Her latest book, Honour, widens her earlier treatment of the theme of identity, to examine what it means to be an immigrant when the prescriptive traditions you have fled are still carried within. Years ago in Turkey, his paternal grandmother ran off to live with her lover. In precise prose, Shafak captures a culture where a man can abandon the family home to shack up with a mistress with no redress, but where a woman who elopes will be presented with a rope as an unspoken instruction to do the decent thing. In scenes which blaze with the force of parable, she shows sons being worshipped by their mothers and fathers being eventually overthrown by their sons. While never condoning the crime at the heart of this story, she does offer us a glimpse of how lost a child can become when the family structure falls apart. There are plotting frustrations.

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Share via Email Elif Shafak … in her writing she sets out to dissolve what she regards as false narratives. Photograph: Murdo Macleod Elif Shafak begins her new novel with a dedication containing a dark and portentous anecdote: when she was seven years old, she lived next door to a tailor who was in the habit of beating his wife. In the morning, we went on with our lives as usual. The entire neighbourhood pretended not to have heard, not to have seen. It is implied, but not confirmed, that his victim was their mother.

Esma admits to having thought often about killing her brother in revenge. She describes a world where women as well as men enforce an honour code that results in the social death of men who fail to act like men, and the actual death of several female relatives.

When her family migrates to Istanbul, and then to London in the early s, they take that code with them, but as they grow accustomed to life in the west it becomes less a system of social regulation than a compulsion they can neither control nor understand. Adem, the father, falls in love with an exotic dancer.

Disgraced, he drifts away. Iskender, the eldest son, is left unprotected and is brutally bullied before forming his own gang and doing much worse to others. Tradition dictates that he is now the head of the household, and even though she does not like him controlling her, she nevertheless defers to him, going out of her way to convey her approval for her "sultan". Running in parallel with this all-too-familiar tragedy is another story.

Even in that village near the Euphrates, where mothers grieve at the birth of each new daughter, women wield considerable social powers, although they are inclined to express them through dreams, premonitions, and potions.

They also impart a gentler Islamic tradition of mercy and compassion, encouraging an imaginative engagement with both tradition and the modern world. Pembe longs to travel, and she has her wish. When a dream signals that her twin is in danger, Jamila has no trouble finding the people who can get her to London without proper documentation. The two younger Toprak children show a similar independence of thought as they struggle to resolve the contradictions that have brought their family down.

Shafak is an extremely popular novelist in Turkey, particularly loved by young, educated and newly independent women who appreciate her fusion of feminism and Sufism, her disarmingly quirky characters and the artful twists and turns of her epic romances. Born in Strasbourg to a diplomat mother, educated in Europe, the United States and Turkey, she writes some books in her native Turkish and others like this one in English.

In everything she writes, she sets out to dissolve what she regards as false narratives. The book calls to mind The Color Purple in the fierceness of its engagement with male violence and its determination to see its characters to a better place. But Shafak is closer to Isabel Allende in spirit, confidence and charm. Her portrayal of Muslim cultures, both traditional and globalising, is as hopeful as it is politically sophisticated.

This alone should gain her the world audience she has long deserved.


Honour by Elif Shafak: review



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