by Sukey HowardMay, 2007
The past is anything but bygone
<b>The Bastard of Istanbul</b>, Elif Shafak's sixth novel and the second written in English, was an instant bestseller in Turkey and got her indicted for denigrating Turkishness, code for openly discussing the Armenian diaspora and the 1915 massacre, a taboo subject in Turkey. Despite the dark historical core and its lasting effects on generations of Armenians, this is an ebullient, richly textured family saga set for the most part in crowded, colorful Istanbul. Asya Kazanci, now 19, the bastard of the title, lives with her beautiful, miniskirted mother, three odd aunts, a grim grandmother and an Alzheimer-ridden great-grandmother in a truly eccentric household. Mustafa, her uncle and only male relative, was sent to Arizona before her birth and has never returned, nor communicated beyond random postcards. Enter Armanoush, also 19, Mustafa's Armenian/American stepdaughter who has come to Istanbul to seek her Armenian roots, add a healthy dose of wild coincidence, a soupcon of Turkish-style magical realism and the past begins to pierce the present, family secrets surface and the horrors of history take on personal reality. Laurel Merlington reads with verve and understanding, easily managing the sprinkles of Turkish and Armenian words.