Shafak, Elif. The Bastard of Istanbul. Read by Laural Merlington. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Audio, 2007.
Reason read: I needed a book by an author with my initials for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading Challenge.
This is an example of getting so caught up in a book that you forget to take notes while reading. I finished this a week ago and never wrote a single note. Which means I didn’t capture favorite lines either. Bummer.
Two teenage girls with more in common than they think. Asya, born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey is surrounded by an eclectic family of overbearing, opinionated women with not a man in sight. Asya rages against her current life and past history because she thinks she doesn’t have an identity she can believe in. Nothing is of permanence. She has never known her birth father, she cleaves herself to a relationship with a married man, and calls her mother auntie, like the other three of five women in her household. Two grandmothers round out the chaotic family household.
Meanwhile, Armanoush is of Armenian descent, living in Tuscon, Arizona. She, too, is struggling to make sense of her roots as her stepfather is Turkish. There is no avoiding the historical significance of having an Armenian father and Turkish stepfather. This stepfather happens to be Asya’s uncle as well.
When Armanoush decides to visit Asya and her family for answers, the past rolls back in like a tsunami, taking down everything in its path. As I mentioned before, this is a captivating story and it will sweep you away with its twists and turns.
Author fact: Shafak also wrote The Forty Rules of Love which is on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: This should be a movie.
Nancy said: Pearl said The Bastard of Istanbul is one of three novels of note. Specifically, BoI is “engrossing.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Turkish Delights” (p 240). I don’t know if anyone else was reminded of this when they read the title of this chapter, but I immediately thought of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion the Witch, and the Wardrobe. If I ever meet Pearl again, I will have to ask! Because if she meant the reference as I thought it, it is subtle and clever and I love it.
I don’t have writer’s block. I have writer’s apathy. I have nothing to say. Here are the books already underway for November:
- The Sporting Club by Thomas McGuane – in honor of the Mackinac bridge being built in November of 1957.
- The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak – I needed an author with my same initials for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.
- Four Corners: a Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea by Kira Salak – in honor of November being a decent time to visit PNG…if you are into that sort of thing.
- Israel is Real: an Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History by Rich Cohen – in recognition of Resolution 181.
- Silverland: a Winter Journey Beyond the Urals by Dervla Murphy – in honor of Murphy’s birth month.
- Master of Hestviken: the Snake Pit by Sigrid Undset – to continue the series started in October. I needed a translated book written by a woman. Voila!
- Echo Burning by Lee Child – to continue the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Teaching Empathy: Strategies for Building Emotional Intelligence in Today’s Children by Suzanna Hershon, PhD.
Arana, Marie. American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood. New York: Dial Press, 2001.
Reason read: August is called the selfish month by some. Nancy Pearl called her autobiography chapter in More Book Lust “Me, Me, Me” which made me think to read American Chica in August.
Marie Arana grew up in an intercultural family with a South American father born in Peru, and a North American mother. Her parents met in Boston, Massachusetts of all places. This all sounds exotic and fun, but it wasn’t always easy for Arana to know how to fit in on either side of the cultural divide.
The very first sentence of American Chica sets the entire tone of Arana’s memoir, “The corridors of my skull are haunted” (p 5). Indeed, Arana’s family history hides ghosts and her story prods proverbial skeletons out of closets. I won’t give away the details but there was one moment in Arana’s story that had me holding my breath. She has a brush with impropriety that is tinged with the guilty question of did I bring this on myself? Is it somehow my fault? I could relate.The most poignant pieces of Arana’s writing was when she was remembering her innocence; the times when prejudice didn’t darken her childhood.
Other lines I liked, “It is more than a simple resentment, less than an all-out war” (p 63).
Author fact: According to the back flap of American Chica, Arana served on the board of directors of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Book Critics Circle.
Book trivia: Arana’s memoir does not include any photographs except a family portrait in the beginning.
Nancy said: Pearl called American Chica “a beautifully written memoir” (More Book Lust p 167).
BookLust Twist: As mentioned earlier, from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Me, Me, Me: Autobiographies” (p 167).
