I’m going to switch up my style a little on this review and start out with my recommendation. I usually save that for the end, but it is more fitting here, in my opinion.
I would recommend this book for those who are interested in learning more about Turkish and Islamic culture through literature. I believe strongly that one can learn a lot about a culture and a people by reading their literature and observing their arts. This is no exception. The story takes place partly in Turkey and partly in London, but you cannot read the book without being fundamentally introduced to Turkish culture and thinking. Obviously, I do not encourage you to read this book so that you can create stereotypes and have one opinion of Turkey, because that would be ridiculous! But, you will definitely be introduced to ideas and thought processes that are present in the Turkish and Islamic mindset.
However, I would not recommend this book for a young audience. There is some objectionable material in the book between illicit relationships and language, so you need to be aware of that before picking up the book. However, that being said, this is one of those books in which the objectionable material is very true to life and is included in the book for the purpose of strengthening the story line.
Okay, so on to the story . . . this is an extremely sad story, and I have only just finished it moments ago and am still trying to process it myself. The story is told in an asynchronous fashion, and at times I found it difficult to figure out what pieces were important and where they were reconnecting with the larger story line. I think that Shafak was aiming for a cyclical feel to the story as pieces of the characters’ lives kept coming back into play or repeating themselves.
I do think that the story is beautifully woven and that Shafak develops her characters and setting in a marvelous way, but I was sometimes left with a feeling of discomfort that I didn’t really understand the driving force of the story. I cannot point to a climax or a point of rising action. The story was centered on one horrific act of murder but at the same time, that seemed to be a side issue. The thread of feminism peeked in periodically, but it never took center stage. There were relationships that began to deepen and change, and then all of a sudden they were terminated or left hanging. I do not know if I am ready to state this as a criticism, or to explore it as a different style of writing. I chose this book for the purpose of learning more about Turkish culture and philosophy, and it is very probably that this method of story-telling is giving me the very information I was looking for. Whereas in American literature there must be a problem and a hero and a climax and then a resolution, perhaps that is not the proper mindset with which to approach this book.
I do not like to give away the story lines of the books I read, otherwise there is no point in recommending them! But, I will tell you that this story follows both the past and present of a Turkish immigrant family in London in the 1970s. The family faces deep struggles of love, belonging, contentment, shame, and honour. These themes are going to change and alter the family, but in the end, they are going to find themselves in very similar if not the same positions as their predecessors. What does that mean for their system, their way of life, their belief system? Does it leave them with satisfaction and meaning?
I myself don’t know. It will take some mulling to come to some conclusions. But, isn’t that the mark of a good book? It continues to make you read it even after you have closed the last page.