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VINE VOICEon 16 May 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Honour opens with Iskender's release from prison.

What follows is a sad and strange alternation of pasts and present, chronicling the lives of the members of the Toprak family, and anyone connected to them: Pembe and Adem, their children - charismatic Iskender, rebellious Esma, and reserved and thoughtful Younus; their parents and their childhood, their children's adulthoods, their mistakes and their tragedies, happinesses and despair, triumphs and failures - all of it is contained in these 352 pages.

Everything leads up to or away from 30th November, 1978 - the day Iskender Toprak commits a horrifying crime. It spans decades and miles, leaping from point to point in space and time, yet always coming back to that fateful day - how did it happen, why did it happen? Who is really responsible? How does a status quo so ruthlessly cut down its victims? Who *are* the victims, or is everyone complicit, a perpetrator? I think what best sums up what underlies this book is what Shafak writes, that 'men have honour - women have shame'.

It's such a nuanced and careful writing of the cultural backdrop - doing justice not only to Eastern culture (in this case Turkish and Kurdish), but also to Western, and to the peculiar tragedy of cultural immiscibility - forgetting the obvious East/West front, Shafak protrays so many levels of difference: Kurdish/Turkish, male/female, urban/rural, rich/poor, white/non-white, married/unmarried, sonless/with sons, virgin/tainted, captive/captor, victim/aggressor - you can't point at any person and isolate them from everyone else, into a single 'differentness': their differences and sameness are liquid and overlapping, sometimes changing in a minute. There is something so...rich, textured and multilayered about Shafak's narrative.

It's a provocative title, and appropriate: Iskender does what he does 'for honour'. And just as the events keep returning to Iskender's crime, so the themes keep returning to this idea of honour. In the end, though, after the double-standards and false platitudes, you realise that this idea of honour is nothing but an excuse for raging hypocrisy, abuse and self-gratification at the expense of others, and you begin to understand what real honour should be - something accorded to people based on shared humanity, not the reserve of men who live by their own rules, yet impose an impossible or ludicrous standard on others.

A lot of things in this book make me angry - they make me angry as a woman (especially a Muslim woman), and as a human being. Not the book itself, but for the fact that these are stories that really happen. The hypocrisy, the self-righteousness, the idea that a man's honour, instead of elevating him, makes him commandeering, ugly and small, and moreover the idea that women are not honoured or deserving of honour, but shamed and shameful. 'Honour' is not a social or political commentary, but it certainly wakes up a womanly anger in me, and a tearing pain for any woman who has to endure the things Pembe and Jamila did.

As a semi-final note, it strikes me that the heart and soul of this story is sisterhood. There are actual sisters: the identical twins Pembe and Jamila, their six older sisters (especially Hediye), Esma, Esma's twin daughters, and then the wider sisterhood of women helping women. 'Honour' is in no way either misogynstic or misandristic...but it is more like...pro-gynistic? Is that a word?

This book is so heavily saturated with the markers I use to note places of interest or just phrases or passages I loved - a good way to measure how much I think of a book is by the density of them. I find it incredible that Elif Shafak has written a book of such magnificent scale, linguistic quality, historical and cultural integrity, all in what is her second language. I strongly recommend anyone interested in the book or the author to hop on over to YouTube and watch her TEDTalk called 'The Politics of Fiction'. It's what sold me on her in the first place.
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VINE VOICEon 17 April 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is an agonising tale of families, love and tragic misunderstandings. But it is so acutely observed and sensitively handled that it is hard to put down. It is as much about the British immigrant experience as it is about Turkish & Kurdish culture - the clashes are inevitable.

Initially at least, it is little confusing to follow as we flit from generation to generation of one extended family. One minute we're in a very rural community on the banks of the Euphrates, the next minute we're in East London 25 years later, then we're whisked to a prison outside Shrewsbury in the early 90s. This gives it a kaleidoscopic feel - it is disorientating. But then perhaps that is the point. For just like the immigrants of the story, it's hard to know where you are at times.

