Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

"Family stories intermingle in such ways that what happened generations ago can have an impact on seemingly irrelevant developments of the present day. The past is anything but bygone." The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak is a fast-paced marvel. It tells the story of two young women, Asya and Armanoush, one the daughter of a Turkish family in Istanbul, the other the daughter of an Armenian American family in San Francisco and Arizona. Although they don’t even know of the other’s existence until midway through the novel, the reader can sense their lives and family histories circling and coming together, and eventually they do. Gradually, family secrets are revealed but, more to the significance of the book, the brutal treatment of the Armenians at the hands of the Turks must be recognized. That past is also not bygone, even if none of the perpetrators or victims now is alive. What happened generations ago can still have an impact on the present day. It is this frankness that landed the author in jail, and it is something that we Americans should consider as well.

Elif Shafak is a wonderful writer who brings to mind Salman Rushdie, not only for the marvelous construction of sentences and interweaving of plot elements and cultures, but also for the unexpected magical elements that intrude on life. Here, one of the “aunties” in Asya’s household in Istanbul communes with two djinns, who are the instrument of revealed secrets, not only to her but to the reader.

This is one of the best books I’ve read in years.

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