Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Book Review: Honour by Elif Shafak

Book: Honour

Author: Elif Shafak

Pages: 342

Read: The paperback edition pictured above

Read in: 2 days

Plot Summary: Internationally bestselling Turkish author Elif Shafak’s new novel is a dramatic tale of families, love, and misunderstandings that follows the destinies of twin sisters born in a Kurdish village. While Jamila stays to become a midwife, Pembe follows her Turkish husband, Adem, to London, where they hope to make new lives for themselves and their children.

In London, they face a choice: stay loyal to the old traditions or try their best to fit in. After Adem abandons his family, Iskender, the eldest son, must step in and become the one who will not let any shame come to the family name. And when Pembe begins a chaste affair with a man named Elias, Iskender will discover that you could love someone with all your heart and yet be ready to hurt them.

Honor is a powerful, gripping exploration of guilt and innocence, loyalty and betrayal, and the trials of the immigrant, as well as the love and heartbreak that too often tear families apart.

Things I Liked: Quick list:

1. The premise of the story is very interesting- the book covers a wide range of experiences from the life of two girls in a Kurdish village in Turkey to the immigrant experience in England. The multiple stories and experiences that can stem from such a varied journey is what drew me to this book. 

2. Also, I really like Elif Shafak's writing style. I read The Forty Rules of Love by her and really, really loved it! I also enjoyed The Bastard of Istanbul by her and was excited to read Honour as well. 

3. I loved the stories set in Turkey- that of Pembe and Jamila, of Adem's family, of Adem and his love story. There is something so innocent, simple yet beautiful about stories set in the 1960s and before. Pembe and Jamila's life in their village is what sets the tone for this book- the beliefs of the villagers, the strict 'honour' codes in the Kurdish-Turkish culture, the unwillingness to forgive any small trespasses/ mistakes, especially those made by women... all very interesting and portentous to what happens in London around 20-odd years since these events. 

4. The characters are all very well-etched, like they tend to be in Shafak's books. You get to really know and understand Pembe, Adem, Iskender, Jamila and several others during the course of this book. 

5. The book also deals with the duality of the immigrant's experience- the need and urge to fit in with the new socio-cultural reality whilst trying to hold on to what is known, trusted and understood. The struggle, ironically, is especially tough on Iskender, who left Turkey at 7 to move to the UK. Whilst his siblings Esme and Yunus are much more well-adjusted and have no angst about their new life in the UK. 

6. There is also an interesting sub-plot about Yunus' unlikely friendship with a group of rebels and outcasts (punks) who live in an abandoned mansion in their neighbourhood. There is a motel crew of characters in this mix who seem so typical to that period- very well captured and it made for such an interesting contrast with what Iskender was going through at that time. 

7. Honour, at a basic level, is about honour killing. It is about the notion that a family's honour rests on the delicate shoulders of its women. From Pembe's eldest sister being forced to hang herself and Pembe's own experiences when she embarks on a totally chaste romantic relationship with Elias, the barbaric notion that a woman who has besmirched the family name deserves nothing less than death is a very persistent theme in this book. It is, especially, tragic because honour killings happen even today in so many parts of the world, including urban India! Such a shame! 

Things I Didn't Like: Nothing much, really. There were some chapters from Adem's perspective, which were supposed to help us understand him better and while those were necessary (because it is very difficult to empathise with Adem!), I found them a bit tedious. I'd have rather read more about Jamila's life in her Kurdish village or about Pembe and Elias. 

Rating: 4/5 
Highly recommended if you enjoy historical fiction, stories about multiple generations of the same family and just well-written books, in general! 

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