Monday, October 05, 2009

Two Cultures

The Bastard of Istanbul

by Elif Shafak

"Literature needs freedom to thrive," she said as she wagged her head. "We didn't have much of that to expand an enlarge Armenian literature, did we?"

- Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul (p. 177)

This is an entertaining novel and a wonderful story of how the cultures of two families become intertwined with their personal relationships.
Elif Shafak has created two fascinating young women, one a Turk living in Istanbul with her Aunts and one an Armenian living in Arizona with her mother and stepfather. Each girl is intelligent and they both enjoy reading although one is obsessed with existentialist authors while the other is immersed in modern literature. It is clear that the author has read Kundera and others, even though her book is sometimes a bit uneven and some of the large cast of characters are mere shadows.
How the girls, Asya and Armanoush, come to know each other and their lives come together as the history of their families unfolds makes this a fascinating story. With the ghosts of the Armenian genocide in the background and other dark ghosts closer to home you are not surprised when one of the "Aunts" consults her jinns for help with the family mysteries. I enjoyed this novel and would recommend it for those interested in Turkish and Armenian culture as it changes in the current world.

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak. Viking Penguin, New York. 2007.

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