First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
In The Bastard of Istanbul, Turkish author Elif Shafak confronts her country’s poignant past in a vivid and colorful tale about the tangled history of two families – one Turkish and one Armenian American.
Asya is a nineteen-year-old woman who loves Johnny Cash and the French existentialists. She lives in an extended household in Istanbul, where she has been raised, with no father in sight, by her mother, the beautiful and irreverent Zeliha Kazanci, and by Zeliha’s three older sisters: Banu, a devout woman who has rediscovered herself as a clairvoyant; Cevriye, a prim, widowed high school teacher; and Feride, a hypochondriac obsessed with impending disaster. Their lone brother, Mustafa, left Turkey many years earlier and now lives in Tucson with an American woman named Rose, who has one daughter from a previous marriage to an Armenian man. This daughter, Armanoush, is nineteen and splits her time between Tucson and San Francisco, where her father’s family lives.
As an Armenian living in America, Armanoush feels that part of her identity is missing and that she must make a journey back to the past, to Turkey, in order to start living her life. She secretly flies to Istanbul, finds the Kazanci sisters, and becomes fast friends with Asya. A secret is eventually uncovered that links the two families together and ties them to the 1915 Armenian deportations and massacres.
Filled with humor and understanding, this exuberant, dramatic novel is about memory and forgetting, about tension between the need to examine the past and the desire to erase it. When The Bastard of Istanbul was published in Turkey, Shafak was accused by nationalist lawyers of insulting Turkish identity. The charges were later dropped, and now readers in America can discover for themselves this bold and powerful tale.
Happy Friday everyone! I hope you are all doing well and are keeping safe in the comforts of your homes! I hope you also had a great week. The sweltering Manila summer heat is getting more prickly Many accountants and auditors are now rejoicing and can finally sigh a breathe of relief after surviving yet another dreaded tax deadline yesterday, and in the midst of a pandemic if I may dare to add. Congratulations to all of them for making it through despite these uncertain and often challenging times.
Fridays also mean a fresh First Impression Friday update. I am currently in the midst of an Asian Literature Month, the third consecutive year I am having one. My journey has brought me to Istanbul, through Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul. I can still recall how, about two years ago, I bought the book sans any inkling as to who Shafak was or what the book was about. The title simply caught my attention but my interest was further piqued once I learned more about Shafak, the book, and the issue in Turkey that ensued after its publication. A couple of months after I bought the book, Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Ironically, I read 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World before I got to read The Bastard of Istanbul.
Nevertheless, I am happy that I finally got to start reading The Bastard of Istanbul. As the title suggests, the story commenced in Istanbul where a nineteen-year-old Zeliha was walking down the streets of Istanbul in search for a doctor. What she had in mind that day did not, however, push through as she has planned. In its stead was a eureka moment (perhaps). The story then shifted its focus to Zeliha’s family, the Kazanci household, which was crowded with women. As fate would have it, the Kazanci men suffered great misfortune and died young. The only exception was Mustafa, the only brother to four women (including Zeliha).
What did Mustafa do to avoid the “curse”? At the age of nineteen, he flew to the United States to pursue his studies. There he met Rose, a divorced mother of one. They fell in love and married. From this point on, the narrative, without preamble (and I say this because there was little to no indication to the change), jumped twenty years forward. Zeliha’s daughter, Asya turned nineteen. She had the same firebrand per as her mother but not the same physical qualities her mother had.
I am halfway through the story but, so far, there is very little story to what I have read. Shafak was still laying out the canvass upon which she will paint her story. The strife between Turks and Armenians was discussed with just enough details for me to understand the past. However, Shafak did not offer further details and I guess these elucidations will be realized in the second half of the story. The past, history and memory seem to be the most seminal subjects navigated by the story.
At one point, Asya exclaimed, “The past is nothing but a shackle we nee to get rid of. Such an excruciating burden.” Her exasperation somehow gave me an insight as to the direction Shafak is going to direct the narrative. One more scene further consolidated what I feel like the story is going to take. This was when the Kazanci sisters welcomed Armanoush, the stepdaughter of their only brother Mustafa. Armanoush was born to an American mother and an Armenian father. The Armenian side of the family seem to very drawn to the past which led Armanoush to question her identity. In order to learn about this “past”, Armanoush decided to fly to Istanbul in clandestine.
The first half of the novel was a slow burner although I liked that it was accented with some cultural touchstones. Shafak referenced several literary works. A café in Istanbul was named after Milan Kundera and some of his works were also mentioned. What I did find lacking, as compared to 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World, are the vivid descriptions of Istanbul. Shafak did a great job of painting the landscape of Istanbul. I guess this will materialize in the second half of the narrative as Armanoush set out to explore the city. The action is starting to get heated and I hope I get to finish the book over the weekend.
How about you fellow reader, what book are you going to read this weekend? I hope it is a book that you’ve been looking forward to and I hope you enjoy it. Keep safe, and happy weekend!