Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Year of Rumi

Riva Djinn couldn't be happier that UNESCO has declared 2007 as the International Year of Rumi.

Riva Djinn has a mystic flair, but hers is unlike Rumi's. You see, Rumi's mystic poems expressed his longing for union with the divine.

Ms. Djinn insists that union is permanent.

Sure, Riva Djinn composes mystic poetry, too. But you'd have to meet her in person to hear precious phrases dribble off her lips. She dare not write poetry because she knows The Divine would consider such a brazen act to be grounds for divorce.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Who is my audience?

Riva Djinn was fortunate enough to spend last Friday afternoon with the novelist and film critic Marcy Dermansky. This happy encounter would never have taken place if Riva hadn’t indulged her strange urge to read books in unlikely places throughout New York City.

Last December, Riva was reading Marcy’s novel Twins while sitting at a bar called Verlaine on Rivington Street. She sat for hours, reading the novel by candlelight and sipping dirty martinis.

By the time Riva finished the novel, she looked up and there was the story’s creator in the flesh. There she was—Marcy Dermansky, chatting with a group at the next table. The group shared tapas and swapped gossip.

Riva makes it a rule never to get too close to writers, but dirty martinis mixed with chance encounters sometimes have a way of relieving Riva of her allergy to wordsmiths. That’s what happened in this case, and Riva was not only willing to approach Marcy Dermansky, but was even willing to give the author a pat on the back, if it came to that.

“Can I buy you lunch sometime?” Riva asked while Marcy signed her copy of Twins.

So, last Friday they went to Café Lalo on 83rd Street. They sipped soup as Marcy gave generous answers to all Riva’s questions. Riva asked Marcy why none of the interviews or book reviews really mention the lesbian themes that Dermansky plays with in this novel. Marcy said she didn’t know why Sue’s sexuality is a topic that rarely comes up for discussion. Riva wondered why Marcy would dare write homoerotic material. Well, during Marcy’s writing process, Sue and Lisa Markman plunged into physical intimacy, and Marcy just decided to keep the homoeroticism in the novel because it worked to move the story along.

Riva listened carefully, hoping Marcy would not divulge too many deep, dark creative writing mysteries. It was hard enough for Riva to keep from falling off her chair and into a fit of sneezing. She didn’t know how her body would react to hearing unwelcome details about the writing craft. Riva did not wonder why she was getting herself involved in yet another one of these itchy situations. These situations just fell into her lap the longer she stewed in her unemployed status. But Marcy did not disappoint Riva or set off more severe allergies. This made Riva comfortable enough to dare reveal to Marcy what she did, or used to do, for a living.

“I am an out-of-work genie.” Riva said. She gave Marcy her business card in case a novelist and film critic should ever need three wishes granted. Marcy humored Riva and was reminded, once again, that a writer can never completely answer this question: “Who is my audience?”

That afternoon, the waitress at Café Lalo was not attentive to Marcy and Riva. When they wanted to order dessert, the waitress snubbed them. When they were ready for the check, the woman affected being overworked and underpaid. Riva wanted to lean closer to Marcy and say, “Shall we dash?” Instead, Riva paid up and left a magnanimous tip.


Well, Marcy couldn't have known this, but Riva and the waitress had just enjoyed an intimate and short affair only the weekend before. Riva met the waitress at a dance club on Columbus Avenue. The next day, the waitress—whose name was Gina—invited Riva to go horseback riding on the bridal path in Central Park. Riva enjoyed a leisurely Sunday afternoon with Gina. But Gina eventually said she would never endure a long-term relationship with a woman who was so tied up in old-world lore and superstition. Gina just didn’t believe Riva could grant wishes. “Well, suppose I enter a different line of work…?” Riva started to say, but Gina nudged her horse behind his girth, and she rode off. That’s when the snub-job started.

