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.


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