REVIEW : ‘THE FLEA PALACE’ BY ELIF SHAFAK

One city, two cemeteries, two tombs, one Saint, one Bonbon Palace and ten flats.

The 2002 published ‘Bit Palas’, translated into English by Muge Gocek under the title ‘The Flea Palace’ can be illustrated as the ‘circle of nonsense with neither an end nor a beginning to its trajectory’. In between the horizontal and vertical lines of truth and deception, each of the ten flats form knots on the circle of nonsense.

Musa, Meryem and Muhammet; Sidar and Gaba; Hairdressers Cemal and Celal; The Firenaturedsons; Hadji Hadji, his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren; Mertin Chetinceviz and HisWifeNadia; Me; The Blue Mistress; Hygiene Tijen and Su; Madam Auntie – all have their own stories which could have aggregated into a novel each. Instead Shafak connects them all through ‘the irony in the efforts of purifying oneself via garbage’.

The ‘present’ of the novel unfolds in Bonbon Palace as named by Russian immigrant Agripinna Fjodorwna Antipowa who rediscovers her world of colours after unwrapping each of the variously coloured wrappers of flavoured bonbons.

Being transformed into a rundown apartment, Bonbon Palace harbours ten very different families, a confraternity of bugs and the sour smell of garbage.

A pregnant Meryem who is the building’s housemaid, is the boss of flat no 1 and clearly controls her spiritless spouse, Musa. She seeks Saints’ help to protect her bullied son in fear that he may turn into a man lacking as much bravery as his father.

In flat no 6, the Russian scientist has lost all her identity to become his unloving and cheating husband’s HisWifeNadia.

Sidar of the basement flat sticks all his posters up in the ceiling where Gaba cannot reach his paws. Sidar is in love with the idea of death and does not consent in anything paired.

Whereas the narrator ‘me’ in flat no 7 is a professor and a raki addict who is obsessed over his ex wife.

The Blue Mistress in the next flat, who is the keeper of an old olive oil merchant, is content with her fate and expects nothing more with her life.

In flat no 6, when his son and daughter in law leaves for work, Hadji Hadji tells his grandchildren scary stories, and the sick oldest son repeats himself everyday to his mother saying “No, grandpa is not telling them any of his tales”.

The twin brothers-a very talkative Cemal and a thoroughly peaceful Celal; who were separated when young have finally coalesced to give shape to their mutual interest in hairdressing and have opened a hair Salon in flat no 3, which had developed into more of a social hub.

Hygiene Tijen resides in flat no 9 with her hygiene obsession and her daughter Su- who turns her mother’s world upside down by getting lice.

The polite Madam Auntie has a history of losing loved ones and things. The shrinked woman never allows anyone to enter her huge flat no 10 due to her obsession.

The intricated Firenaturedsons had always had either potted plants, a fish tank full of fishes or caged canaries at flat no 4 depending upon Zelish Firenaturedsons’s current involvement in one of her three children’s lives.

Each of the lives of these flat members are interlaced through the pervading smell of garbage and the source of the same; whereas at the same time each of their lives are independent and separated from each other.

The novel is full of detailing and portrayals. The novel clearly depicts some strong and very conflicting female characters and their emotions, though neither of the male charterers are neglected.

Shafak once again makes Istanbul the reader’s own city starting with the cemeteries to the neighborhood with a sign reading: ” If the person who dumps garbage here is a woman, she is a whore, if a man, he is a pimp”.

The ending delightfully satiates the hunger increasing gradually at the beginning and steadily towards the very end, and yet opens for another invitation.

This bestseller shortlisted for the Foreign Fiction Prize of the Independent in London in 2005, is definitely not a breezy read. It demands time and attention, and restricts one to go at a very fast pace.

The story of ‘The Flea Palace’ just like Injustice Pureturk goes a long way to reach its destination and yet goes to have a closer look to confirm about its righteousness.

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