Wednesday, 8 October 2014

BOOK REVIEW : The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafaq



ESCAPIST: A term often used to describe me, as I am always with my head deep down in a book and that too mostly fiction. In my defence, I will quote my friend, another so-called Escapist. He said, " Because I read fiction  I am able to understand and grasp reality better because of my mind's duality to relate to both imagination and reality with equal ease!!". How I wish everyone felt the same and would never criticize me for my books.
I agree that  my books help me to escape into another world altogether, but, the point is that it may not always be a paradise or a fantasy land where I take shelter. There are books which make you sit straight and push you to look deep inside you, to face your demons and even guide to slay them!!
Then there are some that question your beliefs and makes you step out of your comfort zone and face the bigger truth!!
Elif Shafaq's "The Bastard of Istanbul" is one such book.

I happened to chance upon this book in a local book shop and the synopsis was so intriguing,
that I had to buy the book.

Shafaq has written a beautiful story about the complexities of  the human nature in the backdrop of the mesmerising city of Istanbul and it's history, which is in turn fascinating,fearsome, tragic and heroic. A history which is very rich and vibrant yet tainted by the horrific Armenian Genocide in the year 1915 under the Ottoman regime( the Turkish government till date does not acknowledge it as genocide but terms it as a consequence of the civil unrest which claimed many lives, both on the Armenian side as well as the Turkish side).

This story revolves around the Kazanci family who has been living in Istanbul since many generations. Due to a mysterious family curse, all the Kazanci men die in their early forties, so the Kazanci household is a house of women. Four generations of women live together under the same roof, with temperaments, religious affinity, nature and  way of living, so different from one another, that it's almost like a miracle to see them all living together in harmony, albeit unsyncronised and imperfect!! Asya,a young girl, 4th generation Kazanci woman, is a bag of contradictions, a rebel but with her heart in the right place. On the other hand is Armanoush, half Armenian and half American born and brought up in America but always finds herself on the threshold and feels that there is a link missing which stops her from being a part of either the American or the Armenian culture fully. She decided to go to Istanbul in search of that missing link and goes to stay with her far-away cousins, the Kazancis. The two girls meet, saddled with pre-conceived notions about each other's religion and community. However over the days they get to understand each other's perspective, helping them to view the past in a new light, thus bringing the girls closer.

What I really liked about this book is the honest and non judgemental portrayal of a country and it's varied people. Shafaq has written on a subject close to  her heart and has tried her level best to keep the story as real as possible without taking sides  or indulging in any blame-game pertaining to Turkey's turbulent past.

Another thing that really appealed to me is the beautiful description of Istanbul. I actually got to visualise its streets, it's market, the beautiful houses, the weather, the pungent whiff of the sea through Shafaq's passionate writing.

Shafaq has written in her acknowledgment( at the end of the book) that she was put on trial for " denigrating Turkishness" under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, because of some words spoken by the Armenian characters in this novel. The charges were eventually dropped. I am in awe of such authors who stand for the truth and  not hesitate to stand up against all odds for what they righteously believe in. May their tribe increase!!

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