In the ambit of Turkish literature, Elif Shafak is a titan. Lately, she has also been gaining more international recognition. In 2019, her novel 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World was shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction. She has also made a recent literary comeback with her 12th novel, The Island of Missing Trees. She was also known for being critical of local politics. Her works are brimming with political intersections. Heading butts with the government and Turkish sentiments, she found herself attracting litigation proceedings. In fact, for her she nearly got imprisoned for her sixth novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, a book that discusses the Armenian genocide and the Turkish government’s continued denial of it as an act of genocide. For this quotable quote update, I am sharing some lines and passages from this controversial book that has left an impression on me.

Do check out my complete review of this literary work by clicking here.


“But my point is, she doesn’t know that we do! Alzheimer’s is not as terrible as it sounds. The past is nothing but a shackle we need to get rid of. Such an excruciating burden. If only I could have no past – you know, if only I could be a nobody, start from point zero and just remain there forever. As light as a feather!”

~ Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul

“To her way of thinking, anyone who can’t rise up and rebel, anyone devoid of the ability to dissent, cannot really be said to be alive. In resistance lies the key to life. The rest of the people fall into two camps: the vegetables, who are fine with everything, and the tea glasses, who though not fine with numerous things, lack the strength to confront. It is the latter that are the worse of the two.”

~ Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul

Ways of loving from a distance, mating without even touching – Amor platonicus! The ladder of love one is expected to climb higher and higher, elating the Self and the Other. Plato clearly regards any actual physical contact as corrupt and ignoble because he thinks the true goal of Eros is beauty. Is there no beauty in sex? Not according to Plato. He is after more sublime pursuits. But if you ask me, I think Plato’s problem, like those of many others, was that he never got splendidly laid.

~ Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul

“It is a scientifically known fact that collectivities are capable of manipulating their individual members’ beliefs, thoughts, and even bodily reactions. You keep hearing a certain story over and over again, and the next thing you know you have internalized the narrative. From that moment on it ceases to be someone else’s story. It is not even a story anymore, but reality, your reality!”

~ Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul

All I know about my past is that something wasn’t right, and I can’t attain that informtation. For me, history starts today, you see? There is no continuity in time. You can’t feel attached to ancestors if you can’t even trace your own father. Maybe I will never be able to learn my father’s name. If I keep thinking about it, I’ll go nuts. So I say to myself, why do you want to unearth the secrets? Don’t you see that the past is a vicious circle? It is a loop. It sucks us in and makes us run like a hamster on a wheel. Then we start to repeat ourselves, again and again.

~ Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul

First you meet someone – someone who is completely different from everyone around you. Someone who sees everything in a different light and forces you to shift, change your angle of vision, observe everything anew, within and without. You think you can keep a safe distance from him. You think you can navigate your way through this beautiful storm until you realize much too suddenly, you are thrust out into the open and in fact, you control nothing.

~ Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul

“We’re stuck. We’re stuck between the East and the West. Between the past and the future. On the one hand there are secular modernists, so proud of the regime they constructed, you cannot breate a critical word. They’ve got the army and half of the state on their side. On the other hand there are the conventional traditionalist, so infatuated with the Ottoman past, you cannot breathe a critical word. They’ve got the general public and the remaining half of the state on their side.”

~ Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul

That was the problem with all these butterfly-life-spanned girlfriends the scenarist brought with him. Driven by an impulse to become friends with everyone in the group, they asked too many personal questions and made too many personal comments, miserably failing to acknowledge that it was precisely the opposite, the lack of any serious and sincere in terest in each other’s privacy, which drew the group members to one another.

~ Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul

Though books were potentially harmful, novels were all the more dangerous. The path of fiction could easily mislead you into the cosmos of stories where everything was fluid, quixotic, and as open to suprises as a moonless night in the desert. Before you knew it you could be so carried away that you could lose touch with reality – that stringent and stolid truth from which no minority should ever veer too far from in order not to end up unguarded when the winds shifted and bad times arrived. It didn’t help to be so naive to think things wouldn’t get bad, for they always did. Imagination was a dangerously captivating magic for those compelled to be realistic in life, and words could be poisonous for those destined always to be silenced.

~ Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul

There are things so awful in this world that the good-hearted people, may Allah bless them all, have absolutely no idea of. And that’s perfectly fine, I tell you; it is allright that they know nothing about such things because it proves what good-hearted people they are. Otherwise they wouldn’t be good, would they? But if you ever step into a mine of malice, it won’t be one of these people you will ask help from.”

~ Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul

To the one in the skies, this city must look like a scintillating pattern of speckled glows in all directions, like a firecracker going off amid thick darkness. Right now the urban pattern glowing here is in hues of orange, ginger, and ochre. It is a configuration of sparkles, each dot a light lit by someone awake at this hour. From where the Celestial Gaze is situated, from that high above, all these sporadically lit bulbs must seem in perfect harmony, constantly flickering, as if coding a cryptic message to God.

~ Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul

This sense of continuity is a privilege. It makes you part of a group where there is a great sense of solidarity. Don’t get me wrong, I can see how tragic the past was for your family, and I respect your wish to keep the memories alive come what may so that the sorrow of your ancestors is not forgotten. But that is precisely where our paths diverge. Yours is a crusade for remembrance whereas if it were me, I’d rather be just like Petite-Ma, with no capacity for reminiscence whatsoever.

~ Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul