Friday, 10 January 2014

Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

Reviewer: Catriona Troth, author of Ghost Town

What We Thought: Having heard Elif Shafak speak eloquently at the London Book Fair, both about literature in translation and about the political situation in her native Turkey, I was sure this was a book I was going to enjoy. What I hadn’t expected was that I would find it so funny.

Asya is a young Turkish woman living in Istanbul. Armanoush is an Armenian woman from San Francisco. Both come from large families dominated by eccentric women. When Armanoush decides to explore her exiled family’s history in Turkey, who else would she stay with in Istanbul but the family of her stepfather, Asya’s uncle?

The unexpected friendship between the two women leads both to confront and question what really happened during the early years of the Turkish republic, when so many Armenians fled the country. And then it begins to unravel some very personal family secrets indeed.

Shafak wrote The Bastard of Istanbul in English, but the book plays with Turkish and Armenian phrases, sayings and stories, using language to immerse the reader effortlessly in a different culture. She constantly challenges the assumptions of both women, showing at the same time how deeply divided the two cultures are – and how closely intertwined.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Like: Ann Tyler, Kamila Shamsie, Amy Tam

Avoid If You Don’t Like: Literature in translation, casts of eccentric female characters, having your cultural assumptions challenged

Ideal Accompaniments: hummus, baba ghanous, churek

Genre: Literary Fiction from outside the Anglo-American tradition

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