Friday, May 2, 2008

The Bastard of Istanbul

Yet another eye-opener - This time, I got to know about the relations between Turkey and Armenia. The basis of this story is the political tension between Turkey and Armenia stemming from the Armenian Genocide that occured in 1915 (as claimed by Armenia. Turkey refuses to acknowledge the fact that such an event ever happened during the waning of the ottoman empire). To get a perspective: Turkey and Armenia share as land border as shown in the map below (Orange = Turkey, Green = Armenia).
Interestingly, the land border is closed today and no relations exist between Turkey and Armenia!(I definitely did not know that!).

This was yet another stop for me during my Orbis Terrarum Challenge. Though the book is set in Istanbul (the capital city of Turkey) and the author is Turkish, I would like to label this post as Turkey & Armenia because there's so much to learn about Armenian culture, the political beliefs and their way of life as well from this book.

An Armenian-American girl makes a trip to Istanbul in an attempt to discover herself by discovering her roots. She "invites herself" to her step dad's family home in Istanbul. No words could better describe the family she decides to stay with than her own:

"The family I am living with is quite interesting, a bit crazy but perhaps all families are. But there is something surreal here. Irrationality is part of the everyday rationale. I feel I am in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. One of the sisters is a ttoo artist; another sister is a clairvoyant; one other is a natural history teacher; and the fourth is an eccentric wallflower, or a full-time cuckoo, as Asya would say".

The Asya she talks about is (again in her own words) - "The Daughter of the household. A young woman with four mothers and no father. Quite a character - full of rage, satire, and wit. She makes a good Dostoyevski character". And she is the "Bastard of Istanbul".

I wonder about the title of the story though. Asya plays a role in the book..but in my opinion, she is just not the protagonist.. then why pick - the bastard of istanbul as the title? To give it a zangy-zesty name to attract the attention of the reader...or was there something deeper in the book that I missed?

Well, apart from that.. the book was a pretty interesting read. Through the lives of two teens - Armanoush and Asya, the author (Elif Shafak) gives us a glimpse at the Turkey-Armenia situation. The story has its roots in the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Without taking sides, the author describes how both sides react to "the event" even now. I guess that was a courageous move because she was accused by nationalist lawyers of "insulting Turkish identity". Luckily for her, the charges were dropped and the book was published world wide.

Well, if you do read the book and get back here or if you have already read the book.. I have a couple of questions for you..
** why THIS title for the book?
** what role does Baron Baghdassarian play?
Hmm... i'm still thinking..:)


Madeleine said...

I loved this book, I thought Asya was the protagonist...She is the center of the story and illegitimate from where the title "THE BASTARD OF ISTAMBUL", she goes to Istambul to meet her biological mother, i will not reveal more.

I had a library book so i have no reference to your second question.

have a gret week-end

Madeleine said...

I might have the names mixed up, the girl who travels from the states to Turkey is the protagonist. She is illegitimate, this is as far as I can go because the ending is a shock, to me it was. I do not want to give it away

Madeleine said...

I remember, the Baron.....was just a internet friend which becomes close to her, but no intrigue there. I hope you did not miss the end, it is quiet shocking?

Ramya said...

ok wait.. Asya is not the one that travels from America to Istanbul..that is Armanoush.. and she's not illegitimate.. her parentage is pretty clear. but she seems to be the protagonist.. on the other hand, Asya is the illegitimate one (and yeah.. the ending was shocking!).. but i thought she had a smaller role to play in the book!
I didn't miss the end.. just didnt want to write about it..coz i didnt want to give it away!:)

Pratima said...

sounds interesting! most probably i will update my list with this :)

Laxmi Karumbu said...

Ramya You are almost done with the OT challenge. I don't even time to go over all your reviews it was so fast :)And I love your map way of depicting it.

Madeleine said...

You are right, I believe the title is correct however I cannot explain without giving away the ending...:D It has been over a year since i read this book the ending is what stuck and I leave it at that. I think it is a must read, and you?

Hope you have a nice week

Ramya said...

@pratima - yeah.., you must read this.. i think you'll like this:)

@laxmi - I know! I can't believe i read so many books this past month! I have had a great time!:)

@madeleine - I am amazed you remember so much about the book after a year! I definitely think it is a must read as well..

Pratima said...

So you are reading 'The Book Thief' now? :) I almost picked it up last week but the very size of it put me down, somehow i need to force myself to pick up big fat books!! am still halfway thru Shantaram.. god knows when i will finish it! :P

Ramya said...

i'm reading the book thief now..and i am loving it!:) don't let the size of the book scare you.. it seems to be pretty easy to read.. i got tired of shantaram towards the end.. it was just too long for me.. lets see how the book thief goes..:)

Myrthe said...

I think that the Baron (together with the whole online "gang") was really just a way to get all the different opinions on the Genocide from the Armenian side in the book. I actually found the online-thing one of the weakest parts of the book, it seemed too forced, as if Shafak put it in only because she needed a vehicle to insert the Armenian side of the genocide-issue in the story. Otherwise, I enjoyed the book a lot as an almost magical-realist story.

There is a review on my blog as well.

Ramya said...

yeah.. it was pretty weak.. i agree.. she could have done so much better with that group.. i kept waiting for more to happen and felt kinda let down coz that group just paled into insignificance..