Peri, the Turkish; Shirin, the Iranian; Mona, the Egyptian; and a philosophy professor. Three women and a man whose lives intersect at the University of Oxford.
Deep into this multi-layered novel, it gradually occurred to me that the characters are actually a microcosm of beliefs, sentiments, and nations: Peri’s father and mother represent both the secular and the religious in Turkey, but despite all their irreconcilable arguments they are bound to coexist; Shirin, the atheist, is the Iranian who believes that the veil stands for the religious fundamentalism that sent her and her family to exile; Mona, the Islam believer, is the Egyptian who is convinced that the veil is her choice and her identity; Peri, the confused, the Turk who always felt somewhere in between (very much like her city, that hinge between Europe and Asia) and whose past is a burden; and the dynamic Professor Azur who challenges not only his students’ beliefs but their unbeliefs, too!
There are too many significant passages to iterate that I have resolved to leave it to the next reader to find and treasure those penetrating lines for themselves. In the acknowledgements, Elif Shafak writes, “My motherland, Turkey, is a river country, neither solid nor settled. During the course of writing this novel that river changed so many times, flowing with a dizzying speed… Motherlands are beloved, no doubt; sometimes they can also be exasperating and maddening. Yet I have also come to learn that for writers and poets for whom national borders and cultural barriers are there to be questioned, again and again, there is, in truth, only one motherland, perpetual and portable. Storyland.”
And yet this is a story that is not merely a story. It is a peephole into politics, stereotypes, philosophy, and life. The dialogues are a source of profound thought and it touches on relevant issues that are painfully ignored by the higher powers in government. But perhaps what I should be saying is that, nevermind my qualms with some metaphors, this is how stories should be — the kind that challenges the idea of what readers should be looking for in a book.