Top positive review
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The Flea Palace
on 25 January 2015
This is the first novel by this author I have read, and I came across it by chance. I will most definitely be looking out for more works by the author, as this book was an absolute delight.
First published in the author’s original Turkish in 2004, the book has now been translated and published in English.
The story reminded me somewhat of ‘The Yacoubian Building’ by the great Egyptian author, Alaa-Al-Aswany. There is the same wry insightfulness into people and their oddities, offered to the reader through the medium that brings the protagonists together, the building where they live and work. Shafak’s work, however, is slightly lighter in tone.
The book opens with the journey of Injustice Pureturk through another hard day’s work, as he heads to a job at the Bonbon Palace at 88 Cabal Street, in Istanbul. He’s about at the end of his tether, but his arrival at the Bonbon Palace seems to trigger a whole new series of events. The narrative then moves to “Before …”; a time before Bonbon Palace existed, where there was a move by the authorities to clear land in the busy city, and where the fate of two cemeteries hinges on the identity of a Saint. And then to “Even Before …” where the Revolution in Russia leads to some unlikely immigrants to Turkey, including Pavel Pavlovich Antipov and his wife Agripina Fyodorovna Antipova. How this all ties together, and what happens in current time (2002 in the narrative) unfolds slowly but surely before the reader. We visit the inhabitants of each of the Flats in Bonbon Palace as they move through their lives; some sad, some funny, all slightly (or more than slightly) eccentric in their ideas, their ways of life, their approaches to the world that they find confronting them outside the walls of Bonbon Palace.
This book is an absolutely delightful treasure; layers of humour, wit, sorrow, love and loss – the whole human condition is laid out before us to discover. The writer has a real talent for deeply insightful writing that offers the truly everyday in an utterly new way. It’s hard to offer more of the narrative without going into spoilers, but I can truly say that this was a rewarding journey of a book, on which I was hooked from the first page to the last. Closing the book, I laughed to myself at the story, and at the twist that the author offers at the end. Truly wonderful.