A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters From the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward. Isaac Metzker, ed. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
Despite its small size (214 pages), A Bintel Brief contains the very essence of Jewish-American New York. Between its pages the culture, society, ideals, hopes and dreams of immigrants struggling to call America their own come pouring out. As a section in the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper, the Bintel Brief was a section of letters to the editor, edited by Isaac Metzker. Many of the letters were based on ethical conundrums; people seeking advice on issues like relationships, work ethic, and the daily struggle to make ends meet. The writers of these letters placed a high value on the opinion of the editor, seeking his advice, his blessing, his approval. However, some are attempts at communication with a missing loved one; a calling out of sorts. The Bintel Brief was a vehicle for exposing mistreated spouses, publicizing petty family arguments, and searching for loved ones.
Author Fact: When Metzker was 20 years old he came to America as a stowaway.
Favorite photo: “Shopping on Hester Street, 1895” (p 10-11). Looking into those eyes I can almost touch the desperation.
Most striking letter: “This is the voice of thirty-seven miserable men who are buried but not covered by earth, tied down but not in chains, silent but not mute, whose hearts beat like humans, yet are not like other human beings….” (p 110). how can that not draw you in?
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “The Jewish-American Experience” (p 133).
Wong, Jade Snow. Fifth Chinese Daughter. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1950.
I have to start of with a confession: Chinese culture makes me think Americans are unspeakably rude.
Fifth Chinese Daughter is an autobiography written in simple and straightforward language in the proper Chinese third person. As a result I read it in two day’s time. It covers the first 24 years of a Chinese-American girl, Jade Snow Wong. From the very beginning, growing up in San Francisco, California, Wong struggled with cultural differences between modern America and the Old World Chinese of her parents. Everything from food, physical contact, gender discrimination, mourning the dead & burials, order of names, to education was contradictory and Wong had to wade through it all during her most formative years. While she didn’t mean to disrespect her parents she struggled with independence in a new world, especially when she sought an education normally expected of males in her culture.
I am borrowing this book from a school so it shouldn’t surprise me that someone has drawn in it, and yet it bugs me just the same.
Favorite moments in the book: first, I love the cat in the illustration on page 22. Second, I found the description of the treatment of rice (p 58 – 59) to be very interesting.
Book Trivia: Fifth Chinese Daughter is actually the first volume in a two-volume autobiography. The second volume is No Chinese Stranger but, sadly, Pearl only recommends Fifth Chinese Daughter.
Author Fact: Wong was an accomplished potter and some of her pieces made into museum shows.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called ” Asian American Experiences” (p 26).
Thomas, Elizabeth Marshall. The Harmless People. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970.
Elizabeth Thomas put a lot of heart and soul into the writing of The Harmless People. Her research was not done from a cold, calculating, scientific perspective. From the very first pages one can feel the intensity of the respect she has for the lives and cultures Kalahari Bushmen. Thomas seems driven to convey a message more important than all the others about the reclusive tribes and that is they are gentle people. Harmless. Their tribal name for themselves is Zhu twa si, meaning the harmless people. There are many occasions for Thomas to illustrate this. In order to study each Kalahari tribe Thomas first had to find them which proved to be difficult because they had a tendency to run and hide at the first sign of stranger intrusion. Even after finding these people she (and her crew of scientists and researchers) had to convince them she wasn’t there to create conflict or enslave them or steal from them. It took a great deal of time to gain their trust just so that Thomas could live among them.
Favorite lines, “…Bushmen would not try to fight because they have no mechanism in their culture for dealing with disagreements other than to remove the causes of the disagreements” (p 22), and “We would have liked to look around, but the best thing we could do was keep our big boots and our bodies away from their delicate, fragile, almost invisible community” (p 41).
Most disturbing moment? Believe it or not, when Thomas describes the killing, cooking and consumption of a turtle. I could barely read the words.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Africa: a Reader’s Itinerary” (p 4).
Maitland, Sara. Ancestral Truths. New york: Henry Holt & Co., 1993.
To be quite honest I don’t know how this came into my hands. I’ve already read one book in honor of National Sibling Month. This was supposed to be on the list for next year, or maybe even the year after that. I wasn’t supposed to read two sib books in one month. But, suddenly there it was and after I picked it up I couldn’t put it down.