Riva couldn’t bring herself to reveal all this relationship drama to Marcy because Riva assumed that writers write all the dirt about everybody they meet. And if there is one thing that makes a genie itch more than being physically close to a writer that is worrying over whether or not the genie’s story will be told.

Today, Riva sits in the waiting room at the Allergist’s office. She’s reading Anthony Lane’s Nobody’s Perfect. She’s hoping (nay, wishing) she won’t encounter Anthony Lane because book critics give her severe migraines.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Whole Story in Six Words

Enthusiasts of flash, sudden, or micro fiction are aware of Hemingway's famous six word story.

He wrote: "For sale: baby shoes, never used."

So below is my six word story for this fine Sunday morning:

Widower seeks companion who won't shoot.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Year of the Golden Pig

The seventh day of the Lunar New Year is known as "Everybody's Birthday." Don't forget. This Sunday is Everybody's Birthday! So Happy Birthday to You!

This is the Year of the Golden Pig, and it only happens once every 600 years. Condom sales have plummeted in China, and couples are crowding the fertility clinics.

Let's plot!

EVERYBODY make love to someone or masturbate at midnight on Sunday, February 25. Imagine! Everybody will coordinate orgasms so the world can enjoy a big sigh of relief; we'll breathe international delight; we'll Globalize our Pleasure!

You know how those ugly terrorist freaks syncronize those damned terror attacks?

We'll get even by synchronizing Sex!

What do you say? Are you in or out of this Orgasmicist plot?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Celebrating W.H. Auden

Today at Bloomsbury's Day in Literary History, a reader can find interesting remarks Ray Bradbury made about a line that W.H. Auden changed.

Auden's original:
"We must love one another or die."

Auden's re-write:
"We must love one another and die."

Bradbury preferred the first version. He scolded, "Damn it to hell, Mr. Auden, put your words back the way that you wrote them in the first place!"

Bradbury thought that the second version fell into the same habit of mind of the typical Doomsayer while the first version celebrated loving others for Loving's sake.

This re-write also reminds us what Gems are those conjunctions, what weight carried by those small words!

Oh, Darling! Do you have any preference for "and" or "or" in the sentences above? If so, I'd like to know about it; so, please whisper it in my "Comments" if you like.

I think I agree with Bradbury; and if Auden were still alive and kicking, I'd give him a shining "OR" carved from saphire. He could wear as a stunning toe ring. Would that help relieve some of those Funeral Blues?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Book Review of "The Illusionist" by Françoise Mallet-Joris; Cleis Press 1952; 250 pages

Illustration de la lettre LXXI des Liaisons Dangereuses, 1796

Anyone who can imagine pursuing a love affair with her father’s mistress will not be too shocked by the relationships depicted in Françoise Mallet-Joris’s 1952 novel “Les rempart des Béguines,” translated by Herma Briffault. The English title is “The Illusionist,” but I suspect this was not a choice made by the translator herself, but more of a title that might sell the book more easily than simply naming it after an ill-famed neighborhood in a provincial town in France.

In this novel, the reader is taken on a thrill ride through an adolescent girl’s psyche. The novel is narrated in the first person by the neglected daughter of a wealthy businessman. Hélène’s boredom and loneliness urge her to pay a visit to the bohemian harbor district where her widowed father’s mistress resides. Not without pangs and vertigo does the reader witness Hélène’s dark sexual awakening; Mallet-Joris is particularly masterful at depicting vulnerability. Ultimately, this novel invites the reader to bear witness in a way that demands a heavy investment of emotional energy, which is fine if you’re searching for a read that might make your heart bleed. Perhaps it needs a good bleed to heal.

