I picked up this book at the airport on my way back to school last year. I was going to get ‘Bastard of Istanbul’ by the same author but the summary at the back of the book caught my attention, it was literally calling my name, so I bought it instead.
Elif Şafak is the first Turkish author whose work I’ve read but if this is how they all write then best believe she won’t be my last ( I’ve got my eyes on a Orhan Parmuk too) and I was excited to read it because i felt I’d relate or understand the book a bit better since Cyprus ( actually, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) has been my 2nd home for close to five years now.
Enough back story, let’s get into the review
The book is set up In Istanbul and England ( specifically Oxford University ) and takes us through the rather interesting life of Peri from the 1980s to the current day 2016
Nazperi Nalbantoğlu, fondly called ‘Peri’ was brought up in what I wouldn’t peg a loving Turkish family of five: Mother, Father and two older brothers. She was torn between a ‘secularist’ father, Mensur and a ‘fundamentalist’ mother, Selma and hence learnt to keep most of her feelings to herself.
They were as incompatible as tavern and mosque. The frowns that descended on their brows, the stiffness that infused their voices, identified them not as a couple in love, but as opponents in a game of chess.
Their marriage had been so deeply woven with mutual resentment that they no longer needed a reason to feel wronged and frustrated. Even at that young age, Peri sensed that love was not and probably never had been, the reason why her parents were together.
-Peri on her parents relationship
The novel started with 35 year old Peri, now a wealthy housewife and mother, far from what her younger self imagined she’d be in the future, on her way to an influential dinner with the first of her three children when she gets robbed in Istanbul traffic. The events that followed caused her to discover something new about herself and along with that, brought loads of memories rushing from her days in Oxford with her friends: Mona and Shirin and her Notorious Lecturer, Professor Azur.
Told in 4 parts, alternating between the past ( 1980s to 2000s ) and the present ( 2016), the novel explores concepts like religion, rape culture, God, belief, feminism, sex, self realisation, identity, politics (with emphasis on the Middle East) and so on.
…… for there was no words in this culture to describe marital rape. It happened all the time. Canopied under a mantle of secrecy and silence that shamed the victims and shielded the assailants, Istanbul was no stranger to sexual abuse. In this city where everyone feared outsiders, most assaults came from those who were too familiar, too close.
-Present day Peri on the rape culture in Istanbul
The ‘three daughters of eve’ are Shirin, Mona and Peri referred to as ‘the sinner, the believer, the confused’ respectively. A psychic also described them as ‘She saw evil, she heard evil and she did evil’ although I’m not sure who’s who. They all took a class with professor Azur called ‘God’ but at different times.
You say our life is only one of many possible lives we could have led…..and you tell us our idea of God is one of many. So what is the point of being dogmatic about God – whether we are theists or atheists?
But you have to know there are many in this world, like my mother…whose sense of security comes from their faith. There are convinced that there is only one interpretation of God: their own. These people already have enough to deal with, and you want to take away their only protection: their certainty. My mother… I mean sometimes I look at her and I see so much sorrow, I can sense she would have gone crazy without her faith to hold on to.
-Peri to Professor Azur about God and faith.
Peri began her quarrel with God at a young age of seven when her eldest brother Umut was imprisoned. She had so much thoughts and questions about God that her father decided to give her ‘A God diary’ in which she could erase previous writing for new ‘dark thoughts’. She also had a ‘baby in the mist’ who she saw every once in a while. She found solace in literature in the midst of everything going on in her household
Peri arrived at Oxford in 2000 with her parents and on the same day, she met Shirin. Shirin is an Iranian girl with a very strong intimidating personality who considers herself a wanderer and doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere in terms of religion. She met her other friend Mona during Freshers week as she tried to warn Shirin to stay away from a ‘fresher-fishing’ guy. Mona is a covered Egyptian-American and describes herself as a Muslim Feminist.
The three girls moved in together at the beginning of their 2nd year and began arguing severally about Identity, Islam and feminism. Mona and Shirin were firmly on opposite sites but Peri was stuck somewhere in between earning her the description of ‘the confused’. During this time, the class with Professor Azur also made Peri realize things and a big scandal occurred.
As most of the novels I read, politics was discussed at length and a significant one was during the September 11 terrorist attack at the twin towers. I love it when politics is incorporated in a novel but I wonder if authors feel compelled to just add a dash of it. I don’t think I’d have loved the book any less without it.
The last pages of the book clarified a lot of things, answered most of my questions and completely rubbished my guesses. She definitely saved the best part of the book for the last. However, I did feel like the ending was somewhat rushed. She dumped way too much on me and it’s safe to say I was shook. Shook. ( and I’d have liked a Christian girl been thrown into the mix, maybe it’d be named four daughters of Eve )
The book is definitely very thought provoking and engaging and that’s what I love most about it.
Hey guys! I hope you enjoyed reading.
Have you ever heard of Elif Shafak? Have you read this book before? or any of her other books? Have you ever read a book by a Turkish author?
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(If you could have a dollar for everytime the word ‘God’ was mentioned, how much will you have?)
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Till next time…