by Eli Shafak
This is my first Eli Shafak. I must say the back page summary and the cover equally attracted me to pick this book up. It is quiet a philosophical book with different views on god, religion, faith, and love. Don’t get me wrong, its a fiction revolving around Nazperi Nalbantoglu; her inner turmoils, confusion, and sadness, and a past which has burdened her heart and soul for over a decade.
Its 2016, and Peri and her daughter Deniz are stuck in traffic on the way to a party. As they wait, the author gives us an interesting insight into the heart of Istanbul.
Like a magic wand in wrong hands, the traffic turned minutes into hours, humans into brutes and any trace of sanity into sheer lunacy. Istanbul didn’t seem to mind. Time, brutes and lunacy it had aplenty. One hour more, one hour less; one brute more, one lunatic less-past a certain point, it made no difference….
A series of events and banter with her daughter results in Peri’s handbag being snatched from the back seat of her car. Desperate to get it back Peri makes a dash for it and ends up in a scuffle with the beggar. Two things happen: Peri makes the beggar cry, and an old picture of Peri is unearthed from the depths of her handbag.
The picture unlocks a memory door that Peri had kept closed with many locks. It was the picture of herself with her friends Shirin and Mona, and her alluring Professor Azur, taken when she was a student at Oxford University.
Peri’s childhood was spent in a lower middle class neighbourhood of the Mute Poet Street. It was guided by two radically opposite views, that of her father’s who believed in western ideologies, a civilized and modern world, and her mother who was very religious and followed strict rules which according to her would bring her close to Allah. Her two elder brothers had taken clear sides; Umut was in adherence with his father’s views and Hakan with his mother’s.
Peri, the last child, was aware that her position would mark a clear winner. But she could never take sides, always in the middle she tried to appease both her parents. This religious conflict between her parents turned into a mutual resentment and Peri was always conscious of the palpable tension whenever her parents were in the same room.
Peri was a bright student who loved reading. She devoured books like there was no tomorrow. Encouraged by her father Peri applied and got into the Oxford University. Excited and apprehensive Peri slowly got into a dogmatic routine at Oxford with the sole focus being her studies. Here she met Shirin and Mona. The former, a vivacious confident girl and the latter a faithful and resilient Islamist. She also got into Professor Azur’s God seminars. Initially finding him arrogant and patroninzing, she slowly started warming up to him, his views, his knowledge, and his energy while debating God. His compassion for Peri’s ever confused state of mind and heart comforted Peri.
He was an extraordinary teacher, a scholar of integrity. He had managed to shake her, motivate her, challenge her. She had worked harder in his seminar that in any other class. He had shown her the poetry in wisdom and the wisdom in poetry. In his seminar all were welcome and treated equally…
As Peri’s relations with the three of them entwined and became more deep, there were more clashes externally and internally within her. She was tired of herself and felt more alone than ever.
The book seamlessly jumps between the past and the present where Peri is at a seaside mansion with her husband and daughter. As the past comes flooding back she is constantly distracted. Riddled with guilt she keeps reflecting on her past actions finally deciding to confront it.
Peri’s character is very likeable and even endearing at times. However, her last act at Oxford is surprising and cowardly which seems a little out of character.
The writing of Eli Shafak is beautiful and detailed. The characters including Peri’s parents and brothers are well developed; there is a depth to each of them. The story takes time to become engaging and the ending is a little anti-climatic. However, once immersed you cant put it down till Peri’s secret is revealed.