Two extended families, one Turkish living in Istanbul, the other in San Francisco, part of the Armenian diaspora. Through the interactions among and between them, we trace the tragic patterns of blame, denial, suppression of memory that have characterized relations between the two peoples since the massacres and deportations suffered by the Armenians at Turkish hands in the early months of 1915...the author seems sometimes to muffle up or undermine her own meanings is compounded with regret by the fact that a lot of the time the writing is very good, eloquent, bold, full of shrewd insights, with veins of satire and poetry and fantasy running through it, and turns of phrase that are witty and aphoristic... The narrative mode most resembles that of a storyteller in the oral tradition, leisurely and digressive and entirely arbitrary, moving from the horrors of the past to the pathologies of the present, through four generations...no reconciliation without justice. Elif Shafak's novel brings the possibility of it a step closer, and we are all in her debt for this.
The bond between Turks and Armenians, and the tangled dance of victimizer and victim, is actually the subject of The Bastard of Istanbul ... Two young women, one Turkish and one Armenian, one living in Turkey and the other in the United States, find themselves inextricably drawn together by history and family — two unique motors of remembrance that share more in common than might be clear at a glance ...details the process of two families, and two pasts, drawing closer together, with the sins of the family standing in for the collective sins of a country... Shafak is incapable of bringing harmony to such unsettled matters, even in the pages of a fictional narrative. All she can do, and does, is shine a light on the past, and keep it shining so that everyone — Turkish, Armenian, and otherwise — must look.
Asya Kazanci, the title character in The Bastard of Istanbul, is 19, headstrong, and sick of her family ... Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian lives in Arizona and San Francisco. She's 21, headstrong, and sick of her family ... Asya and Armanoush have something else in common besides difficult families and angst: a family member ... And when Armanoush has had enough — of her mother, of her father's family, and of not knowing who she is — she decides she needs to get away. And she needs to know what it means to be Armenian. And to do that she needs to go to Istanbul, where her family lived before the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Turks ...a great novel for female characters — even the ones who make the briefest appearances are rounded and whole. Reading the passages about them leaves you with the sense of having eavesdropped on real people in their homes ...a novel about Istanbul, about loving a place until its rhythms, smells, and colors are under your skin.
At its heart, The Bastard of Istanbul examines the difference between leaving and staying, or how the history of a place changes when people choose to leave it, choose to stay or are forced away ... Through an artfully cast, intertangled web of characters, Elif Shafak shows how Armenians abroad remember the Armenian genocide in what is now modern-day Turkey compared to those generations that remained behind...two Turkish families become crazily combined in present and past in a plot that is increasingly harder to follow... Shafak's characters freely acknowledge and discuss the 1915 Armenian genocide in the final years of the Ottoman Empire, a holocaust that Turks still strongly and officially deny ...the novel's story is connected by literature — folk stories, existential philosophy, Milan Kundera, Johnny Cash ... Shafak's writing is beautiful and meaningful and will astound you as you find the many ways to claim the story as, also, your own.
...a story that extends beyond its pages into startling real-life news ...this tale of two families: one Turkish, one Armenian-American. By itself, The Bastard of Istanbul is a rich and satisfying journey...it's a vital reminder of history's hold on us, of how the past can still control the present ... It's mostly a story of women, with an all-female Istanbul family at its center. The Kazancis are four generations living in one house, including free-spirited Zehila, whom we first meet on her way to an Istanbul abortion clinic, and teenage Asya, the American-music-loving daughter who shares Zehila's rebellious streak ... To the household comes a visitor: Armanoush... She bonds with Asya, and both learn unexpected truths about their families. The past is confronted but never discarded; it flavors their lives, both sweet and bitter ... Shafak's prose is rife with telling detail... Ultimately, the story belongs to Armanoush, a book-loving young woman determined to write the missing lines in her own narrative, despite her family's concerns.
This is a cluttered carpetbag of a novel, crammed with characters and themes, not unlike Istanbul itself. But what might be invigorating in a city can, in a novel, be a bit bewildering ... In the first five chapters, rather like Robert Altman in Short Cuts, Shafak presents a series of disconnected scenes and characters that may, possibly, we hope, eventually cohere ...the two central figures, 19-year-old cousins Asya and Armanoush, one Turkish, one Armenian-American, finally meet in Istanbul and start talking about memory, identity, the wilful ignorance of the Turks of the massacres of Armenians in 1915, and whether the past can be shaken off...The trouble is that these poor girls are often overwhelmed by the book's political intent ... The magical realist descriptions of Istanbul and Asya's home are powerful: these are places where djinns comfortably coexist with the Turkish version of The Apprentice ...there's no doubt that the book is clever, thick with ideas and themes and politics ...unquestionably an ambitious book, exuberant and teeming. But, perhaps because of the sometimes florid writing, reading it feels like holding a sack from which 20 very angry cats are fighting to escape.
Any review of Elif Shafak's latest novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, is sure to mention the surrounding controversy ...because of what her fictional characters say about the massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, a tragedy not officially recognized by the Turkish government ... Shafak's prose, although sometimes heavy-handed, conveys the spirit of both young women and the city that connects them ... The violence against the Armenians is addressed with respect and without being preachy ...nicely blends realism with a touch of the supernatural and mystical for an enjoyable and subtly thought-provoking read. She evokes the sights, sounds, smells and especially the tastes of Istanbul; her portrait of the city is at once romantic and brutally honest ...an interesting book from a young novelist who already has made her mark in world literature.
Shafak, whom the Turkish government has put on trial for 'denigrating Turkishness,' writes here about the 1915 massacre of Armenians. The four Kazanci sisters live together with their mother and paternal grandmother in Istanbul, their bother Mustafa having been sent to Arizona as a young man to avoid the Kazanci curse: The men of the family tend to die by age 41 ...Aysa grows up in this household of women ... Defensive about her lack of a father, Aysa takes an existential view of life that denies the importance of the past. Meanwhile in America, Armanoush is born to an Armenian father and American mother ... Armanoush spends large chunks of her childhood with her father’s loving Armenian family, which clings to history and long simmering bitterness against the Turks ... She stays with the Kazancis, who are astounded when she tells them what Turks did to Armenians ... As Asya and Armanoush become friends, myths — ethnic, familial and personal — explode. Despite a misstep into melodrama concerning Mustafa, Shafak handles her large cast of characters and plotting with finesse ... A hugely ambitious exploration of complex historical realities handled with an enchantingly light touch.
In her second novel written in English (The Saint of Incipient Insanities was the first), Turkish novelist Shafak tackles Turkish national identity and the Armenian "question" in her signature style ...women are front and center: Asya Kazanci, an angst-ridden 19-year-old Istanbulite is the bastard of the title; her beautiful, rebellious mother, Zeliha (who intended to have an abortion), has raised Asya among three generations of complicated and colorful female relations...Armenian-American stepdaughter, Armanoush, who grew up on her family's stories of the 1915 genocide, shows up in Istanbul looking for her roots and for vindication from her new Turkish family ...a long-hidden secret connecting the histories of the two families is revealed ... She incorporates a political taboo into an entertaining and insightful ensemble novel, one that posits the universality of family, culture and coincidence.