Book Review: Honour by Elif Shafak

Title: Honour
Author: Elif Shafak
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 978-0670921157
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Honour by Elif Shafak has to be one of my best reads this year. I loved everything about the book. Elif Shafak no doubt has to be one of the very few writers who can infuse a lot in one book – and that too sometimes using sparing language and length to communicate what she has to.

Honour is a story of a family and everyone connected to it. Stories of families fascinate me the most. I guess because at most levels you can picture your family – both immediate and extended in the characters and that is when the co-relation takes place. All the dysfunctionality is clear and sometimes the motives as well.

The book opens with Iskender’s (a man) release from prison. The book from then becomes an intermingling affair of the present and the past, chronicling the lives of the members of the Toprak family – Pembe and Adem, their children – the ever charismatic Iskender, rebellious Esma, and reserved and thoughtful Younus. All emotions are rolled into the book, as their lives alternate from November 1978 to the early 90s. This is not the only timeline. There is also the history of this Kurdish family way before this and how did Iskender commit the crime and why, whose justification is, “In the name of Honour”. As the reader gets involved in the book, more is revealed for sure and the plot is clearer.

Initially the book is confusing – there are too many names and it is difficult to keep track of time and generations that pass by. The narrative leap from a rural community on the banks of Euphrates to Shrewsbury to London is overwhelming. I was amazed at how beautifully the cultures were described and merged throughout the book.

The book is told from multiple viewpoints – the voices work well and the reader gets insight into almost every major and minor character. Honour is nuanced and the cultural backdrop is perfect, without being too much in your face. It is subtle and that is what is required of such a novel – the ability to relate but in small doses.

Shafak’s narrative is very different from her earlier books, “The Bastard of Istanbul” or “The Flea Palace”, both of which had multiple characters. She manages to isolate herself and let the voices take over with great ease. The text is multilayered and the differences in culture are stark – which I enjoyed the most about the book.

The ending is unusual unlike what was expected. I enjoyed the book and everything it had to offer. Yes it took me some time to get my teeth into this one; however I liked the writing and the plot. A good read if you want to read something heavy and thought-provoking.

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