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The Bastard of Istanbulby Elif Shafak
Synopses & Reviews
From one of Turkey's most acclaimed and outspoken writers, a novel about the tangled histories of two families.
In her second novel written in English, Elif Shafak confronts her country's violent past in a vivid and colorful tale set in both Turkey and the United States. At its center is the "bastard" of the title, Asya, a nineteen-year-old woman who loves Johnny Cash and the French Existentialists, and the four sisters of the Kazanci family who all live together in an extended household in Istanbul: Zehila, the zestful, headstrong youngest sister who runs a tattoo parlor and is Asya's mother; Banu, who has newly discovered herself as a clairvoyant; Cevriye, a widowed high school teacher; and Feride, a hypochondriac obsessed with impending disaster. Their one estranged brother lives in Arizona with his wife and her Armenian daughter, Armanoush. When Armanoush secretly flies to Istanbul in search of her identity, she finds the Kazanci sisters and becomes fast friends with Asya. A secret is uncovered that links the two families and ties them to the 1915 Armenian deportations and massacres. Full of vigorous, unforgettable female characters, The Bastard of Istanbul is a bold, powerful tale that will confirm Shafak as a rising star of international fiction.
"In her second novel written in English (The Saint of Incipient Insanities was the first), Turkish novelist Shafak tackles Turkish national identity and the Armenian 'question' in her signature style. In a novel that overflows with a kitchen sink's worth of zany characters, women are front and center: Asya Kazanci, an angst-ridden 19-year-old Istanbulite is the bastard of the title; her beautiful, rebellious mother, Zeliha (who intended to have an abortion), has raised Asya among three generations of complicated and colorful female relations (including religious clairvoyant Auntie Banu and bar-brawl widow, Auntie Cevriye). The Kazanci men either die young or take a permanent hike like Mustafa, Zeliha's beloved brother who immigrated to America years ago. Mustafa's Armenian-American stepdaughter, Armanoush, who grew up on her family's stories of the 1915 genocide, shows up in Istanbul looking for her roots and for vindication from her new Turkish family. The Kazanci women lament Armanoush's family's suffering, but have no sense of Turkish responsibility for it; Asya's boho cohorts insist there was no genocide at all. As the debate escalates, Mustafa arrives in Istanbul, and a long-hidden secret connecting the histories of the two families is revealed. Shafak was charged with 'public denigration of Turkishness' when the novel was published in Turkey earlier this year (the charges were later dropped). She incorporates a political taboo into an entertaining and insightful ensemble novel, one that posits the universality of family, culture and coincidence." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A noble effort, but the surplus of characters clogs the story's flow, resulting in a narrative hodgepodge." (Grade: B-) Entertainmnet Weekly
"[A] rich and satisfying journey....The Bastard of Istanbul mingles past and present, blending the voices of its many characters in a balance as delicate as any savory dish." Seattle Times
"A beautifully imagined new novel by Elif Shafak....It carried me away. And reality was different when I returned." Chicago Tribune
"Shafak's writing is beautiful and meaningful and will astound you....This is an important book." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Although this book is crowded with characters, its most vivid one is not one of the Kazanci matriarchs but Istanbul itself." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Clearly, the words of 34-year-old Shafak can sting. But her world of make-believe does more to explain the Armenian situation than most; it's a fiction worth reading." Cleveland Plain Delaer
"Despite heavy themes, Shafak is often funny, and her weaving of recipes and folk tales into the text makes it both enlightening and entertaining." Library Journal
"A hugely ambitious exploration of complex historical realities handled with an enchantingly light touch." Kirkus Reviews
Populated with vibrant characters, The Bastard of Istanbul is the story of two families, one Turkish and one Armenian American, and their struggle to forge their unique identities against the backdrop of Turkey's violent history. Filled with humor and understanding, this exuberant, dramatic novel is about memory and forgetting, about the tension between the need to examine the past and the desire to erase it.
About the Author
Elif Shafak’s books include the novels The Bastard of Istanbul and The Forty Rules of Love and the memoir Black Milk, and her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She has appeared on NPR, and the BBC, and at the TED conference. She lives in London and Istanbul.
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