrayed the cosmopolitan nature of Istanbul, showing its mixed European and Middle Eastern influences. I was under the impression that Turkey being a Muslim country would be quite orthodox but was pleasantly surprised to learn that women there have access to higher education. I learnt so much about Istanbul, its culture, its cuisine and also the historical parts about the role of the Armenian community in the development of Istanbul and the Turkish regime’s denial of their role in the Armenian genocide.
The beautifully penned tale has surprising twists and turns, keeps shifting in time and place and has a touch of magical realism with the sporadic presence of aunt Banu’s talking djinns. This book was incredible and now I look forward to reading more of Elif Shafak’s books.
P.S. I listened to the audio book on audible and the narration by Alix Dunmore made the book all the more interesting.
Title: The Bastard of Istanbul
Originally published: 2006
Author: Elif Shafak
Page count: 368
Publisher: Viking Press
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