Monday, June 8, 2015

book review and photo by Karine Armen

Wow, what a book! "The Bastard of Istanbul" by Elif Shafak [Turkish author].

This book is a novel, yet it's a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. I really enjoyed the way the story unfolds. The reader can learn a lot about the Armenian genocide and the history of Turkey around 1890 - 1923.

Shafak's vocabulary is fascinating! The dialogues of the characters are very engaging and show Shafak's knowledge of the Armenian history, literature, culture, sub-cultures, political positions of different groups.

She is a daring and courageous writer. She was put on trial in Turkey and accused of "denigrating Turkishness" in 2006. Finally the charges were dropped. She is the daughter of a female diplomat who raised Shafak alone -- her father left when she was young -- the novelist said that she first became aware of the Armenian issue after Armenian militants killed dozens of Turkish diplomats across the 1970s and 1980s. She did not dismiss it with fear. She changed her fear to knowledge. Shafak learned about the cause and root of the issue. She does not take sides on the genocide debate, but criticizes Turkey for what she calls a "collective amnesia" of the atrocities. "Turks and Armenians are not speaking the same language," she explained. "For the Turks all the past is gone, erased from our memories. That's the way we Westernized: by being future-oriented... The grandchildren of the 1915 survivors tend to be very, very past-oriented."

Today she is a vanguard and part of a progressive Turkish intellectual who want to acknowledge the authrocities of the past and move on with peace and harmony.

I strongly recommend this book. I have bought few copies to give as gifts. I know several non-Armenians who have read the book and enjoyed it. It's history through story.

While reading this book I was making a lot of connections to my life. My grandparents were survivors of the genocide. Also, I visited Turkey in 1998 where one Turkish acquaintance asked me about the genocide and the woman who was translating the discussion felt uncomfortable.

April, 2007

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