The Bastard of Istanbul

Bastard of Istanbul.JPG

Once there was; once there wasn’t.
God’s creatures were as plentiful as grains
And talking too much was a sin . . .

Last night I finally finished the Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak which was a gift from Neska and Berga. The author attempts to create a hip novel that confronts the Armenians in the diaspora with a contemporary Turkey that ignores and denies the existence of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. In doing so, Shafak tells the parallel stories of two families, a Turkish and an Armenian American one, whose histories are intertwined without their knowledge. Although the story is definitely enjoyable, it ultimately fails as Shafak is too ambitious in the various substories and techniques shes uses to get her points across about the dangers of negating one’s history. For example, I understand her use of food as a way to unite and show the similar cultural heritage of the Turkish and the Armenian people, but at times it is trite, overused and cliche. Other times, she resorts to magical realism, fairy tales, and other story twists that I do not believe are necessary (although I will not reveal them as to avoid giving the story away). As a result, the story loses steam as it comes to its over-dramatic end.

Shafak faced criminal charges by the Turkish government for statements made by her Armenian characters for “denigrating Turkishness”. Maybe I am just not familiar enough with the whole debate, but I didn’t find anything about the story overally denigrating. Perhaps she had to be less so in order to reach the Turkish public. Overall, though, I recommend The Bastard of Istanbul a good introduction into contemporary Turkey and the Armenian Genocide and a good read.

. . . for you could tell what you shouldn’t remember
and you could remember what you shouldn’t tell.

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Filed under Essays, Literature

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