• The Bastard of Istanbul, Vol 3

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 6 comments

    (Editor’s Note:This is the final post in our discussion of The Bastard of Istanbul. Thanks for reading along, and make sure to hunt down a copy of April’s selection, Luc Carl’s The Drunk Diet, to be moderated by Laura Roberts. The book is split into two sections; Laura’s first discussion post, which will cover Section I of the book, will go live on April 10, and Part II, covering the book’s second half, will post April 17. Make sure to join in, WriteByNighters–this looks like a fun one.

    And now, Leah’s thoughts on the conclusion of The Bastard of Istanbul. DD)


    So we’ve reach the final chapters of The Bastard of Istanbul and all of those plotlines and characters finally converge. Yes, I’ll admit that I wondered for awhile whether or not this would all get tied together, but oh how it does.

    Just going to go ahead and issue a SPOILER ALERT for anyone joining in on the discussion late. I’m going to reveal pretty much everything that happened, so reader beware.

    The Past

    As the narrative draws closer to its conclusion, debates about the past no longer bubble beneath the surface. They’re right out there in broad daylight waiting to be debated. Perhaps the most interesting example of this was when Armanoush brought Asya into the Armenian chat room. Some choice quotes:

    Daughter of Sappho: “You see, here’s the difference. The oppressor has no use for the past. The oppressed has nothing but the past.”

    Lady Peacock/Siramark: “Without knowing your father’s story, how can you expect to create your own story?”

    Asya: “All my life I wanted to be pastless. Being a bastard is less about having no father than having no past…and now here you are asking me to own the past and apologize for a mythical father!” (Pages 261 – 263).

    There are so many important themes and questions here. Do you think Asya can apologize for a state with which she doesn’t identify and a past she doesn’t know? Or is this irrelevant in the face of simple recognition?

    There are also questions of identity and nationality here, too. Namely, I wondered if we can ever escape these larger narratives, or if we are always a part of this continuum. And so, we return to our questions from last week. Is an individual life made by escaping or embracing the past?

    The Marks of Diaspora and the Importance and Ambiguity of Istanbul

    Our relationship to the past relates closely with the next big theme I saw: the marks of diaspora. I was particularly intrigued with the symbolism of the pomegranate as well as Aram’s interesting choice of tattoo – an uprooted fig tree. Aram seems to be the only character who will embrace things as they are. Unlike Armanoush, who assumes he would be happier off in America, he is happiest in Istanbul, where history, modernity, and cultures have always converged.

    This ambiguity, this mix of cultures and thoughts, is central to Istanbul’s beauty and tragedy. We see its effects on every character, whether they’re noting this mixture of influences directly or running away from it as Mustafa does.

    How do the character’s relationship to this ambiguity (and therefore Istanbul) lead to their survival, sins or undoing? (I am thinking here of Mustafa and Auntie Banu, who have completely opposite approaches).


    The Importance of Narrative

    Another theme I found fascinating throughout the book was the importance and diversity of narrative techniques. I was particularly intrigued by Auntie Banu’s dilemma:

    “How much of her knowledge could she share with those whose stories she learned through magic?” (Page 322).

    That, to me, gets to the heart of oppression, which is, at its core, an inability to understand the narratives of others. This seems like the driving point of the book, from the Dipsomatic Cartoonist who is sent to jail for his story to Havhannes Stamboulian’s moving folktale that was yet unable to prevent his demise to Shafak herself, who was brought up on charges of “insulting Turkishness” for writing this book.

    What narrative strategies do you believe are most effective in the book, both in how you responded to them and in serving the characters who told them within the world of the book? Why do you think there was such emphasis on narrative technique throughout?

    Other interesting things I’d love to discuss:


    • The symbol of the ashure (I thought the Noah story and the washing away of sins was very powerfully rendered here)
    • The unlearning of language
    • Male frailty (they all die before age 41)
    • Controlling female sexuality (Zeliha’s rape, though this is also a theme throughout the book)


    And anything else, of course! I enjoyed this book immensely and I hope you have, too!


    Leah Kaminsky is a short story and freelance writer originally from Ithaca, NY. She received her MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Washington in 2009. She has placed three times in Glimmer Train top 25 lists and was nominated for inclusion in Best New American Voices, 2008. Her work has appeared on the Rumpus, Pindeldyboz, The Yellow Ham and her mother’s fridge right next to that picture of bath time circa 1987. She is a big fan and producer of short-shorts and comics, which she posts semi-regularly on her website, leahkaminsky.wordpress.com. She is in the midst of launching Just Start Applications, a business, college and graduate school consultancy, located in Texas and Virginia and operating mostly online.

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    Justine Tal Goldberg

    C’mon folks, two readers does not a book club make. Speak up, please!

    Leah Kaminsky

    Well, it might be my guides. I’ve been too slammed with work and my whole head shave thing to make this concise.


    I think more likely is that it’s March, a month which I find to be totally off kilter every damn time it comes around. Funny, this book has some issues with March too–its fickle and unsteady nature. Whoever said April is the cruelest month (Eliot, Chaucer), you’re on my shit list.

    David Duhr

    Ooh, who is this mysterious “admin” person? And what happens to dead authors who get on his/her shit list? I’m very intrigued.

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    It’s me, it’s me! Those dead authors will wish they were dead.

    Leah Kaminsky

    You two are as hilarious and as carefree as Julius Caesar on March 1st! Hooooo. Soon to die dictator in March joke.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x