One scene that could provide fodder for book discussion is the scene in which Hélène’s father summons her to his office to ask Hélène the long-awaited “how long have you been visitng Tamara?” question. Her father would never suspect the two are lovers, which is an ignorance the narrator relishes. At the end of this chapter, Hélène brings up the topic of literary influences. At first, the narrator is dishonest with her father; she tells him that Tamara assuaged her loneliness and suggested good books for her to read. The reader learns that while Tamara does read, she and the narrator do not share the same literary tastes. There is only one book Tamara has made Hélène read and that is the title “Liasons dangereuses.” Contemplating her introduction into the erotica, Hélène boasts, “Due to this direction of my literary tastes I became infinitely superior to my classmates, who could think of nothing more daring than to go out with a boy and get kissed in some dark corner.”

Leave it to a nineteen-year-old French female author to endow an oversexed heroine with a superiority complex. This is not intended as a criticism but more as an amused remark. In this novel it becomes clear that Hélène's literary mind, after meeting with openly eroitic works, makes her feel no longer vulnerable. Can and should this confidence boost be attributed more to her literary tastes than to her sexual awareness? Mallet-Joris always seems to leave the reader in the dark about many details of the physical dimension of the relationship between Tamara and Hélène. Could this be a suggestion that sometimes, and somehow, books and minds Fuck each other more readily and gracefully than people do? What does that mean for all the worrisome energy wasted on lamenting our culture is "sex-obsessed?"

This novel is full of the complexities of split emotions that a mind can get tangled in when involved in affairs that mingle maturity with vulnerability. One sentence can contain both gentleness and cruelty. Here’s an excerpt of Hélène describing Tamara’s hands:

“And on my shoulder she laid her hand, that brown, hard, lined hand of a haymaker, not at all the hand of a sexual pervert, but rather a hand made to lie on the neck of a horse or the hip of a woman, with its fingers a little too flat, a little too supple, evoking the hands of Chinese torturers.”

Sentences like these convey kinky majesty, taking sex and elevating it by art. The more dramatic tension arises when Hélène's father wishes to run for local office, but beware of how townies Talk...

A special bonus in the 2006 Farrar, Straus, & Giroux arrangement of this novel is Terry Castle’s affecting introduction. In the introduction, Castle characterizes this novel as erotically charged. I would argue that it is much more emotionally charged than erotically charged. The psychological transformation of the narrator provides the more interesting substance of the novel than the sexual content. I want to delve deeper into the implications in Castle's introduction, but I'll save that for another post.

I’ll close here with a strong recommendation of “The Illusionist” for anyone looking for something erotic and emotionally intense.

Paul Auster Reads from His New Novella

Tuesday night, Paul Auster read from his new book Travels in the Scriptorium to a dedicated audience at 192 Books. The proprietor of the tiny bookstore on Tenth Avenue was kind enough not to turn anyone away at the door. The boutique size of this bookstore bravely accommodated the shifty-eyed crowd that showed up. Although the audience was cramped, the body heat provided cozy shelter from the severe February weather. The most intense winter storm so far was on the rise; what better way to spend the cold evening than listening to a silver-haired writer read his work aloud in a tiny bookstore?

Natasha attended the event. She hadn't made a reservation earlier that day, but they put her name on the list. That's the name she gave the bookstore’s proprietor, anyway—Natasha. She liked that name because it sounded like the name of a tragic heroine from some classic Eastern European romance. The name made her feel like her whole life was more interesting than it really is. Natasha, in reality, is one of those less-than-stoic heroines who forgets to call to make reservations for a free event (but come to think of it, her information source had never mentioned anything about making reservations for this event). Natasha sat on the floor with her feet tucked under her. She felt like a little kid, but then she whispered the name Natasha in her mind, and that made a bit of a difference. Then Paul Auster started reading, and she became absorbed. The floor, the bookshelves, the shifty-eyed listeners, and the woman pretending to be Natasha may as well have dissolved.

