One rainy afternoon in Istanbul a woman walks into a doctor’s surgery. ‘I want an abortion’, she announces. She is nineteen years old, and unmarried. What happens that afternoon is to change her life, and the lives of everyone around her.
Twenty years later, Asya Kazanci lives with her extended family in Istanbul. Due to a mysterious family curse all the men die by age 41, so it is a house of women, among them her beautiful, rebellious mother, Zeliha, clairvoyant Auntie Banu and bar-brawl widow, Auntie Cevriye. But when Asya’s Armenian-American cousin Armanoush comes to stay, long-hidden family secrets and Turkey’s turbulent past begin to emerge. (Goodreads)
**This review contains spoilers**
It is shocking when you realise that Elif Shafak faced imprisonment for up to 3 years for ‘insulting Turkishness’ in this book, while she was heavily pregnant. It is true that the Armenian genocide is still a taboo topic, and is still denied by the Turkish government. Yet the focus of the novel isn’t so much on the genocide, though it does feature heavily in the novel. For me, the main focus of the novel was the struggle for identity, and the question of “who am I?” Armanoush grows up as a child of divorced parents, and splits her time between her American mother’s house in Arizona, and her father’s Armenian family in San Fransisco. She embraces her Armenian side when she’s with her father’s family, but doesn’t mention it when she’s with her mother, who calls her ‘Amy’ and doesn’t want anything to do with anything Armenian.
In Istanbul, Asya also struggles in her own way, having never known her father, and finding it hard to truly rebel, as her mother’s a rebel in her own right as well.
I absolutely loved this book for various reasons, and did not find it in any way insulting to any ethnic group, religion, or culture. To me the only shocking revelation was the fact that Zeliha was raped by her own brother and got pregnant by him. For Asya, this is something she’ll carry with her for the rest of her life, which is of course horrifying.
All in all I was once again pleasantly surprised by an Elif Shafak novel, and she’s fastly becoming one of my favourite authors!