The Bastard Of Istanbul
Author: Elif Şafak
Rating: 5 out of 5
This book had been sitting on my bookshelf for quite some time. I remember buying it for it’s beautiful cover and the Istanbul setting. It took me at least 60 pages to really get into the book but once I was there it was impossible to put down. This is not one of those edge of the seat thrilling novels, but it does grow on you and you just cannot let go of the characters. You want to know more about their mundane lives.
Asya is the bastard of Istanbul, daughter of a woman named Zeliha who lives in a household full of her sisters and her mother. Asya grows up with woman surrounding her, all these aunties, each one more eccentric than the other.
“It is so demanding to be born into a house full of women, where everyone loves you so overwhelmingly that they end up suffocating with their love; a house where you, as the only child, have to be more mature than all the adults around….
But the problem is that they want me to become everything they themselves couldn’t accomplish in life…..
As a result, I had to work my butt off to fulfill all their dreams at the same time.”
Asya is restless, rebellious, lost, drifting along, searching for her own identity. Each woman in the family has her own demons and is dealing with it in her own way. Enter Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian, an Armenian-American, also confused with her identity. She doesn’t know how she should feel about the Armenian Genocide by the Turks. Her stepfather is a Turk and a decent man, she struggles with feeling angry over the genocide, unlike her fellow Armenian-Americans. She decides to go to Istanbul to her step father’s family and discover for herself what her identity and her feelings about the whole thing are.
The book handles the conflict between Armenians and the Turks over the genocide very sensitively. It doesn’t take sides, but it also doesn’t gloss over what happened.
Every character in this book is flawed, whether it’s the seemingly brave, rebellious Zeliha or the always angry teenager Asya. Everybody is unique in their own way and the way they cope with their problems and their past. There is also this mystery of who Asya’s father is which I didn’t particularly care about; all I wanted to do was sit with these women in their home and have tea with them.
The author captured the atmosphere so perfectly, I felt like I was there: walking with Zeliha trudging through the rain on the cobbled streets and getting annoyed at the honking drivers, or with the self-proclaimed clairvoyant Banu talking to her jinn’s. I loved it so much I never wanted to leave. I’m not someone who enjoys slow reads, but this one grabbed me till the end. Needless to say, I will be reading her other novels as well.