The reviews of Paul Auster’s latest book have been less than glowing. Some readers found it “hard work.” A blogger named Condalmo claims Auster’s latest is a disappointment, mostly because there are not any themes that Auster has not explored before. Natasha hasn't read the novella yet. She is always careful not to allow too much negative reception of a book to influence her reading choices. Sometimes negative reviews make her want to read that book all that much more. She merely wants to feel sure that Auster’s latest book will provide a familiar pleasure she herself has come to know through Auster’s style. To her, there’s no question he is a great storyteller. Reading Paul Auster’s work guides her mind through philosophical inquiry in the ways that a storyteller can stomach. Besides, the man's got a sense of humor. Entertainment Weekly appreciated Auster’s latest work, but recommended that readers that don’t know his other books should not start with Travels…

Natasha started reading Auster with his sixth novel Mr. Vertigo, about an orphan from the Midwest. Mr. Vertigo is still Natasha's favorite. Natasha credits that book with saving her from despair at a time when she was feeling low. She promised herself that she wouldn’t give up the ghost until she finished reading and solving all the riddles in all of Paul Auster’s work. So, she’s glad he’s still writing enigmatic tales. Maybe Natasha will never have to give up the ghost.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An Afternoon with Angela

Angela writes erotic poetry for an elite group of elderly, wealthy impotent men. These men meet once a month to listen to Angela read aloud from her oeuvre. Discussion, wine, and cheese always follow.

Angela is never invited to the discussion afterward. Instead, she is asked to pose, naked, in a huge glass cabinet with only a velvet divan and a miniature poodle enclosed. She steps into the cabinet, sighs, and disrobes as the butler closes the soundproof glass door behind her. Then Angela gets busy acting like the Goddess of Leisure while the men outside the cabinet engage in talk of the highest brow. Angela sometimes tries to read their lips, but more often she doesn’t bother. The only rule is that she is not aloud to fall asleep. Angela sits on the end of the divan, picks up the poodle, and strokes behind the little dog’s ears until it laughs.

This job comes with its perks. In this glass cabinet, Angela can enjoy her afternoon downtime, the time when she can think of what she will make for diner for her husband and two children. How will she help Miles take an interest in his math homework? How will she entice Bruce Jr. to spend less time playing video games? A woman who writes erotic poetry has lots on her mind. But it is not as though she lets on like that when she’s playing the role of the Goddess of Leisure inside this cabinet.

Angela stretches and rolls over upon the red velvet in her voluptuous feline way. The men stop and stare when she shifts her body now and then. If her mother were still alive, Angela could boast of these silent afternoons as proof that all the acting lessons were not a waste.

At 2:45 pm, the butler opens the glass door, and Angela is free to leave. This gives her enough time to dress and meet her sons in front of P.S. 36 by three o’clock sharp.

The friends of Angela’s who know that she does this kind of work for extra money like to tell her, “Angela, your life has way too much weird kink in it.”

Angela shrugs and pouts (a gesture the elderly men would applaud). Then she says, “Be honest. Whose doesn’t?”

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I Confess My Real Purpose For Taking the LSAT

Photo by Dusan Stojkovic

I completed the Law School Admissions test this morning. Now, I must confess something.

The Law School Admissions Council is very strict about making test takers certify with a thumb print and signiture promising that they are taking the LSAT "for the sole purpose of being considered for admission to law school."

I admit I did NOT take the test for that purpose.

I took the LSAT so that I could finally wear the outfit you see me modeling here in the photograph that accompanies this blog post.

You see, I received this gorgeous lioness coat as a gift for Winter Solstice years ago, but I could never think of a single place to wear it. Well, I didn't hesitate to put it on today to take my LSAT.

I am usually quite modest about these things, but I have to admit that I was the Belle of the ball. Don't you think they really ought to do a write up of me for Couture?

If you think not, then consider this. For my "nonprohibitive time piece," I used an old wind-up soviet soldier's watch with a hammer and sickle emblem and the word "DEMOCRACY" written in Russian on the face. A time piece that a friend purchased in a Soviet surplus store in Armenia for Pete's sake! Now, come on and admit that time piece is uber chic!

