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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'The past is anything but bygone'
This novel caught my attention because of media coverage. It kept my attention because of the characters and the way the story developed.

For me, the central theme of the novel was interpretation and denial of truth. We see how, over time, facts can be distorted and reinterpreted, or just denied. All of this is in the much broader context of the treatment of...
Published on 2 Aug 2007 by Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Colourful but clunky
I'm not sure why, on balance, I enjoyed this book. It would definitely have benefited from more rigorous editing. Sometimes a badly composed sentence trips you up just as you are beginning to admire richness and intricacy of the scenery. The technique of introducing each character with an explanation of their mental attributes and motivation is also a bit...
Published on 12 May 2011 by Penfold


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Colourful but clunky, 12 May 2011
This review is from: The Bastard of Istanbul (Paperback)
I'm not sure why, on balance, I enjoyed this book. It would definitely have benefited from more rigorous editing. Sometimes a badly composed sentence trips you up just as you are beginning to admire richness and intricacy of the scenery. The technique of introducing each character with an explanation of their mental attributes and motivation is also a bit unsophisticated; although it does help to organise the large cast of players. Some of the minor characters are even given nicknames; the dipsomaniac cartoonist, the closeted gay columnist, presumably a kind of shorthand to help the reader remember the part they are playing. Then there's the dependence on implausible coincidences to give coherence to the plot.

That said, I'm glad I persisted with it. Turkey is a country that westerners like me know only as a slightly exotic holiday destination. This book gives us a different point of view of another culture. To what extent it is accurate or representative I obviously can't tell but it's certainly fascinating and colourful; like an expensive carpet, it has a lot knots to the inch.

The book doesn't explain why Turkey is so sensitive about the Armenian genocide. The Turkish characters in it seem to be more ignorant than hostile but the subsequent trial of the author for 'denigrating Turkishness' shows it goes much deeper than that. Unlike a minor character in a book, you can't adequately describe a nation with a nickname.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'The past is anything but bygone', 2 Aug 2007
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This novel caught my attention because of media coverage. It kept my attention because of the characters and the way the story developed.

For me, the central theme of the novel was interpretation and denial of truth. We see how, over time, facts can be distorted and reinterpreted, or just denied. All of this is in the much broader context of the treatment of the Armenians in 1915 - which resulted in Ms Shafak being accused of 'insulting Turkishness'.

You can - if you choose - ignore the politics and be swept up by the wonderfully idiosyncratic characters. The narrative style meanders through the lives of the characters sometimes avoiding aspects that might seem important to the reader in favour of details that appear incidental.

Still, each of the main characters (particularly the women in Istanbul)and to a lesser extent the family in the USA keep the story moving. Who can resist the notion of using Auntie Feride's hair colour as a guide to her insanity? Or Auntie Banu's relationship with her djinns? The younger women: Asya and Armanoush are not, in my view, as well developed but perhaps that is for other reasons.

The result is an interesting story built on shared but contested history. Ultimately, as in all struggles, there are 'winners' and 'losers'.

Recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Magic, 28 Aug 2009
By 
misterbaz (Chelsfield, Kent) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Bastard of Istanbul (Paperback)
Having read that Shafak had been charged under article 301 of Turkey's constitution, because the words of one of her characters were alleged to "insult Turkishness", I was keen to see what the fuss was all about. It's certainly an interesting way of seeking to shed some light on the Turkish-Armenian divide, where views appear to be more nuanced than you might believe from reading the newspapers. At the same time it paints a very different picture of life in Istanbul from what one might expect.

I enjoyed this book and the occasional nod to magical realism reminded me of aspects of Salman Rushdie's or Isabel Allende's writing. That in itself should be a recommendation and I'll certainly be reading some more of her books.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Despite all the grief that it embodies, history is what keeps us alive and united", 1 May 2007
In this novel of friendship, memory and religion, author Elif Shafak weaves a complex tale that juxtaposes the past with the present and unveils the age-old cultural dissonance that exists between the Turks and Armenians. Thus at its heart, The Bastard of Istanbul is a deep meditation on what it really means to be a product of history, a history "that has always kept us alive and united."

