Book Review: The Gaze by Elif Shafak

The Gaze by Elif Shafak Title: The Gaze
Author: Elif Shafak
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780141048949
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

Off late I have been reading books about issues. About differences and the human condition when it comes to dealing with the differences. The idea of humanity is so complex at times. Everything that can be black and white is not. Everything is hankered over. Every aspect of life is microscopically looked at. Nothing is left the way it is, the way nature intended it to be. The way people think of us starts from the way they start looking at us, the way they perceive us to be. This is where it all begins and almost where it all ends.

While reading, “The Gaze” by Elif Shafak, several thoughts came to my mind. These thoughts were about identity, love of a different kind, of wanting to be accepted and at the same time wanting for the world to leave you alone with your loved one. “The Gaze” is a book that makes you think about all of it – the way you wish to be seen and the way you are seen.

The book has two stories rolled into one. One about a couple – an overweight woman and her lover, a dwarf who are sick of people’s gazes and want to change things for themselves. The couple lives in Turkey and that is where the action takes place. To make a statement, the man in turn then goes out wearing makeup and the woman in turn draws a mustache on her face. They decide to reverse roles. The subtext but of course being to let people not look or rather to make them look what they do not want to see. At the same time, the dwarf is busy compiling a book of his, known as Dictionary of Gazes, which has many layers and many stories. The reader through the dwarf’s eyes watches over all these stories which are all about different people caught in various times of turmoil and all want to be looked at and their stories to be told.

Shafak’s books always have been very political and societal in nature, and that is what makes her books so readable. The amazing thing about “The Gaze” is that it is set in different time periods and yet the common theme comes across brilliantly – that of looking at people and judging them for outward appearances. The prejudices are laid out the way they are and the reader is forced to think about them, also maybe ask the difficult question: Am I like this? Do I behave like this? Will I behave like this, given the situation? A gaze can be enough sometimes, to hurt someone, to make someone feel uncomfortable, to make someone rethink their life.

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