Book review: The Bastard of Istanbul

After reading the forty rules of love and 10min 30 sec, let’s just say that Queen Z opened the Elif Shafak vortex and got sucked into her wonderful British Turkish world and library. I bought almost all of her books 😀

It helped me that people were enjoying her books, her stories and that the majority of my Bookclub already read most of her work 😀 I didn’t know that within my entourage as well, there were avid fans of this lady. See, whenever I post my Elif Shafak current reading, many people would DM me or tweet me that they loved the book and that I would enjoy it.

Let’s say that I am very late on the ELif Shafak train 😀 But better late than never right?


From one of Turkey’s most acclaimed and outspoken writers, a novel about the tangled histories of two families.

In her second novel written in English, Elif Shafak confronts her country’s violent past in a vivid and colorful tale set in both Turkey and the United States. At its center is the “bastard” of the title, Asya, a nineteen-year-old woman who loves Johnny Cash and the French Existentialists, and the four sisters of the Kazanci family who all live together in an extended household in Istanbul: Zehila, the zestful, headstrong youngest sister who runs a tattoo parlor and is Asya’s mother; Banu, who has newly discovered herself as a clairvoyant; Cevriye, a widowed high school teacher; and Feride, a hypochondriac obsessed with impending disaster. Their one estranged brother lives in Arizona with his wife and her Armenian daughter, Armanoush. When Armanoush secretly flies to Istanbul in search of her identity, she finds the Kazanci sisters and becomes fast friends with Asya. A secret is uncovered that links the two families and ties them to the 1915 Armenian deportations and massacres. Full of vigorous, unforgettable female characters, The Bastard of Istanbul is a bold, powerful tale that will confirm Shafak as a rising star of international fiction.

My review:

That’s what i call a fucking good book. I know, I say that a lot these days, but what can I say? My reading list is fucking amazing and I have good taste.

The book starts with a bang and announces the spirit of the book. We are transported in Istanbul, where women get harrassed in the street by cab drivers, the fashion style sways between tattoos and miniskirts and hijab and veils. The modern and traditional Istanbul cohabit in harmony and gives this historical city her cosmopolite aura. It’s not a poetic or lyrical book, it’s a book of questions, power and inherited conflicts.

The beauty of Istanbul and the Turkish architecture is represented in the book cover as well. The cover reminded me of the Blue mosque and Hajja Sophia mosque and was inviting to read the book. Very compelling 😀

The Bastard of Istanbul is a controversial book that got Elif Shafak in « trouble » as she received many attacks and threats. Reason being that, in this book, she discusses the Armenian-Turkish genocide and war, the Ataturk historic period, the forced immigration, the inherited traumatic experiences through the generations, and the weight of family expectations and traditions.

The story is told from both perspective: the Armenian family and the Turkish one. In one side we have an Armenian American family obsessed with the genocide against Armenia and hating everything related to Turkey. And on the other side, we have a Turkish family, living in Istanbul and completely oblivious to the genocide and the Armenian/Turkish story. Elif shafak focused on how each people deals with the past and how they identify within a society or within a group or a country.

For me, this book is mostly a story of generations as each character gets their own time to tell us the story from their point of view with their information and interpretation. It is also a story of women through the ages and throughout the world. I love how the women are the central characters in this book, each woman has her place in the story.

She fucked up in some part of the story as there were some lose ends and some moments that needed more meat in the bone. Even the ending felt a bit rushed and almost clouded the book spirit and tempo. It felt like at the end, the effort put was not as much as throughout the book.

I love how ELif Shafak writes her book. Her style is powerful yet has a tenderness to it. She talks about difficult subjects in a smart way, addresses generation gaps and family taboos. She writes in a way that doesn’t make you chose a side, we get both people with their flaws and reasons and we cant help but agree with both. She also has an artistic writing style even for action scenes where she details and gives a 360 degree view of the scene to the reader.

It was also amazing how she gives detail on food! She talks about delicacies, family recipes and Turkish food. Man, I must plan a trip to Istanbul 😀

Through this book, she made me curious about the Armenian history and genocide. This book gives a back story, explains the rippling effect of this war and shine a light on a historical period that is not mentioned that often in books. To be honest, that is one of the main thing I like about this author. She does her research on the era she wants to cover and on the main historic events. She teases so many interesting and complicated subjects in her book that we cant help but start looking for books and documentaries to get the full picture. Talk about educating the masses!

The Bastard of Istanbul is listed as a must read and is appreciated worldwide. It was even translated in many languages. Its a breathtaking lecture that will keep you on the verge of your seat wanting more, until the last pages!