Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE BASTARD OF ISTANBUL by Elif Shafak Kirkus Star

THE BASTARD OF ISTANBUL

By Elif Shafak

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 2007
ISBN: 0-670-03834-2
Publisher: Viking

An astonishingly rich and lively story of an Istanbul family whose mixed up heritage mirrors the complexity of Turkish society.

Shafak (The Gaze, 2006), 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. When the youngest sister, rebellious Zeliha, has a daughter out of wedlock, she refuses to name the father. Calling Zeliha auntie although she knows their relationship, Aysa grows up in this household of women. Zeliha runs a tattoo parlor; her sisters include a devout Muslim seer, a nationalistic history teacher and a batty feminist. To escape her doting aunts and grandmothers, Aysa hangs out with coffeehouse intellectuals, including a cartoonist indicted by the government for cartoons mocking the prime minister. 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. After her parents divorce, Armanoush’s mother marries Mustafa, who barely acknowledges his Turkish roots. 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. Increasingly drawn to her Armenian roots, Armanoush travels to Istanbul (without telling her parents) to learn more of her family history. 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.