Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Threads of Betrayal in a Kurdish Family Laid Bare in 'Honor'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Threads of Betrayal in a Kurdish Family Laid Bare in 'Honor'

Article excerpt

"HONOR" By Elif Shafak. Viking ($26.95)

In his novel "Anna Karenina," Tolstoy wrote: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Bless unhappy families, for they are a gold mine for fiction writers. Elif Shafak's latest novel "Honor" probes the implosion of an immigrant family as it wrestles with assimilation, poverty and tradition.

"Honor," Ms. Shafak's eighth novel, is a tale of a Kurdish family living in Turkey; the multigenerational story takes the Topak family from its rural Turkish village to the bustling center of 1970s London. Multiple narrators tell the story from different perspectives, but each emphasizes the common theme of betrayal. Betrayal redounds through the generations; through the cumulative experience of the characters, the novel asks how love and betrayal can coexist.

For example, the little boy Adem wonders how his father can be nice while sober, but mean when drunk. "How can you love somebody who also hurts you?," the boy wonders. Because alcohol makes his father into such a stranger, he believes he has "two babas (fathers)." Adem grows up to be a compulsive gambler who loses everything and abandons his wife, Pembe, for another woman. She, in turn, enters into a chaste affair with an older man. Pembe's oldest son Iskender, who dabbles in radical Islamist ideas, discovers his mother's love for another man and kills her in an effort to reclaim the family's lost honor.

It's as though the cumulative effects of damage collect and then compound in Iskender, who commits the ultimate act of violence. Reading this novel as the Boston marathon bombings took place made for an intense, emotionally super-charged experience.

Ms. Shafak was raised by two women: a single working mother in Turkey, a diplomat who was the quintessential "modern woman," and by her traditional grandmother who was superstitious and would read people's future from coffee grounds. Ms. Shafak appreciates the old and the new and brings these sensibilities together in her fiction.

"Honor" is full of characters and experiences that are doubled. This doubling allows Ms. Shafak to explore the connections between East and West and the traditional and the modern. …

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