Armanoush (Amy) Tchakhmakhchian has grown up in Arizona. Undoubtedly American, Amy has always been aware of her unique Armenian heritage. As Amy grows older, she's always conscious of her fragmented childhood, yet unable to find a sense of continuity that she so richly craves.

In the meantime, Rose, Amy's American mother, marries Mustafa Kazanci, a young Turk, transplanted to Arizona by his family back in Istanbul in the hope that he will be spared the bad omen that has fallen upon every man in the Kazanci family. Barsam, Amy's Armenian father has since relocated to San Francisco and the fact that a Turk is currently raising his daughter, and that Barsam is doing nothing about it provides a constant source of displeasure for his family.

In Istanbul, the young Asya grows up listening to the music of Johnny Cash, the identity of her father shrouded in secrecy, forced to call her mother "aunt" Zeliha, whilst also labeled a "bastard" by the world around her. Zeliha, with her with her "frizzy raven-black hair, and her nose ring," and her natural propensity to rebelliousness frustrates her sisters and her mother, this group of Kazanci women who have entwined their lives with "traditions, evil-eye beads, coffee-cup readings, and fortune-telling ceremonies."

Amy and Asya are inexplicably pushed together, unexpectedly finding themselves drawn to each other by history, and also by their respective families. Unable to put up with her mother's encapsulating universe, and feeling like she's constantly on parade in San Francisco, Amy can't help feeling that something is absent, that part of her identity is missing, and that without it she can't start living her own life.

"I need to find my Armenianess first, even if this requires a voyage into the past," Amy says as she decides to clandestinely take a trip to Istanbul. It is in this city with its exquisite Bosphorus landscapes and its "hodgepodge of ten million lives" that Amy attempts to find the answers to the sorrow of her ancestors and recognition for all the loss, grief and pain of the Armenian genocide.

Surprisingly Amy and Asya hit it off right away, both of them intelligent and thoughtful and modern, with Asya taking Amy on a tour guide of her beloved city. The more Amy stays in Istanbul, the more twisted and multi-facetted the city grows to be and the more she begins to embody the spirit of her people that existed generations and generations earlier.

Shafak - with varying degrees of success - weaves together various historical subplots with Turkish and Armenian myths and folklore, and sprinkles her narrative with an assortment of eccentric family members - on both sides of the isle. She also brings together the various points of view of this complicated Armenian and Turkish Diaspora and buried within her narrative is a sharp dissection - and understanding - of race and nationality.

In Istanbul, and indeed in America, the Turks and Armenians often cohabit in mutual unease. The Armenians keeping their memories of the genocide very much alive, whilst the average Turk has no such notion of continuity with his or her ancestors.

In a rich and elaborate style that calls to mind a tumultuous past as it clashes with an uncertain future, Shafak portrays Amy and Asya as two unbridled innocents caught in the middle of their respective nationalities, Amy is drawn into the Kazanci household and is ultimately seduced by the beatific chaos of Istanbul, whilst Asya searches for an identity far removed from her world, as she knows it.

