23 April 2007

The Bastard of Istanbul



While in the US I started and finished 'The Bastard of Istanbul' by Elif Shafak. In the author's acknowledgements she states, "Between the Turkish edition and the English edition of this novel in 2006, I was put on trial for "denigrating Turkishness" under article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. The charges that were brought against me were due to the words that some of the Armenian characters spoke in the novel; I could have been given up to a three-year prison sentence, but the charges were eventually dropped."

Well, folks, that's pretty much why I bought the book, and I only bought it because there is no library to borrow it from. I really wanted to read it. I'm glad I did. It is a book full of characters who are (usually in more than one way) between cultures. And since that's my whole life, I was interested.

Its the first time I've read a book and thought "I could write this better". How's that for arrogance? But honestly, there were too many times when the reader is told rather than shown, and the telling wasn't convincing. On the other had there were some sections that were perfect. There's no other word for it, they were really that good. Its too bad that many of the characters seem like rough sketches or paper-doll cut-outs. Oddly, its the dead characters that really seem alive.

Anyway, enough of that. In one rather neat section, the author describes various dishes in a restaurant in terms of modern art they resemble:
Sesame-crusted ahi tuna tartare with foie gras yakiniku appears as Francesco Boretti's The Blind Whore (you'll have to scroll down). Prime rib-eye with hot mustard cream sauce on a bed of pasison fruit vinaigrette and jicama materializes as a Mark Rothko Untitled. (No I don't know which 'Untitled' the author intended, and I've made no effort to find one that could be recreated in steak, mustard, and passion fruit.)

These dishes are brought to the table where one of the central characters is having dinner with a cameo-character who is even more paper-doll like than she is. When dessert arrives (without the reader hearing the characters order) they are described as Peter Kitchell's April Blues Bring May Yellows and Jackson Pollock's Shimmering Substance.

At first, both characters find it a bit overwhelming to munch their way through great works of art but eventually forget and eat freely.

Art as Food, made by a chef who wanted to be a philosopher and then an artist, and after failing at both turned to food. I'm still trying to figure out why the author included this restaurant scene at all. It wasn't one of the books strong moments, and I can't help trying to figure out what she meant for it to accomplish, because I must be observing its failure to deliver. Otherwise, would I be wondering?

1 comment:

Dad said...

I am glad you enjoyed the book and that I did not read it. I am secure in my cultural state of existence in the beautiful mountains of NC. How about a book including a Carolina Burger?