The Bastard of Istanbul

‘Why does the world hate women?’ was the first question I asked myself after I finished this book. The book is filled with umpteen women characters, each one living complex labyrinthine lives than the previous. I picked this novel because I became a fan of Elif Shafak after The Forty Rules of love. Although, I have to admit that this one was no where close to the literary marvel which forty rules was. That book swept me off my feet and I remember I endorsed it to every second person who asked me for a book recommendation.

Anyways. So, as I was saying, I finished this book with a visible contentment on my face. Why?

A. Because I managed to finish it earlier than I anticipated. And,

B. Because I somehow liked the ‘happy ending‘.

I don’t like a happy ending- nobody ever said that.

It was the cover which entrapped me. And the title even more.

THE BASTARD OF ISTANBUL. Did you hear yourself when you read that?

Istanbul- the country with layers of history amalgamated with beautiful mosques, mosaic minarets and sky-tapering obelisks. And a story about a person whom they decided to call ‘Bastard’.

No. I couldn’t resist not-reading it before ‘Fantastic Beasts and where to find them‘. Sorry, Harry!

The book opens with the rebellious 19-year old (soon-to-be-mother) Zeliha going for an abortion- the staunch woman who defies dictatorship of veil. She wears short skirts and high boots; walks into the Istanbul market attracting unwanted stares and comments but stays unnerved because she is the angry stubborn face of modern woman who refuses to get mowed down by ‘girls-should-dress-sensibly‘.

Interestingly, at the same time she is scared- of herself, of the society, of getting mobbed and abused by the brawny men.

She lovingly yet unknowingly passed down all of these traits in her BASTARD daughter Asya Kazanci(bastard, because she was born out of wedlock). She enters into the story sooner than I guessed but I realized it later why it happened the way it happened.

Raised among five Kazanci women (one mother, three aunts and one grandma), I loved the way Asya explains how she ended up calling her mom as her aunt. Eternally exiled from deadly family secrets, she becomes the same warrior rebel as her mother.

The Armenian-Turk turf is intimidating. With my shallow knowledge in world history, I could only feel remorse at the genocidal reports of the 19th century incidents. But then, isn’t it everywhere- the cynic misanthropist human?

The story takes an interesting turn when somewhere in the middle of Arizona desert, a young divorced woman enters the chapters with her little young lady- Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian. A very interesting surname, yes! She has an Armenian father and by virtue of that remembers (and adores) Armenian-Turkish dish names. Hit by identity crisis and caught in the mournful history of Armenian killings by Turks, she decides to discover her roots by visiting her step-father’s home in Istanbul which- yes you guessed it right– is the house of Kazanci sisters.

The palpable secret of Asya’s father is revealed somewhere towards the end of the book which is both heart-wrenching and violent. I just wish with all my heart that this was a work of pure fiction.

Elif has succeeded in carving out beautiful character sketches. My personal favorite- Zeliha Kazanci. Zeliha, for whom defiance is existence. Her love for tea sets is captivating. And her ‘Rules of Prudence for an Istanbulite women‘ have the right mix of satire and scorn.

You know what is the difference between a writer and an intelligent writer? An intelligent writer leaves you with hints and thoughts to ponder over. I was beginning to feel overly crowded with Turkish cuisine names and ashure, a very famous sweet dish which was mentioned 20 times (exaggerated number!) within four chapters.

And she touched the heights of digressing when she spent a full page writing out the recipe of ashure. ‘Please stop it! Please don’t make me dislike you.’ I heard myself. However, only after finishing the book I realized why it happened the way it happened. The chapter names, you will notice, match to the ingredients she specified in the making of ashure.

She was cooking an ‘ashure‘ for us all the way.

The book was a ‘mild-to-medium‘ page turner, declining the sanity of metaphorical phrase ‘don’t-judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover‘ and I am glad I parted ways with my money to buy this one.

Just glad, not gleeful. 3/5 which means. 🙂

6 thoughts on “The Bastard of Istanbul

  1. Your words unencumber the shroud of pathos, the title of this book may invoke in the minds of people who aren’t in the know of it. It’s a mature write-up : unbiased and structured. By the time I had finished reading it, the images of the Kazanci’s world sketched in the book had taken a form in my mind. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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