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patfrench

Stop Making Sense

I read anything that's nailed down, or even just moving slowly. Cereal boxes, candy wrappers, all genres, etc., and I don't always have much time for arbitrary distinctions like literary fiction vs. genre fiction.

SPOILER ALERT!
The Bastard of Istanbul - Elif Shafak

The best books have a balance between language and story, between atmosphere and plot. This one came down a little too much on the side of language/atmosphere for me, for a book that's about "...a secret connection linking (two families) to a violent event in the history of their homeland." I kept thinking, "yes, yes, it's all beautiful/poignant/horrifying, but let's get on with it!" The secret is revealed on page 353 of 357, for those keeping score at home.  

 

The title refers to Asya, the daughter in a house full of women--her mother, her three aunts, and her grandmother. But this isn't really Asya's story. It's not really the story of anyone in that house, either. It's the story of <spoiler>her great-grandmother, </spoiler>Shushan, an elderly Armenian woman living in San Francisco, but you don't know that until the last two pages, and we never get to hear Shusan's own voice tell her story! In the meantime, the book skips forward and backward in time from Istanbul to San Francisco to Arizona in showing the consequences of Shusan's life and choices, down to the most recent generations.

 

The book's main strength, besides the language, is illustrating the history between Armenia and Turkey, a subject I'm grateful to learn more about, as well as the cultural aspects of both. Very well done.

 

The other main weakness concerns a way-too-overused trope <spoiler>, the rape of a character to drive the plot.</spoiler> It's unbelievably lazy, especially when used by a woman! The fact that it also involves <spoiler>incest</spoiler> makes it even worse, although I do understand why Shafak chose that scenario. 

 

I'd recommend this book for people interested in Armenian and/or Turkish history, and students of literary fiction.