Engrossing saga sheds light on a family’s myths and secrets

Waterloo Record, Canada
Aug 11 2007

Engrossing saga sheds light on a family’s myths and secrets


by Elif Shafak
(Viking, 360 pages, $31 hardcover)

Author Elif Shafak was put on trial in Turkey last year for
"offending Turkishness" because a character in this book refers to
Turks as "butchers" with regard to the massacre of Armenians in the
early 20th century.

Luckily for Shafak, her case was dismissed, but the situation seems
crazy all the same. (But not unbelievable — since all over the
world, writers end up in prison for their writing.)

One might say The Bastard of Istanbul is political because the novel
is about how history affects the present. But how can the past not
touch lives? And can one even have a future without having a past?

One of Shafak’s main characters, Armanoush, a young
Armenian-American, says: "You have to understand, despite all the
grief that it embodies, history is what keeps us alive and united."

The story in brief: Armanoush ("Amy") has travelled from Arizona to
Turkey to stay with her stepfather’s relatives, a lively family with
eccentric and colourful women who include Asya, an illegitimate
daughter who is Armanoush’s age.

Asya’s mother is a tattoo artist and her aunt, Auntie Banu, is a
woman who has two djinni (personal spirits), Mrs. Sweet and Mr.
Bitter. They sit on her shoulder and talk to her.

The novel is an engrossing multi-generational family saga.
Armanoush’s visit brings up questions of identity, history, and
family myth. It also reveals family secrets and the resolution of an
old mystery.

Shafak is a brilliant writer who has rightfully gained an internation
reputation. In this novel she has created a world that is memorable
and rich.

Veronica Ross is a Kitchener writer and the author of To Experience
Wonder – Edna Staebler, A Life (Dundurn) .