Elif Shafak: The Bastard of Istanbul

Reading this is like walking into the vibrance of the color spectrum and ending up enveloped in its deepest and darkest hues.

But which caused the author to be put on trial for “denigrating Turkishness” under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. By lending voice to the Armenian characters in the novel, Elif Shafak risked being sentenced to prison. The charges were eventually dropped, but the incident highlights the fearlessness of a Turkish woman brave enough to write about something which, until now, the Turkish government denies — the Armenian Genocide during World War I. 

The dialogues between the descendants of the oppressed Armenians and modern-day Turks are moving and revealing on equal sides; the characters are relatable and human; historical facts and astonishing twists leave the reader no choice but to gasp; magic realism effectively subtle; all these, interlaced into the breathtaking and bewitching chaos that is Istanbul make it a triumph of unforgettable and disquieting beauty.

And because the two main characters are readers, there are ruminations on the power of the written word: “Though books were potentially harmful, novels were all the more dangerous.  The path of fiction could easily mislead you into the cosmos of stories where everything was fluid, quixotic, and as open to surprises as a moonless night in the desert… Imagination was a dangerously captivating magic for those compelled to be realistic in life, and words could be poisonous for those destined always to be silenced.”

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