Two extended families, one Turkish living in Istanbul, the other in San Francisco, part of the Armenian diaspora. Through the interactions among and between them, we trace the tragic patterns of blame, denial, suppression of memory that have characterized relations between the two peoples since the massacres and deportations suffered by the Armenians at Turkish hands in the early months of 1915...the author seems sometimes to muffle up or undermine her own meanings is compounded with regret by the fact that a lot of the time the writing is very good, eloquent, bold, full of shrewd insights, with veins of satire and poetry and fantasy running through it, and turns of phrase that are witty and aphoristic... The narrative mode most resembles that of a storyteller in the oral tradition, leisurely and digressive and entirely arbitrary, moving from the horrors of the past to the pathologies of the present, through four generations...no reconciliation without justice. Elif Shafak's novel brings the possibility of it a step closer, and we are all in her debt for this.
The bond between Turks and Armenians, and the tangled dance of victimizer and victim, is actually the subject of The Bastard of Istanbul ... Two young women, one Turkish and one Armenian, one living in Turkey and the other in the United States, find themselves inextricably drawn together by history and family — two unique motors of remembrance that share more in common than might be clear at a glance ...details the process of two families, and two pasts, drawing closer together, with the sins of the family standing in for the collective sins of a country... Shafak is incapable of bringing harmony to such unsettled matters, even in the pages of a fictional narrative. All she can do, and does, is shine a light on the past, and keep it shining so that everyone — Turkish, Armenian, and otherwise — must look.
Asya Kazanci, the title character in The Bastard of Istanbul, is 19, headstrong, and sick of her family ... Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian lives in Arizona and San Francisco. She's 21, headstrong, and sick of her family ... Asya and Armanoush have something else in common besides difficult families and angst: a family member ... And when Armanoush has had enough — of her mother, of her father's family, and of not knowing who she is — she decides she needs to get away. And she needs to know what it means to be Armenian. And to do that she needs to go to Istanbul, where her family lived before the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Turks ...a great novel for female characters — even the ones who make the briefest appearances are rounded and whole. Reading the passages about them leaves you with the sense of having eavesdropped on real people in their homes ...a novel about Istanbul, about loving a place until its rhythms, smells, and colors are under your skin.