Cultural clashes and confusions litter the pages of this latest novel from Elif Shafak, well-known feminist and author of The Bastards of Istanbul. Flitting around different places and generations, a story of love, honour and murder slowly unravels. At its centre is a half Turkish, half Kurdish family ripped apart by a father's failures, a mother's devotion and a son's forced hand. But it's not just a story that Shafak has to deliver with this novel; there is a message behind her words too - one that seeks to explain, as well as condemn, honour killings that are so often splashed over the front pages of worldwide newspapers. Rather than ignorant and instantaneous judgement, Shafak uses this novel to shed light on how and why honour killings, all too often, tear families apart.
Through parable-like tales and insights into everyday life, Elif Shafak tells the story of the Toprak family, who make the journey from Turkey to London in search of a new life. Growing up in 70s London, the three Toprak children learn to live in limbo, caught between two cultures, never quite belonging to either. As the reader delves further into the past and present mind-sets of each individual family member, one begins to understand the struggles of everyday life for immigrants in a foreign city - on the one hand it is an escape from a past life, a welcome new beginning, a second chance, but on the other it is an impossible adjustment.
Thrown to the head of the family at only 16, Iskender is torn between his desire to live the life of a London teenager in all its freedom and the responsibility that he has to his family's honour - as he struggles with a relationship with an English girl, the pressure to act against his family for his family gets stronger. His father, Adem, drifts away after meeting an exotic dancer, while his mother shames the family by entering into an affair with a London chef. Shafak boldly confronts the realities of Muslim tradition, as the young Iskender is persuaded by various relatives and acquaintances to kill his mother for the shame she has brought to the family name.
Though a tragic story that twists and turns when you least expect, it paints a real - and for the most part believable - picture of immigrant life in the UK. Traditions run head long into modern values, with just the right amount of creative license to suck the reader in and allow a strong identification with the main characters. The story Shafak tells here is bold in its condemnation and not in the least afraid of detailing the horrors of life for some Muslim women, but also for young men. Certain parts may cause the reader to cringe with their bluntness but it is a necessary evil - one that opens the reader's eyes to the huge and often clashing differences between cultures. An all-round great read, as well as a poignant reminder of the struggles faced by so many Muslims living in Britain, and around the world.
Average price: £12.99