Review: The Bastard of Istanbul

Review: The Bastard of Istanbul

The Bastard of Istanbul
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Opening Sentence: Whatever falls from the sky above, thou shalt not curse it

I shouldn’t put off writing reviews for so long because I lose all my carefully arranged thoughts and observations accumulated while reading the book. But what I do remember clearly is that this was such a colorful book. I felt nostalgic for a place I’ve never been. It is a wonderful tale of women from different parts of the world and different beliefs and cultures and how their lives are interwoven together.
First let me talk about the writing. It was so poetic and beautiful that it was almost as if I was reading verses. A certain term used in the telling of tales which I really took to, was the term “Once there was, once there wasn’t,…” I am unaware if this term is culturally used or coined by the author herself but I found it very endearing and perfect for the beginning of tales.
The whole story flowed at a very natural pace and each different individual person’s perspective was represented, in my opinion, credibly and realistically.The story is about women of very different perspectives and experiences and feelings, and how this influences their personalities and choices in life. There was a lot of truth to the judgmental view women are prone to take of one another while disregarding that there are multiple sides to every story. The concept that there was no attempt made to change this trait and it was accepted as the norm also rang highly true. The descriptions of Istanbul were bright and tasteful. Tasteful in more ways than one because the book has a great deal of food in it which I more than love reading about.
Secondly, the format of the story. I took a liking to how each chapter was named after a food item that would essentially be integral to the chapter in some way. Food was an important aspect of this book which of course I highly appreciated. It added to the experience of reading a book about Istanbul because food is one of the major representations of any land and culture. There is even an entire recipe, complete with ingredient and garnish list, for a desert named ashure in a chapter named ‘Golden Raisins’. What better way to throw a person into a cultural experience?
This sentiment is in fact voiced by one of the characters when she think to herself:
This city was a jumble of aromas, some of them strong and rancid, others sweet and stimulating. Almost every smell made Armanoush recall some sort of food, so much so that she had started to perceive Istanbul as something edible”
I couldn’t agree more. Even through the pages of a book, Shafak made me feel the same.

Thirdly I want to mention interesting aspects of the book that really struck my fancy. One of which was that story telling was clearly a big part of the novel, yet I found it interesting that none of the stories were ever finished or fully told. It leaves me wondering.
Another interesting thing that was represented was the inner monologue of Zeliha and her daughter Asya, both of which are philosophical in their own way, and how their thoughts arrange themselves into Rules and Manifesto Articles.
In the beginning when we’re introduced to the character of Zeliha we find her listing Rules of Prudence for Instanbulite Women which is not the same and yet similar to the Personal Manifesto of Nihilism we find being dictated inside the head of her daughter Asya later on in the book. An example of which is:
Article One: If you cannot find a reason to love the life you are living, do not pretend to love the life you are living.
All in all the proposed names of articles make an intriguing enough outline for me to actually wish she’d write one that I could read.

Here are my humble peeves with the book, first is that the political conflict between Turks and Armenians which was a huge theme of the story and yet not completely elaborated or explained well enough to reach a resolution for my taste.
Secondly the Islamic concepts in the book were distorted and not always accurate. In some parts of the story the concept of religion is non-existent or free thinking and in the more religious aspects it was frustratingly inaccurate and morphed to the point of almost being blasphemous. The concept of a religious person easily being able to capture a djinn and then hold it prisoner to do their bidding is represented so casually as if it’s within any person’s reach to do so if they’re just religious enough. When in fact, in true Islamic terms, the very act of communicating with one would in fact be a sin. One of the many examples of misrepresentations that bases it’s beliefs of Islam not on fact but folklore and religious myths. Perhaps more research into the matter of religion, which is in fact a sensitive issue, would have served the story better. But if you take it all with a grain of salt and take not a lot of it seriously, the book is quite the gem. It surprised me and delighted me enough to tell myself to make more chances on writers I am not familiar with and genres I don’t usually pick up. Elif Shafak is one writer who I will look forward to reading more from.

Favorite Lines:
1. That was one thing about the rain that likened it to sorrow: You did your best to remain untouched, safe and dry, but if and when you failed, there came a point in which you started seeing the problem less in terms of drops than as an incessant gush, and thereby you decide you might as well get drenched. (pg. 2)
2. The path of fiction could easily mislead you into the cosmos of stories where everything was fluid, quixotic, and as open to surprises as a moonless night in the desert. (pg. 96)
3. Imagination was dangerously captivating magic for those compelled to be realistic in real life, and words could be poisonous for those destined to always be silenced. (pg. 97)
4. Man is born free but everywhere is in chains. in reality, the difference is that the savage lives within himself while social man lives outside himself and can only live in the opinion of others, so that he seems to receive the feeling of his own existence only from the judgement of others concerning him. (pg. 235)

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