Ancestral Truths is a bizarre tale about a woman who starts a journey climbing a mountain in Zimbabwe with her lover and ends it with her alone with an amputated hand and the nagging doubt of murder in her heart. Reliving her days in Italy and on Mount Nyamgani while on holiday with her large family in Scotland, Clare Kerlake tries to figure everything out. Did she kill her boyfriend? Can she live without her right hand? She comes from a large family and they all have baggage so it’s no surprise when the plot gets a little preachy and over the top. Religion, feminism, mysticism and witchcraft all play a part in this novel. It gets heavy at times but well worth slogging through.
Favorite parts: “She was an amputee, a cripple, stared at discreetly and pitied; or completely ignore, invisible in the embarrassment of strangers” (p 10). “‘You named me,’ Joseph once said irritably, ‘not only after the only married male virgin in the Church’s calendar, but after the only bloke in history who would take his pregnant girlfriend on a trip without booking in advance'” (p 110). Last one, “Clare had been embarrassed, self-conscious in her laughter while Julia was free in hers” (p 286).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Brothers and Sisters” (p 47).
A couple of years ago I had a dream about my death. Two friends were dragging me across a field to lay me in a field of daisies. They talked about me as if I had wronged them by leaving them. Here’s the freaky part. When they let go of me – to drop me off in my final resting place – when my head hit the ground – I woke up. This is what I wrote afterwards:
Here I am. Stuck on the wrong side of sleep yet again. A dream startled me awake and that’s simply all it took. I’m reduced to prowling the cyberworld once again. I won’t go into details because even though my dream was troubling I don’t want to read into it anymore than my psyche already has. I will say this, it has me thinking about human perception. Friends and death. When do you know you have a friend? Really, truly know someone is your friend? Is it based on how many comments they leave you on MySpace? Is it weighed by how many times they call your cell phone? Is it the amount of concern they show you in times of trouble? Is it by their reaction to you when you are falling down drunk? I am losing my grip on what constitutes a real, honest to goodness friend.
the death perception is easier to figure out. It’s easier to define because my trouble is a single ponderance – why does a person lose all they love then they die? At what point does a person go from being Dear Uncle Joe to “the body” they must do something with as quickly as possible? Why is it that we are a society that can;t get rid of the dead fast enough? I know I have questioned this before. In other cultures they take turns washing and dressing and sitting with their dearly departed. It’s a rare society that will not say “that’s not Aunt Julie anymore.” Our society means it when we say “She’s gone.”
So how are friends and death connected? Simple. Friends, when I die please don’t be so quick to get rid of the vessel that has housed my soul. Hang out for a little while, tell me ghost stories, play the music I love to hear, laugh about what I’ve lost because you know wherever I went I can’t find my keys.
“Grave digger, when you dig my grace could you make it shallow so that I can feel the rain?” ~ David J. Matthews
I think what I was really asking was this: please don’t drag me across a friend and leave me to push up the daisies.
Dubus III, Andre. House of Sand and Fog. New York: Vintage, 2000.
The whole time I was reading this I kept thinking two things. First, why can’t these people communicate, and how much am I missing because I’m not understanding the culture? What’s getting lost because I’m lost on the psychology? I kept mentally screaming, “you simply are not getting it!” first at one character, then another and another.
From the very beginning of this novel I felt as if I were a puppet – being played by both and all sides. I felt sorry for everyone involved and couldn’t decide who deserved my sorrow more. The Iranian family because Father had to work two jobs and they lived beyond their means behind a veil of pride and culture? The down-on-her-luck girl who lost her house because she wasn’t on top of her A game? The cop who was stuck in a loveless marriage and displayed Robin Hood crookedness whenever he saw fit? Everyone in our society who can’t pronounce Middle Eastern names? The drowning in paperwork county that messed everything up in the first place?
It’s the story of misunderstanding. When Kathy Nicolo loses her house to the country for owed taxes on a business she never had the miscommunications begin. When her house is sold to Massoud Amir Behrani the misunderstandings continue. Things become further complicated by Lester Burdon, a deputy sherrif who does things his own way. Caught in the web are Behrani’s family. Innocent and slightly less obsessed.
When people start to die, I decided I was sorry for everyone involved. Most of all I was sorry for the lack of communication whether it was complicated by culture or not.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust (p.129): Included in the chapter “It Was a Dark & Stormy Novel.”