I know fashion week is over, but I think we are all lucky that the paparazzi that spent the past week at Bryant Park happened to show up at the Test Center today to get this candid photo of the stylish L(iones)SAT getup.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Must See Youtube

If you have not been over to Youtube to see the work of a filmmaker named Rogier Wieland, then you are certainly missing brilliant short films that use stopmotion animation to create fascinating effects. To watch a Wieland short film is to get a real sense of an artist devoted to perfecting his craft. Wieland can turn the camera into a musical instrument; he can turn real people into dancing paper dolls. He can make a ballerina invisible. Watching his Youtube films will give the viewer a sense of charm only a true magician can convey. Wieland's work is remarkable for its ability to throw the old-fashioned Showgirl and Strong Man theater through the gears of the techno-cyber fun house. Please don't miss the work of this truly brilliant, and so far little known, artist.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Disenchantment

The first time a worldly gentleman leaned in and kissed her, Jenny didn’t think she might be getting herself involved with an egoist, an influential man who sought a quick, midnight stroke with Vanity. Back then, fresh out of college with degrees in Poetry and Classics, Jenny desired romance, a literary romance; in her susceptible mind, she had thought up a whole exchange of passionate words. She thought of pages in envelopes like folded bed sheets; she thought words could age like wine; the mailbox, a cellar where words could keep in order to grow more palatable. Back then, Jenny dared ask of the world a Lover who would drop dark ink from a jeweled pen. To be more precise, she wanted words delicately formed with a writing instrument from the Montblanc Bohème Collection. Words slowly arranged with the sole intention of communicating tenderness.

Jenny is older now and times change and technology just keeps getting sexier.

So whenever some Wrong Number is in the mood, Jenny has phone sex on her Motorola Razor. Everyone admires how that phone has got as much edge as has Jenny. Sharpening her edge keeps her from slitting her wrists, which is what she might do if she thought too long and hard about her naivety of the past. Forget that. Now she hopes the Wire-tapper regime is squeezing in on her line so that more strangers might also be gaining something from her pleasure.

Jenny never speaks, much less writes; she only sighs and sometimes weeps. She hates words. They never really did much for her.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Creation invites you to this art opening, this book signing, this cocktail party, this cosmic slam dance. You will not wonder why nobody at these crowded gatherings ever speaks. All remains silent. They say one military official dared visit here, made his crossing with Minako Yoshino’s artwork, and fell under a fierce and everlasting contemplation. They say he abandoned his life: quit his career, left his wife and children. His knees are turning blue now while he prays outside the gates of the Cloister of Humanity.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Book Review of The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak; Viking 2007; 357 pages

Photo by Mahua Guha Thakurta

Before I heard Elif Shafak speak at the very first PEN World Voices festival in New York City in April 2005, I had not been aware of this author’s work, nor of her courage.

That April in New York, Shafak spoke on two panels: one was entitled, “The Way We Live Now: Who Wrote the book of sex?” The other was “Crossover Artists: Writing in Another Language.” Shafak writes in Turkish and English. I was attracted to this discussion topic because I had just spent the previous summer teaching Chinese language at my alma mater, Beloit College, in the Midwest. The title of the second panel attracted me because while learning Chinese, I wrote short stories and short essays in Chinese. And while teaching Chinese, I wrote my own short, dramatic dialogues for the students because they had requested supplementary material for further practice. Writing creatively in an acquired language remains one of the most profound experiences of my life, yet I have had no serious opportunities to discuss and digest what this experience means for me. That’s why, at the World Voices festival, Shafak’s example as a threshold writer provided a much-needed sense of solidarity.

