According to me, the one thing which makes cultural fiction engaging and one of my favorite genres are the picturesque descriptions and eloquent language used, which is a common thread in most novels of this genre. It’s something I mentioned in my review of Girl, Woman, Other as well.
The Bastard of Istanbul is another such masterpiece of vivid writing and the author takes us deep into Turkey, highlighting its history and the lifestyle of its people. The plot revolves around two families interwoven by fate and it begins and ends on the same note, which is something you wouldn’t expect. Although the character’s experiences and stories are the essences of the book, a large aspect that moved the plot along was its focus on the Armenian Genocide of 1915. This was, which is something other bloggers wrote about too- a topic most of us don’t know about. But I think that’s one of the best parts of any art- it pushes you to learn more about an area you may know zilch about because, without knowledge of it, you wouldn’t understand what the artist is telling you.
The two families of the book are- the ‘Kazancis’ and the ‘Tchakmakhchians’ who are Turkish and Armenian Americans respectively. The book, however, goes into more detail on the Kazancis, a family rooted in Istanbul and female-dominated.
The Tchakmakhchians on the other hand, are based in the States having moved there after the genocide. But they remain authentically Armenian, with their culture and religion vibrant in the household.
The two main characters are Asya – namely the ‘bastard of Istanbul’ and Armanoush or Amy who’s half Armenian and whose American mother marries into the Kazanci family. Thus, begins the series of revelations as Amy visits the Kazancis in Istanbul. We see how both the girls have goals of their own which progress throughout the book.
To some extent, I did feel like some characters and their experiences were clichés. For instance, the main characters- Asya, the rebellious, outspoken girl in a conservative family and Armanoush, the shy, goody-two-shoes who loves to read. The author also includes many stories and perspectives, which became confusing and boring at times. Yes, each member of the family had a history, had something going on but some of them had no connection to the plot.
There were some aspects and storylines of the book which I think were very well expressed. The centuries-old bond and enmity between the Turks and the Armenians, and how the former denies the genocide ever happened which from what I’ve read, is what the Turkish government does to date. I liked the way the link between both families was ultimately shown.
The book touches upon how the past, present, and future work in tandem with one another, shape one another. How something like the Armenian genocide affected the Tchakmakhchians greatly when it occurred in 1915, but also troubled Armanoush generations later as she bared the burden of her family’s oppressive history while trying to embrace the place which oppressed them.
Final thoughts~ Apart from certain far-fetched aspects of the plot, the book is captivating and takes you through every alley and street of Istanbul. Besides, even if you don’t like the story at least you’ll learn the names of various Turkish and Armenian dishes- which will be a mouthful to say at first, but soon you’ll be well-acquainted with the dishes and tempted to try them!
Which other Turkish authors have you read?
OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK: