THE BASTARD OF ISTANBUL by Elif Shafak
Publisher Viking/Penguin, January 22, 2007
In THE BASTARD OF ISTANBUL, Turkish author Elif Shafak confronts her country’s violent past in a vivid and colorful tale about the tangled history of two families – one Turkish and one Armenian American.
Asya is a nineteen year old woman who loves Johnny Cash and the French existentialists. She lives in an extended household in Istanbul, where she has been raised, with no father in sight, by her mother, the beautiful and irreverent Zehila Kazanci, and by Zehila’s three older sisters: Banu, a devout woman who has rediscovered herself as a clairvoyant; Cevriye, a prim, widowed high school teacher; and Feride, a hypochondriac obsessed with impending disaster. Their lone brother, Mustapha, left Turkey many years earlier and now lives in Tucson with an American woman named Rose, who has one daughter from a previous marriage to an Armenian man. This daughter, Armanoush, is nineteen and splits her time between Tucson and San Francisco, where her father’s family lives.
As an Armenian living in America, Armanoush feels that part of her identity is missing and that she must make a journey back to the past, to Turkey, in order to start living her life. She secretly flies to Istanbul, finds the Kazanci sisters, and becomes fast friends with Asya. A secret is eventually uncovered that links the two families together and ties them to the 1915 Armenian deportations and massacres.
An exuberant, dramatic novel that features vigorous, unforgettable female characters, The Bastard of Istanbul explores issues of gender and cultural identity as well as addressing contemporary political and religious topics in Turkey. When this novel was published in Turkey, Shafak was accused by nationalistic lawyers of insulting Turkish identity. The charges were later dropped, and now readers in America can discover for themselves this bold and powerful tale, one that confirms its author as a rising star of fiction.
“The characters in The Bastard of Istanbul are so alive they leap off the page to sit beside you on the couch. What women! Brave ones, silly ones, intellectuals and dopes. Whether they are in Istanbul or San Francisco, they’re your neighbors. This is the rare family saga (blessedly without schmaltz) that understands the value of both modernity and tradition. I loved the wry humor and the social observations, as well as the author putting the personal lives of her people in a larger political tableau. Elif Shafak has created a world that enlarges our understanding of our own.”
-- Susan Isaacs, author of Shining Through and Anyplace I Hang My Hat
“Mixing humor and tragedy as effortlessly as her two unforgettable families blend and jumble up the many layers of their identity, Elif Shafak offers up an extravagant tale of Istanbul and Arizona, food and remorse, mysticism and tattoos, human comedy and, yes, genocide. Quite an exceptional literary feast.”
-- Ariel Dorfman, author of Widows and Death and the Maiden