Published in 2006 by Viking Press, ‘The Bastard of Istanbul’ had cost Elif Shafak almost 3 years of prison due to ‘insulting Turkishness’ in some parts of the book. The fact remains that the distinctively thorny past that has given birth to the illustrative democracy of Turkey is only about 100 years old.
This Turkish bestseller stars two female young adults- Asya and Armanoush; one who denies the presence of history and another who covers miles to dig up her genealogy.
The novel opens with no bounds of time or location, from the eighties to 2005; it starts in Istanbul, takes a journey through Arizona and San Francisco and then comes a full circle again to Istanbul.
Asya though knowing her parental relationship with the tattoo parlour owner Zeliha ( who is likely as rebellious as her daughter), calls her auntie along with her other Kazanci aunties, which include a seer ( who is a master of two opposing djinnies- which is both a blessing and a curse), a geography teacher, and an ever anxious aunt who constantly changes her hair colour according to her moods.
On the other hand, Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian have been brought up by her over concerned mother and Turkish stepfather in Arizona. She spends half the year in San Francisco with her father’s huge Armenian family who plainly despise the Turks.
Armanoush in her quest to know more about her fraternal grandmother’s lineage ends up in Istanbul and stays with who else but her stepfather Mustafa’s family ( who has left for San Francisco to avoid the family curse of the death of the men in the family by the age of 41). Armanoush with Mustafa’s niece and the title’s ‘Bastard’, Asya explores the city of Istanbul where each neighborhood looks like a different country altogether. Asya introduces Armanoush her ever debating friends of Café Kundera; whereas Armanoush brings Asya to the online world of Café Constantinopolis.
Armanoush when talks about the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman empire to Asya’s family, they seem to be slightly moved momentarily but are mainly unaffected.
The novel ends where it had initially begun; through the revelation of identities of the owner and descendants of a ruby-ed pomegranate brooch.
The best part of Elif Shafak’s sixth novel ‘Bastard of Istanbul’ is how actual history and fictional history have interlaced to produce an amusing family drama.
The naming of each chapter after an ingredient of the Turkish and Armenian delight, Asure has an impeccable significance. It reveals that every event whether good or bad is an important ingredient in the recipe of existence.