Tuesday, 5 April 2016

How it Happened & The Bastard of Istanbul

This time I have selected two books by female authors to write a small, non-spoiler review. I have put these two books together because I think they both have a thing in common - stories set in conventional household with powerful and dominating women. Both novels explore the perils and pleasures of close-knit families of women. But that is where the similarity ends! Read both the novels to understand how people in similar circumstances have such different lives…  

How it Happened

A glimpse into a typical Pakistani household where customs and traditions take precedence over everything and anything. From the eyes of the narrator, Saleha, the 15 year old daughter of the Bandian’s family, writer, Shazaf Fatima Haider, paints hilarious scenes of how the process of arrange marriages work in Pakistan. From the viewing of the potential bride to the actual proposals, to marriage and post marriage dramas, are all narrated from Saleha's point of view. The narration is hilarious and I love the way writer puts thoughts into words so effortlessly. The characters in the novel are very real and if you are a Pakistani, you will feel Déjà vu because you must have heard all these voices in your house too. All the characters despite of their eccentricity are lovable including dadi (grandmother), the imperious matriarch. Dadi’s mission is to uphold the family's value and honour which she feels can only be done in form of arranged marriages that too within same religious sects. Haroon, Saleha’s brother shocks her by proposing and marrying a co-worker but Zeba, Saleha’s sister, crosses all boundaries of sanity and sanctity by falling in love with a Sunni boy when she herself belonged to a staunch Shia family. The story revolves around the chaos that is created when both her grandchildren defy traditions she holds so scared.

While for dadi, these rules were the only way of living, Saleha and her sister looked at this 'ancestral heritage' in a different light. 

''We Bandians from Bhakuraj were proud of our collective identity, but maintaining this identity could sometimes become a struggle, especially for someone like my sister who had a mind of her own. While she, too, loved to hear the stories of Bhakuraj, she treated them as obsolete anecdotes merely meant to amuse, but for Dadi they were a code of life'

“The Bandians of Bhakuraj, true to their ancestral heritage, married not for love but because it happened to be convenient.”
The story has nothing extra ordinary or unpredictable; a Shia girl falling in love with a Sunni boy is not unheard of or unusual. But even with all its predictability, the book is un-put-down-able due to Shazaf’s brilliant narration, hilarious exchange of dialogues and her subtle satire on the undue family pressures, self imposed social and religious limitations and social evils like the demands of dowry, fair complexion and display of wealth etc. 

The book is light and an irresistible read.

 The Bastard Of Istanbul 

After Forty rules of Love by Elif Shafak (which I read first and reviewed here) I think 'Bastard Of Istanbul' is her best novel. It is a glimpse into life of a Turkish household deep rooted in orthodox traditions and beliefs. It is story of two girls connected in ways no one would ever expect. Asya Kazanci, the bastard daughter of Zeliha grows up in Turkey living with her mother and her four eccentric aunts and grandmother. She is headstrong, rebellious teenage girl who is clever and mature for a 19 years old. Asya's life is summed up in these lines:

“It is so demanding to be born into a house full of women, where everyone loves you so overwhelmingly that they end up suffocating with their love; a house where you, as the only child, have to be more mature than all the adults around.... But the problem is that they want me to become everything they themselves couldn't accomplish in 
life.....As a result, I had to work my butt off to fulfill all their dreams at the same time.”

Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian (Amy) lives in Arizona with her American mother and Turkish father, Mustafa. Amy’s struggle to understand her true identity takes her from her dull life in Arizona to culturally rich, Istanbul, where she stays with the strange Kazanci family. 

You will fall in love with Shafak's Istanbul. She paints it as a vibrant, full of life city; a bridge between opposites - between east and west, traditions and truth, superstitions and reality, sanity and insanity. Like Shakespeare's tragic heroes, her characters are bold, zealous and flawed but yet unforgettable. While the story revolves around two girls, writer touches the 1915 Armenian deportations and massacres when Amy digs through secrets to understand the pain and sorrow her family had faced. Elif Shafak was sued for bringing up this genocide in her book and could have faced three years in prison! 

This book is not everybody’s cup of tea. But I adore this poetry of words that forces you to think deeper and pushes the edge of your imagination, making you ask for more. 

"Once there was. Once there wasn't. God's creatures were as plentiful as grains and talking too much was a sin, for you could tell what you shouldn't remember and you could remember what you shouldn't tell."

Your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. These sound like some interesting books! I may have to add them to my to-read pile. ;-)