#BookReview – Honor by Elif Shafak

This week, I’ll be featuring and reviewing ‘Honor‘ by Elif Shafak.

Shafak has the power to weave the story so intricately that you do not even realize that you are into an unknown world and an unknown culture yet seems so familiar that you feel like the characters are your close friends.

I love watching Turkish TV shows and this book seems like I was inside a dizi. The story starts with how one woman, pressurized by the society of having seven daughters and unable to produce a male heir finally holds her last breath, in her last childbirth. The last twins born are named: Pembe Kader (Pink Destiny) and Jamila Yeter (Enough Beauty).

In their Kurdish town, both are called Pembe and Jamila. Jamila chooses to stay a virgin while Pembe marries a man who was never in love with her. When her first child was born, Pembe felt that her mother’s ghost would haunt her for the rest of her life since she gave birth to a boy named Iskender and her mother died in childbirth and her wish to have a boy was never fulfilled.

Feeling too proud of her achievement, Pembe raises her son Iskender like a sultan and calling him ‘apple of my eye.’ She gives birth to two more children—a girl Esma and a boy Yunus but no child of hers is as dear to her as her firstborn.

In this novel, we see cultural diversity and how your life turns three-sixty degrees from living in Istanbul to migrating to London.

If London were a confection, it would be a butterscotch toffee—rich, intense and traditional. Istanbul however, would be black-cherry liquorice — a mixture of conflicting tastes, capable of turning the sour into sweet and the sweet into sour.

If you have visited both cities, you can read between the lines.

Yet the values Pembe is raised with, she tries her best to transfer it to her children. After Pembe’s husband left the family for some prostitute, Pembe spends a lot of time alone, working hard, making both ends meet to feed her children. In her journey, she meets a man named Elias and gradually they both develop an intimate relationship.

When this news reaches her sultan and favourite son, Iskender, he is unable to accept the fact that his mother can fall in love with a man other than his father. Though not culturally-bound, Iskender is mostly British, but his family’s influence, the fear of being tainted in the community, the dread of being judged by other Muslim neighbors, he prefers to kill his own mother than paying attention to her feelings.

So it was that in the land where Pink Destiny and Enough Beauty were born, ‘honour’ was more than a word. It was also a name. You could call your child ‘Honour’, as long as it was a boy. Men had honour. Old men, middle-aged men, even school boy so young that they still smelled of their mother’s milk. Women did not have honour. Instead, they had shame. And, as everyone knew, Shame would be a rather poor name to bear.

At this point, we see the hypocrisy of the male gender, where Iskender is sleeping with a white girl himself but deem it necessary to safeguard his honor by killing his own mother.

If you are a lover of diverse voices, enjoy Turkish shows like me, and love reading something out of the norms—then I’d highly recommend it.

★★★★★ Five-stars to the great read!

Book Blurb:

An honor killing shatters and transforms the lives of Turkish immigrants in 1970s London

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.

Just published to great acclaim in England, 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.

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