In the process, both of these girls are forced to confront the notion of whether it is really better for them to discover more of their past, or to simply know as little of the past as possible, and even go so far as to forget what small amount of the past that they remember. Mike Leonard April 07
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brave book considering the contriversal nature of the content, 5 Aug 2010
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This review is from: The Bastard of Istanbul (Paperback)
This book hit the media headlines because the contraversial nature of it's contain. Whilst I argee with previous reviews about it's content, I believe in the freedom of the written word and the author's right to set about their own opinions. Primarily though, this book is first and foremost about family. It has many plot twists and turns and keeps the authenticity of Turkey, whilst helping others to understand the country's turbilant past. A must read and you'll not want to put the book down.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars another success, 7 Feb 2009
By 
Ms. Riane Revah "book croc" (london uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bastard of Istanbul (Paperback)
I love Elif Shafak: her combination of perception into the human psyche, phenomenal local colour and detail, historical details AND a riveting story encompassing several generations, Americans, Armenians and Turks, as well as love, traumatic events and personal tragedy,is unparalleled among modern writers. I read her novel the Flea Palace before visiting Istanbul for the first time with my husband, and found it to be the best introduction to an unfamiliar land and culture, far better than a straight forward guide book! It made our visit so much more interesting. I then wanted to read more and more by Shafak, and was not disappointed. This novel is darker, and the structure is simpler. It tackles uncomfortable truths: the divisions in modern Turkish society between Turks and Armenians; racial stereotypes; sexual mores and family pressures. The characterisation is so convincing, you end the book feeling you know the characters personally; the strong story narrative makes it hard to put the book down.
I was sorry I came to the end of it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars BORING BEYOND WORDS!, 8 Feb 2014
By 
BritKitt1 (Here and There) - See all my reviews
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REALLY LONG WINDED! TOO MANY CHARACTERS! I EVEN STARTED SKIPPING PAGES! I SUGGEST YOU TRY OTHER TURKISH WRITERS... BARBARA NADEL HAS WRITTEN BETTER...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A few letdowns, 20 Sep 2013
By 
M. Torma (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bastard of Istanbul (Paperback)
The idea of this story is good, its the telling of it that lets it down. The books seems to have lacked a decent editor, the language becomes at times too talk show like and sentences become clunky with length. Perhaps the book should have been put away for a year and re-written then?

I personally think, that introducing magic halfway through the book just to explain occurences that no character was put in place to explain is a "deus ex machina" instrument - its a lazy way to put through a crucial bit of story.

I liked quite a few characters in the book and there were a lot of them, too many perhaps. Quite a few of them deserved a bit more attention as they seemed under-developed and without real purpose in that story.

In short to me this book read and felt like a draft rather than a finished book.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating, humorous and painful tale, 26 Jan 2009
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This review is from: The Bastard of Istanbul (Paperback)
"The Bastard Of Istanbul" generated a controversy. Its Turkish author, Elif Shafak, was put on trial a couple of years ago for "denigrating Turkishness" (her own words) because the novel contains many references to the Armenian Genocide in 1915. Charges were dropped later on.

The book was written in English originally. The story interweaves past and present, Turkish, Armenian and American backgrounds. Many characters are depicted, the Kazanci family in Istanbul and the Tchakhmakhchian family, of Armenian origins, in the USA. Through the younger generations in the persons of Asya (Turkish) and Armanoush (Armenian American) we are taken back and forth in a sequence of names, places and events which will ultimately reveal a connection between the two extended families and a terrible, long-ago buried secret will be discovered.

This is an intricated story with many relevant characters and the tale is revealed almost entirely through the feminine side of each family, mothers, daughters, granddaughters and so on. To be more specific would unavoidably involve spoilers. Generally speaking however I would add a few comments:

Something negative:
. I thought some characters were underdeveloped with main reference to the Armenian/American side of the family, whereas the author seemed to concentrate on other, less important -to me- details.
. Some connections were a bit tricky to... keep track of given that there are so many characters described.
. I did not entirely appreciate the fact that some relevant aspects of the story were revealed to us -the readers- by Banu's djinns (Banu being one of Asya's aunts, a religious clairvoyant) but they were not shared later on with the main characters.

Having said that, here comes the positive:
. This book is reminiscent, in part, of some Latin American narrative tradition (the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez comes to mind) where magic merges with reality -magic realism- I am not comparing Shafak with Marquez, it goes without saying, but I read almost all of his books and would always find myself being pulled into his storytelling as in a vortex. To a lesser degree, this has happened similarly with this book.
. I loved the blending of so many characters and cultures, some of them spiced up by life events, others less flavoured. Mentioning different foods is almost inevitable as every chapter has a herb/spice/fruit title, each aromatic quality finding the relevant niche within.
. Foods (although not described in full) blend in turn with poetry or native songs. The narrative is sometimes bold but very effective. Some situations are peppered with humour, mostly sardonic, often caustic, some others are sprinkled with harrowing melancholy, a yearning for the past, for the roots. A search for the sense of belonging. It is all projected with great intensity through both sides of the story.
And the eternal questions lingers: is it better "to know or not to know"?

