Number of Pages: 357

1st Published in the USA by Viking Penguin, 2007

Genre: Fiction

Personal Rating: 8/10

Elif Shafak’s words glide effortlessly on the pages of the books she has authored. It’s no different with the Bastard of Istanbul. Shafak happens to be one of my favorite authors so I expected a treat with this book and I was not wrong.

The Bastard of Istanbul follows the lives of 2 families; The Turkish, Kazancis, and the Armenian-American, Tchakhmakhchians. Both families are very similar in their household set up.

The book begins with the rebel, Zeliha Kazanci, trying to procure an abortion at a clinic in Istanbul. Here, Turkish sentiments regarding the subject of abortion are quickly brought to the fore. As fate would have it, the abortion does not take place and fast forward to 19 years later, we have Asya Kazanci, the product, in the Kazanci household. Like her mother, she is headstrong and rebellious and at the same time, carries a burden in her heart; she has never known who her father is.

Across oceans and continents, we encounter 21 year old avid reader, Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian, who is half Armenian on her father’s side and half white American on her mother’s side. The Armenians have never forgotten the atrocities committed against them by the Turkish in the period during WWI. And so through close interaction with her Armenian side of the family, Armanoush has always been aware of this. Ironically, after her split from Armanoush’s father when her daughter was still a baby, Rose ended up with a Turkish man for a husband, Mustafa Kazanci, an uncle to Asya.

In Istanbul, Asya tries to make sense of her existence as a fatherless, young woman, caught between the traditional Turkish and the Western way of living. Shuttling frequently between San Francisco and Arizona where each side of her family lives, Armanoush is eager to trace her grandmother Shushan’s past as an orphaned Armenian in Istanbul. Ultimately, Armanoush ends up in the Kazanci household as a guest.

Since I am trying my best to avoid giving any more spoilers, I will jump right into what were the highlights in this book for me. Shafak cleverly uses the names of spices, fruits and cereals for each chapter and as you read a chapter, you are bound to come across that particular name somewhere in it. The Bastard of Istanbul is also like a journey through Turkish and Armenian cuisine complete with a full recipe for the Turkish ashure at some point.

In usual Shafak’s writing style, the book is not fast paced. It unfolds gradually as if you are peeling back layers and layers of clothing and may feel a bit too slow in some parts. However, as you approach the end, it finally dawns on the reader who Asya’s father really is and how much more the Kazancis are connected to the Tchakhmakhchians.

There are interesting characters in the Kazanci household of note being the 4 sisters, Banu, Cevriye, Feride and Zeliha plus grandmother Gulsum and great-grandmother, Petite-Ma which makes for an exciting read. Worth mentioning is that the Kazanci house is made up of purely women, save for Mustafa, who has been abroad for many years, and this is considered a curse of sorts, in the family.

I could go on and on about this book but if you are looking for a superb, literary style in a novel, this is it!

As reviewed by Lorna Likiza.