Thumbs up for The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak. Literature.
After enjoying Shafak’s TED Talk, I picked up Bastard of Istanbul when it came into my bookstore, and started to read it under my standing assumption that I would sample it and put it down – something I do with dozens of books a week. Couldn’t put it down. Oops. The story takes place largely within a family of Turkish women, particularly focusing on the youngest, Asya, and her Armenian-American relative-by-marriage, Armanoush, who visits Istanbul as she searches to understand her the history of her own family, victims of the Turkish genocide of the Armenians in 1915. There’s a bit of everything in here: family saga, food, history, Johnny Cash, philosophical questioning, buried secrets, affectionate satire, and magical realism. I found myself thinking of Shafak as a lighter-weight, Turkish, female Marquez and then laughed out loud when Armanoush writes to an online friend: “I feel like I am in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel.” Honey, I think you are. And it’s a delight.
Generation after generation, as if complying with an unwritten rule, the men in the Kazancı family tree had died young. The greatest age any had reached in the current generation was forty-one. Determined not to repeat the pattern, another great-uncle had taken utmost care to lead a healthy life, strictly refraining from overeating, sex with prostitutes, contacts with hooligans, alcohol and other sorts of intoxicants, and had ended up crushed by a concrete chunk falling from a construction site he happened to pass by. Then there was Celal, a distant cousin, who was the love of Cevriye’s life and the husband she lost in a brawl. For reasons still unclear, Celal had been sentenced to two years on charges of bribery. During this time Celal’s presence in the family had been confined to the infrequent letters he had been sending from jail, so vague and distant that when the news of his death arrived, for everyone other than his wife, it had felt like losing a third arm, one that you never had. He departed this life in a fight, not by a blow or a punch, but by stepping on a high-voltage electricity cable while trying to find a better spot to watch two other prisoners exchange blows. After losing the love of her life, Cevriye sold their house and joined the Kazancı domicile as a humorless history teacher with a Spartan sense of discipline and self-control. Just as she waged battle against plagiarism at school, she took it upon herself to crusade against impulsiveness, disruption, and spontaneity at home.
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