But it was Shafak’s candid discussion of sexuality in the Middle East that provoked my interest in reading her fiction. Her comments ranged from Ottoman Empire books on sexuality to the Sufi mystical tradition of Islam that is very much open to discussions of eroticism. Shafak said, “The interesting thing that happened in Turkey is that in the name of modernization, secularizing, and Westernizing ourselves, we cut our ties with the long tradition of eroticism, erotic literature, and especially homoeroticism.” This comment interested and excited me most because I had graduated from Columbia University in 2002 with a Masters in Chinese Literature, and throughout that program I was amazed at how much erotica we were reading in our Pre-modern fiction class, including titles such as The Plum in the Golden Vase, The Carnal Prayer Mat, and What The Master Didn’t Speak Of. Through study and discussion, it eventually occurred to me that a post post-modern consciousness, might at first assume that these days we are more progressive in our attitudes toward sexuality just because we live the outcomes of the Feminist Movement and the continuing struggles for Gay Rights. But if a reader digs deeper, she will discover cultural and literary traditions out there that could be informative on matters of sexuality in ways that post-modern minds may not have thought of. Shafak is very keen at pointing out the negative consequences of creating historical divisions.

Now I am recalling a discussion I’ve had with grad school friends of mine. On occasion we speculated about Bisexuality in the Chinese concubinage. Among our group were those who defined their sexual identity as anything ranging from Lesbian to Metro-sexual to Poly-amorous, even a Retro-sexual; we were friends who studied culture, literature, and language who dared to entertain the wildest hunches. For instance, in a wealthy Chinese household, the man typically chose one wife to sleep with for that evening, according to however his whims guided him. He would order a servant to go to that wife, prepare her with pampering and a foot massage. This wife would beam. In the traditional literature, drama erupts due to the rejected wives’ disappointments and jealousies. And in our little discussion group—these centuries later and miles away—we came up with this question: well, what if it wasn’t really like that? What if the wives who were not chosen to sleep with the husband for that evening did, in fact, sleep with one another? Wouldn’t that solve a whole lot of issues? Or would that just fan the dramatic fire?

It’s impossible to prove any such thing really happened, and we wade in the dangerous territory to impose certain assumptions on other times, places, cultures, etc. But the whole point is the fascinating dialogue that such speculation opens up, a dialogue between Now and Then—Mr. Past taunting Ms. Present, and Ms. Present teasing Mr. Past. All this helped us to conclude that celebrating erotic traditions helps us riff on the themes of sexuality in its colorful variations without feeling alienated from the past.

Elif Shafak’s fiction gives me strength and energy to write about this now. Colorful options that provide comfort are the kinds of considerations that Elif Shafak’s work invites. Because she is a woman from a threshold culture and because she embraces tradition and modernism with humor and grace, her fiction offers much food for thought to a cosmopolitan mind.

Recently, I finished reading her latest novel The Bastard of Istanbul. Now, not only do I appreciate a sense of solidarity with this author, but I am welcoming all her work into my life and cherishing all it can Teach.

Photo by Jakop Eskinazi

Now. What if we learn brutal truths about our families’ pasts? What if we learn about the atrocities from which we are all descended? Are we victims? Are we perpetrators? Aren’t we all suffering the consequences? Once we gain knowledge of the truth of our past, what should we do with that knowledge?

Shafak’s novel is a sweeping family saga that handles these tough questions.

The story revolves around the revelations of two young women: Asya Kazanci, who is fatherless and Turkish, and Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian, who feels exiled as an Armenian American, so she journeys to a foreign land. When Asya and Armanoush meet, their bond provides striking illustration of human connectedness. Transcending our hang-ups seems possible here. What hang-ups? Well: History. Identity. Community. Family. For starters…

The story begins with a nineteen-year-old Istanbulite woman, the seductive Zeliha, lying on an examining table about to have an abortion. She hears the call to prayer as the anesthesia starts working. When she comes to, she learns that the abortion could not be performed. She still has the fetus inside her because when the doctor tried to do his work, Zeliha shrieked with such horror that the doctors and nurses abandoned the procedure. Zeliha decides she will keep her baby girl, even though the city she lives in is hostile toward bastards.