It all comes together, perhaps disjointedly at times, but beautifully, with an original quality.

"The Bastard Of Istanbul" is a strong title but it is not just about "the bastard", in this case Asya who has never known her father. Bearing in mind the controversy, the author seems to have "stepped on some toes". It is only natural that curiosity is piqued about her personal circumstances for the subject chosen as the main historical background for this novel. The Armenian Genocide is, to many, an open wound to this day. My standardly average level of information may not, in this case, make me fully "equipped" for a more knowledgeable opinion, but I have to say that, strictly speaking about the book, the main message I perceived is one of positivity, of hopeful integration, not forgetting or denying the past but looking at it respectfully, for a better present and future. Various characters are given a voice from both Turkish and Armenian perspectives. I felt as if a stretching hand was reaching out, trying to build an imaginary starting-over bridge through the new generations, represented by Asya and Armanoush. Commendable try for what still seems to be an unresolved and painful issue.
The result in my opinion is a fascinating and, to a degree, almost mystical novel. Engrossing until the shocking end (unrelated to the historical events).
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good in parts, awful in more, 8 Aug 2010
By 
BookWorm "BookWorm" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bastard of Istanbul (Paperback)
As in the nursery rhyme about the little girl with the curl, the good bits about this book are very, very good. Unfortunately the analogy also extends to the bad bits - which are horrid. Seldom have I read a book and found it so hard to decide whether it's good or terrible.

The good - Elif Shafak writes, mostly, well. Some of her observations are good, her style is readable, and from time to time a particular phrase or paragraph jumps out as a particularly good piece of writing by any standards. She deals with a very interesting and sensitive topic - the massacre of Armenians in what is now Turkey during WWI - and other more personal crises to do with identity and family. The book evokes Istanbul so well it feels like a character in its own right, the reader feeling transported there. Shafak uses a rather clever device to string the chapters together and give shape to the overall story arch - although it doesn't become clear until the end. And in the last few chapters the pace picks up to make compelling and in some ways surprising reading.

But then comes the bad, which just narrowly outweighs the good, hence the two star rating. This is a story that relies very heavily on coincidence - something that always irritates me - to such an extreme that few readers would be able to suspend their disbelief enough to accept it. I feel this undermines the whole plot and conclusion. The fact that the author has to resort to daft hocus-pocus in the latter half to even make the denouement possible just underlines how contrived it is, and the whole 'magical' element doesn't fit very well into the story.

The writing, whilst it does contain some genuinely great passages, often feels forced and self-conscious, meaning much of the narrative and dialogue never rings true. Particularly in the earlier chapters, it can take forever to reach the point, and is guilty of asking rather too many questions, making frustrating reading. The pace doesn't work too well, again especially at the beginning. I didn't really 'get into' the story until I was three quarters of the way through. Before that it could feel like hard work. Whilst the final part of the book is the best, the ending leaves many loose ends untied and one is left with the feeling that the author 'chickened out' of the task of explaining some of the weaker elements of story by simply finishing it early. Unsatisfying for a reader to say the least.

In some ways, this feels like a story that tries to be too many things at once, and fails at all. Chic lit, family saga, magical realist, literary novel - an odd mix that doesn't sit well together. The poorest parts for me were the false 'intellectual' conversations in Cafe Kundera and the online Cafe Constantinopolis. Both felt totally forced and unreal. I also found a lot of the characters annoying and not quite believable - often relying on stereotypes rather than fleshing people out properly.

So on the whole, I was dissatisfied with the book. But I would probably give the author another chance as there are some elements which work very well. If you want to read a good story about the Armenian massacres then 'Birds Without Wings' by Louis de Bernieres would be my recommendation.
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The Bastard of Istanbul
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak (Paperback - 24 April 2008)
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