Shafak turns what might seem a polemic against honor killing in lesser hands into a searing but empathetic and ultimately...


Turkish novelist Shafak again explores sociopolitical issues within a deeply human context in this tragedy about how traditional Turkish Muslim attitudes toward women impact a family that has immigrated to England.

“My mother died twice,” is the novel’s telling first line, spoken in 1992 London by educated, assimilated Esma on her way to pick up her brother Iskender from the prison where he’s been incarcerated since 1978 for the murder of their mother, Pembe. The killing is a given. The drama lies in what led to such violence, which Shafak explains through the history of Pembe and her husband, Adem, with whom she moved to London, of their three children who have grown up in England, and of Pembe’s twin sister, Jamila, who has stayed behind in rural Turkey. Pembe has always been the more adventurous sister, Jamila the dreamy, spiritual one. Originally, Adem falls in love with Jamila, but she is already promised to an elderly man from the family that kidnapped her and therefore compromised her honor. Seeing him as a means of escaping to a larger world, Pembe convinces Adem to marry her instead. They move to London. By the late 1970s, Adem has gambled away their savings and deserted Pembe to live with his mistress. To make ends meet, she takes a job at a hair salon and begins to blossom. Bookish Esma and handsome Iskender struggle as teens to find their place in British society, but British-born 7-year-old Yunus is thoroughly British. A magical child, innocent yet wise beyond his years, Yunus becomes the mascot for a group of hippies in a nearby squat. Then Pembe meets a nice man and falls in love. Never mind that Adem is living with his mistress; Iskender feels compelled to save the family’s honor. But 14 years later, Iskender and Esma must come to terms with past actions.

Shafak turns what might seem a polemic against honor killing in lesser hands into a searing but empathetic and ultimately universal family tragedy.

Pub Date: March 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-670-78483-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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