If that opening isn’t absorbing enough, by the time readers get to page 53, Barsam Tchakhmakhchian, an Armenia exile, is asserting the taboo proclamation, “I am the grandchild of genocide survivors who lost all their relatives at the hands of Turkish butchers in 1915.” These words spoken by Barsam—and similar claims made by other characters—including the ravings of a bitter djinn who induces a memory trance in the thoroughly affecting “Pomegranate Seeds” chapter—got Elif Shafak into trouble with Turkish nationalists. Come on guys. Be real. Article 301 is for the birds!

But, back to the story.

The sensually-rich saga unfolds in chapters named after ingredients: Cinnamon, Garbanzo Beans, Sugar, Roasted Hazelnuts. Gathering around for mealtimes, one ingredient might trigger a memory or sensation, might open an opportunity to tell of something that once was or something that once wasn’t. But all the ingredients are vital for a sweet surprise later in the text. Shafak is a generous with her sensual writing; she hoards nothing and all are welcome to enjoy desserts prepared by Armenian and Turkish grandmothers alike. But beware of bitter and poison.

Some scenes take place in Istanbul while others take place in Arizona and San Francisco. Shafak handles the geographical shifts smoothly. Reading her work makes transition feel effortless.

A brother of five sisters leaves Istanbul to study in America. Mustafa meets Rose. She is a young, embittered divorcée, originally from Kentucky, who has a daughter by her ex-husband—Barsam—a member of a huge Armenian Catholic family. Of Rose, that family says,

“Rose had no multicultural background. The only child of a kind Southern couple operating the same hardware store forever, she lives a small-town life, and before she knows it, she finds herself amid this extended and tightly knit Armenian Catholic family in the Diaspora. A huge family with a very traumatic past! How can you expect her to cope with all this so easily?”

Shafak writes as gracefully about family discord as about family unity. An example of unity is the comfort prompted by the Armenian grandmother’s knitting.

“Grandma Shushan’s knitting affected the family like group therapy. The sure and even cadence of each stitch soothed everyone watching, making them feel that as long as Grandma Shushan kept knitting, there was nothing to fear and in the end, everything would be all right.”

This is a story of how the Armenian Diaspora survives through collective spirit, how the Turkish cope with learning the truth. To ease all distress, Shafak becomes like Barsam’s Uncle Dikran who eases his nephew’s distress by telling him a story—more like a long joke—about what happens when an Armenian visits a generous barber. In Shafak’s world, stories ease distress. Tell stories.

The crux of the narrative opens fully in the chapter entitled “Pine Nuts.” In this chapter, Asya translates Armanoush’s story for her four Turkish-speaking aunties. While the American girl is re-telling the story of Armenian genocide that has been erased from the women’s Turkified memories, the Turkish version of the television show The Apprentice is airing in the background. This scene reveals that the complexity of these characters’ situation extends to communities and cultures beyond the characters in the story. This chapter’s dialogue raises the question, “who all is responsible for erasing memory?” But Shafak gives the screw another turn by forcing us to ponder, “what does it mean to remember?” But in this scene we see a young woman traveled from the U.S. to Turkey in search of her Armenian identity telling a Turkish family a fact about their history; meanwhile, a purely American knock-off television show provides somewhat distracting and odd-ball background noise. These are the kinds of techniques Shafak employs to tell this edifying tale. Readers come away from The Bastard of Istanbul with admiration for this writer’s courage to confront atrocities of History and the hard questions we have been gifted. Though this novel forces readers to confront tough questions, it also offers most satisfying surprises that are as bitter as they are sweet.

There are so many sophisticated ideas packed in this novel. I hope that it sells as well, or better, here than in Turkey; I hope readers’ groups, book clubs, and classrooms welcome this important tale to their discussion tables. I hope families read it together and talk about it around the dessert table while eating ashure. As the celebrating Istanbulites would say, “S¸erefe!”