The Bastard Of
- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Viking Adult (January 18, 2007)
- Language: English
Life is coincidence, though sometimes it takes a djinni to fathom that.
The word “jinn” literally means anything which has the connotation of concealment, invisibility, seclusion, and remoteness. In pre-Islamic Arabian mythology and in Islamic Culture, a jinni (also “djinni” or “djini”) is a member of the jinn (or “djinn”), generally thought to be a race of supernatural creatures.
In that simple sounding line is captured the essence of the complex web that humans weave that makes up their life. Their history, culture, religion all form an amalgam that make up one’s identity. Their actions can often have a lasting impact on lives, both on those that have faded in to the realms of the past and on lives that have barely lived. These form the basis of Elif Shafak’s novel “The Bastard of Istanbul” a lively and a multihued tale of two families one Turkish the Kazancis and the other the Armenian-American Tchakhmakchians linked together by their pasts. A past that includes the Armenian genocide that a lot of the Turkish nation and people barely acknowledge and even ignore and is something that the Armenian people consider an important part of their history and a grave injustice committed against them.
We get to meet the strong willed, iconoclastic, sassy and independent, Zeliha clad in miniskirts and high heels and runs a tattoo parlor. She is a mother to Asya a 19 year old who is like her mother in a lot of ways yet far removed from her. She refers to Zeliha not as mom but as aunt. Asya is a fan of Johnny Cash and dabbles in existentialism, sneaking off to the Café Kundera (a gathering place for Turkish “intellectuals”) and for trysts with one of the members of her circle at the café while she is supposedly taking ballet lessons. Asya is a bastard, a name that she is first called to by Grandma Gulsum and then by a kid at school, which is when the meaning of the word dawns on her. Asya is complex, multifaceted personality with a family full of women and bereft of men. Asya sees her physical self as a manifestation of the Quranic creature Dabbet-ul Arz, an ogre who takes each of his organs from different animals in nature, she visualizes herself as a disembodied construct of parts inherited from the females of her family.
Asya has three aunts the observant, religious Banu who is now a clairvoyant and also can “speak” to two djinni a good and a bad one. Then there is Cevriye a national history teacher at a private school who is widowed and Feride a hypochondriac whose mind constantly dwells on one imagined impending disaster to the next. There is also their mother Gulsum and grandmother Petite-Ma. As Asya describes it, this is a nuthouse, but one full of rich, strong yet nuanced and memorable female characters. There is no man in this household (they never seem to survive past their 40th birthday). There is the absent son Mustafa living in
Rose has a daughter Armanoush from her previous marriage to Barsam Tchakhmakchian who lives in
The that link these two households share threaten to come to the fore as events transpire that will bring Mustafa (and Rose) to Istanbul.
Will aunt Banu’s clairvoyant abilities to peek in to the past with the help of her djinni be a Faustian pact with the darker elements of the supernatural? What she learns will change lives and reveal truths. But will this make it any easier for those who live with the consequences of their and someone else’s actions? Can one’s past truly be completely shed or walked away from?
I loved the way Shafak captures the spirit of
The part of the book that I did question – Zeliha goes to the doctor’s office to get an abortion and it as she is going under for this procedure that she hears the call of nearby mosques to prayer. An agnostic/atheist she screams, does she have a vision or a message or was it just the rambling of a mind unlocking itself under the fog of sedation? She decides to have the baby instead and leaves the doctor’s office feeling less dispirited. But as one finds out who the father of the baby is, and the circumstances that led to it, I found her decision to carry her baby mystifying, but I guess it ties back to life being all about coincidences and the choices we make at any given time?
Don’t expect neat answers to all your questions at the end of the book but perhaps that is the point of it too. This book is a fascinating look at cultural, gender and national identities and the forces and events that shape them and a look at religious and political currents that continue to shape
Some of you may already be aware of this, the author Elif Shafak was charged under Article 301 the Turkish criminal code (also used in the prosecution of Orhan Pamuk earlier this year). The charges were reportedly based on remarks made by a character of Armenian ancestry in her novel, The Bastard of Istanbul - the character describes the death of Armenians during the first world war as a genocide. link. These charges were subsequently dropped for lack of evidence.
Elif Shafak currently is an Assistant Professor in the Near Eastern Studies Department at the
To quote her from an essay for Time
East and West are often used as if they were mutually exclusive categories—static and eternal. There is, however, one city where you quickly learn to mistrust the two concepts. In
I can’t wait to read her latest “The saint of incipient insanities”.