The obvious theme of the book's title is a difficult one, and hard for westerners to fully appreciate. It takes an insider like Elif Shafak, who has known both worlds first hand, to be able to articulate it well. What comes across so clearly are the double standards of what is acceptable, or 'honourable' for men and women. Things are so clearly unfair - and the consequences are truly terrible. But as one hears more about so called 'honour killings' in the media, it is vital to understand the mentality behind them (if there is a logic to them at all) - and this book will go a long way to helping with that. We in the West are so atomised that our families now barely even count as nuclear - the idea of loyalties and responsibilities to wider family members seems increasingly alien. But what this book tentatively seems to suggest is that neither west nor middle east has it quite right. Extended family relationships can also be distorted and dysfunctional. Both worlds leave one crying for something better...

This is beautifully written and poignant book. And one that can only improve mutual cultural understanding.
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'My mother died twice. I promised myself I would not let her story be forgotten, but I could never find the time or the will or the courage to write about it.' The novel's first chapter opens in 1990s London where Esma describes the normal life of a North London mother, taking her twin girls to a birthday party. Later we learn that she will be going to pick up her brother Iskender from Shrewsbury prison and the story of why he is there unfolds gradually throughout the novel.

The next chapter takes us to 1945 and to the birth of Esma's mother and her twin sister. In that description Shafak is able to impart much of the cultural norms of Turkish Kurds without being didactic. Their mother Naze already six daughters and the twin girls are unwanted in a culture where women are unvalued and mothers make little sultans out of their sons. Naze wants to call the twins Bext and Bese, Kurdish for Destiny and Enough. Their father renames them Pembe and Jamila, Pink and Beautiful, though the girls are known by both names. Later, Pembe moves to London with her husband, Adem, and their two children and Jamila remains in Turkey where she becomes a midwife. These multiple narratives are explored throughout the novel as Elif Shafak lays out what happens when old customs are kept in new countries. Shafak is excellent at imparting a sense of time and place and builds the tension that leads to the tragedy of an 'honour' killing. '

'It was all because women were made of the lightest cambric, Naze continued, whereas men were cut of thick, dark fabric. That is how God had tailored the two: one superior to the other. As to why He had done that, it wasn't up to human beings to question ... "

At one point Pembe thinks about how the English take the concept of shame lightly, "When the English were disappointed about something, no matter how ephemeral or inconsequential, they exclaimed, `Oh what a shame!'

Honour sets out its agenda with its title. The idea of the inherent superiority of men and the different standards they can live by are explored thought the novel as is violence of men against women. The multiple narratives work in terms of contrasting the different culture in the Turkish Kurd community and in multicultural London, but Shafak is less successful in inhabiting alll her characters and differentiating between them and it is Iskender who is less convincing than the others. This leaves a sense of emotional distancing from the action and a lack of believability in her characters. However, Elif Shafak has a very readable style and the book is engaging and will carry you through any doubts about characters or plot twist.
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on 4 June 2013
I've just finished reading this great book. It was on the longlist for the Women's Prize for Fiction, and quite frankly, if this didn't make the shortlist then the shortlisted books must be amazing this year. Elif Shafak is an author I hadn't come across. Born in France she is the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Writing in both Turkish and English, her previous novel The Forty Rules of Love sold over 600,000 copies and she is the recipient of prestigious honours and awards.
Honour is a book with so much depth as we follow one families journey covering their origins in a village near the river Euphrates in Turkey and their move to Hackney, London. But this is not just another story about an immigrant family settling in London. This is a story that draws strongly on its Eastern sense of tradition and the secrets that are kept over generations, repeating themselves destructively. It is a tragedy in almost Shakespearian proportions and one with such a superb twist in the tale that leaves you almost gasping with its cleverness. It is really a treasure in story-telling.
At it's centre is an honour killing but this almost becomes a side issue in the branching stories that we follow concerning each member and the role they play. The core of the plot centres around Pembe, a Turkish wife, mother, sister and daughter. Her connections from each of these roles each play their part in the tale- her useless husband who repeats the mistakes of his father, her children who each play a vital role in the story, her twin sister whose actions affect her whole future and her father, traditional and honour bound himself. The book is an insight into the traditional Turkish culture and also a picture of the difficulties of adapting to new cultures.
Honour is a great introduction to the writing of Elif Shafak that will leave you reeling from its final tie ups in the story and wanting to read more of this talented authors work.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 August 2012
I was convinced neither by the characters nor the plot of this rather contrived book. I was hoping this novel would help me to understand a culture that places honour above humanity and I was expecting something far "grittier". Instead, this fairly conventional family saga was hum-drum and I remained disengaged and therefore unmoved by what should have been shocking and dismaying.

