Journey through a book. The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

I love traveling. I adore the odour of new places, the eyes of the locals and the distinctive emotion roaming in the air. There are places which ethos I am able to absorb quite rapidly. It`s always the same formula – I dive into their atmosphere, I explore the little nooks, as well the obvious attractions, I often capture them with my camera and then I discard them in a special corner of my soul dedicated to exploring, that way they will never haunt me back again. But there are those places which ethos is so ancient and fascinating that the necessity to blend with their crowds again and again pursues me with undying desire. Such is Istanbul for instance. I always return there full of eagerness but never can stay more than three days. As much as I am attracted to its culture, that much I am irritated by the deafening uproar of its throng. The “Bir Lira” knocks the bottom of my ears even in my deepest sleep. The jostle and the noisiness unceremoniously perform their “Sabre Dance” by Khachaturian on my nerves, but even in this relentless atmosphere I find an unusual amount of charm and allure.

I found “The Bastard of Istanbul” in the Thrift Store and I only bought it because there is Istanbul in the title. I was clueless what was it about but once I started, from the very first pages, I was nicely surprised I could wander over the cobblestone streets again.

The novel itself is not a one I could not live without but it is one of those readings that are capable to bring back memories from a certain place where one has been and one has the urge and  need to visit again. In “The Bastard of Istanbul” Elif Shafak crosses the paths of two young girls, Asya and Armanoush, from two different ethnic groups, Turkish and Armenian. The first half of the book meticulously describes the peculiarities and pre-history of both families. One deeply rooted in Istanbul and the other one derived from Istanbul, but in an account of extraordinary events resettled in San Francisco. The main conception of the novel  moves along the brim of the Turkish-Armenian conflict regarding the Armenian Genocide (1914-1918) committed by the Ottoman Empire. The two essential points of the conflict are the Turkish denial of the massacres and the sore recollection of the bloody events on the Armenian side transmitted from generations as a national heritage.

The plot, however, is not very dynamic in the present, we mostly witness the revealing of past events, slowly connecting the families of Asya and Armanoush. The strong domination of female characters really confused me at times, the perplexed relations in both families was a little too much and this part of the storyline I could not handle. Sadly to confess that, but I could not entirely attach to the plot.   As a contrary I found myself cheering up every time Shafak illustrates the Istanbuli atmosphere, as accurate as I see it every time I visit – the sinuous cobblestone streets, the shouts of the shopkeepers, the blended scent of spices, donairs, tea, baklava, ashure and freshly squeezed juices. The entire time while reading I was trying to imagine where would, the so called, “Cafe Kundera” be – a gathering point where the sediment of cultural Istanbul meets on a weekly basis or did it even really existed.

At the end, I have to acknowledge that I was mainly fascinated by the image of Istanbul than anything else in the book.

“Platform” by Michel Houellebecq

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Reading Houellebecq, one can never be indifferent to his opinion, it`s a bipolar relationship of admiration or condemnation. His point of view is perplexed. To get a clear vision of his philosophy I needed to familiarize myself in deep with his works. The nuances of his novels are strikingly depressive, the characters – introvert loners, whose existence is defined by their sexual necessity. The pages are saturated with scenes of sexual conduction, in which vulgarity is manifested, yet non offensive. Well, at least, I think so.

“Platform” reminds me a lot of “The Stranger” by Albert Camus. The leading characters of both novels share identical social status, with the sole difference that Michel (“Platform”) is more contemporary than Mersault (“The Stranger”), two lonely bureaucrats that met love in the middle of their apathetic existence. Both characters pave similar paths of solitude, hope and decadence.

To end the short parallel between the novels, I would not conceal that the philosophic complexity of “Platform” embedded me with the impression that “The Stranger” was a fairytale.

In “Platform” one sinks. Houellebecq possesses the genius ability to describe quite accurately  the gray shades of modern society. I praise the organic way that he reveals the nature of sex tourism – the hedonistic aspect of it reflecting through the scenes of intimacy. Even after all the lust I did not feel violated. Amongst the lust there is love – tender love, reviving and unconditional.

The driving force of pleasure in the storyline coexists with  ideas of women’s emancipation, economic and political relations in corporate business, the relation between suffering and sexual extravagance and obvious despise of Islam.

Michel Houellebecq carefully sifts out the lumps of modern society through the sieve of his philosophical ideology and is  skillfully unveiling them. His findings highlight the unspoken, yet obvious dark sides of contemporary Western lifestyle. The author has no inhibitions in his outlook on life and I find this to be the reason why his works аrе scandalously frank.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

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Without a solid evidence for the following statement, I have concluded that Haruki Murakami is so far the most read contemporary author for the 21st century.

Although he was excelled by the worldly unknown Chinese author Mo Yan for this years Noble Prize in Literature, Murakami’s works have been translated into numerous languages and he has gained popularity among readers of all ages.

I still can not determine myself as Murakami’s fan, but certainly 1Q84 has  settled an imprint somewhere in the abyss of my soul.  I refer this to my continuous curiosity about the socially reclusive people in our society.

Ever since I was in elementary school I have made number of unsuccessful attempts to understand their worlds and I have learnt that it is close to impossible to break their shields and glimpse at their sacred universe.

I still remember this girl with low grades and shaggy hair, who would not speak to anyone, not even a teacher, and shortly after she joined our class became an object of bullying. Girls had no sympathy or interest in her and boys were merciless, sticking chewing gum on her hair, looting her belongings, mocking and provoking her to talk or cry. But she never did. She was expressionless and as confident in her class status as the moon in the sky. Two years later she moved to another school and from the bottom of my heart I hope she found better classmates there. I often wonder what happened to her and did she ever got away with all the cruelty she experienced in elementary school. Did she overcome the isolation and what was the reason for it.

That’s why I became so fond of 1Q84. Not only the two main characters, Aomame and Tengo share similar fate as my elementary school class mate, but the rest of the characters are also ‘lone wolves’ in their own way.

I admire Murakami’s love and inclination to write about the socially handicapped people, whose introvert lifestyle often throws them in the shade and conceals their existence. His meticulous depictions of their personalities illuminates the dark abyss of a whole unknown entity.

1Q84 starts with the parallel stories of Aomame and Tengo, who both imperceptibly enter another altered reality where bizarre range of events occur, devoid of any logical explanation. For Aomame this is the murky year of 1Q84 with too moons, Little People, Air Chrysalises and for Tengo this is the cat town which he has to leave “before the exit is blocked”. The entire time they are traveling to each other, following different paths, because this is the reality they are meant to meet in. The obstacles, the two of them are facing, turn the novel into a fast-paced mystical thriller that wont let you put it down.

At least that was the effect on me. I was sunken in the story and praised all the secret forces that made me come across this book (for some silly reason I am frightened of high-volume books, even though I have never been disappointed, yet I can not overcome the fear). However, there is one tedious moment between book II and book III that I had a hard time getting through, but besides that 1Q84 is a wonderful piece of literature.

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