Book review: The Bastard of Istanbul

elif shafak

I ummed and ahhed about writing this review, as I generally try to focus on the positives in books. I tried to force myself to enjoy it (The Lives of Others, anyone?!) but after much posturing was forced to admit that the resounding feeling The Bastard of Istanbul left on me was ‘meh’. I don’t know if that’s because of the hype garnered from the accusation of being ‘anti Turkish’, because the quote from the cover reads ‘shocking, ambitious, exuberant’ or because I’m a mardy cow; but it just all felt a bit ‘meh’. meh

Don’t get me wrong there are flashes of brilliance in this book. Shafak’s treatment of Turkish attitudes to the Armenian genocide and the responsibility of remembrance are important and raise vital questions about the position of nationalism, stereotypes and pre and post Ataturk mentalities. I particularly enjoyed her portrayal of Islam and modernity which, contrary to predominant western representations, are not juxtaposed as two conflicting concepts, but instead inform the fabric of cultural Turkish identity infusing it with Islamic tradition, spirituality and secularism. Set in a country where politically the two are often represented as mutually exclusive, this hybridity of personal identity felt a more accurate portrayal of the quotidian. Whilst this diversity was represented between the sisters however, the narrative would have benefited if it was focussed more in one character, rather than a whole host of them. And therein lies the problem for me with this novel- there was too much of nothing going on. At times it felt like reading four pages of the same paragraph over again. Whilst Shafak is a lauded and talented writer capable of beautiful prose, the language in this novel was irritatingly florid (and that’s coming from a gobshite). Her treatment of national amnesia is important and recognition of our ‘fathers crimes’ is central to understanding ones heritage I just would have preferred to read about in essay form. The plot itself was predictable and I closed the cover of this book and eagerly jumped straight into my next- which thankfully, was bloody brilliant.


  1. I would definitely agree with your assessment of this novel. I can’t get over how “meh” I feel reading it. Very rarely do I leave a novel unfinished, but this may be one of those times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment and I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one. I was beginning to think that it was just me as everyone raves about this book! Have you read the Lives of Others by any chance? Like you, I rarely abandon books but that one tested me! 🙂


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