The various strands of the story are not told in chronological order as though this should somehow give the plot greater weight and significance. Things are disclosed by one family member before they happen to another, thus removing all tension. The narrative arc is as lost and broken as the family it portrays. Perhaps this was the author's intention but for me, it didn't come off.

The writing is capable, nothing more, and a story that should have pierced one's heart misses its mark.
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on 15 November 2014
A truly gifted writer; I am amazed by this author-she has a real gift for story-telling-. Her integrity and philosophy seeps into your soul as you read. Beautifull thought-provoking writing. Makes one believe in the magic of creativity. Deals with the cruel concept of ' honour'-always the burden of women-. Marvellous-contemporary- human.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 September 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There are a number of issues with this book - structurally speaking it's difficult to follow, with a lot of jumping around and little context given for the many shifts. The characterization is very shallow, which has two main consequences - it means that the lack of focus on the honour killings themselves was disappointing, and it was very difficult to build up any empathy for the characters. All in all, it was long, drawn out and difficult to make much progress with - the theme was compelling, but the execution was somewhat poor.
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on 24 June 2013
I think it gives you a good insight of how different cultures are and their believes mixed with expectations. How religion and believes can determine your life or make a huge part of the course and process of it. It's a very touching story as sadly this things happen in real life.
Also it's very well written in a fast tempo and modern style.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 February 2015
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I didn't much like this. I didn't like the authors style of detailing events in such a haphazard disorganised fashion. I didn't find the characters very engaging and the plot was stifled by randomn events and meaningless, long winded dialogue.
As the order of things jumped around so much it was very difficult to go back to after leaving it for a few days. I had forgotten who people were in relation to others, what events had already occurred as there was so much referencing to things that had happened before you read what had happened and so on and so forth.
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on 19 May 2013
Elif Shafak's Honour hinges around one horrible crime. The nature of this crime itself is revealed within the first few pages, and the rest of the book is spent examining the lives of the people affected and the events that led up to and contributed to the event. It's a story that spans four generations, split between the remote villages of Turkey and the metropolis of 1970's London. When Pembe and Adem leave their home country to build a new life in Britain, their children must find a way to mesh new traditions with the old, to speak two languages and to adapt the cultural norms of their heritage to new situations.

In Honour, Elif Shafak examines how gender, history and expectations combine to have a powerful impact on our behaviour and our future actions. It's also fair to say that this book is an exploration of immigrant culture. It looks in detail at the relationships between parents and their children and how a rich cultural history is blended with new experiences.

I actually read this book while I was in Turkey, and the sections set in the villages really came to life for me. However, it felt as though it was lacking in the crucial emotional connection to the central characters. The narrative style, which tends to jump around between different times and different viewpoints, also made the novel quite hard to follow. It also meant that certain events were revealed out of sequence, taking away some of the tension from the main plotline.

Honour does a great job of setting out facts and events and of creating a very real and powerful backdrop, but at no point does the author really use her position to give an opinion on the twin cultures that she's describing. It's up to us as readers to make the observations for ourselves. In doing so, I think the author misses out on an opportunity to get across what has the potential to be a very powerful statement.
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