Tag Archives: Elif Shafak

The Gaze by Elif Shafak. Translated from the Turkish by Brendan Freely

The Gaze by Elif Shafak

Title: The Gaze
Author: Elif Shafak
Translated from the Turkish by Brendan Freely Publisher: Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0241201916
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations, Women in Translation
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Reading Elif Shafak is a thing of joy. For me at least, and I am guessing for most people as well. I am also one of those who perhaps didn’t enjoy The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi as much as her other works, but even then, I will never write her off basis one book. Anyway, back to the point.

I have started an Elif Shafak Reading Project this year – to read one Shafak every month starting with The Gaze, which I reread in January. The Gaze still is my favourite book written by her. It unpacks so much. It is layered with so much – our preconceived notions about people, about the way they look, and how we look in that regard; of how the world views us, and how our desire to look at others takes life spinning in different orbits.

The Gaze is perhaps not Shafak’s popular book, but I absolutely adore it. A story that spans across time and characters that are embroiled in the concept of how they look and what it means to them. An obese woman and her lover, a dwarf, decide to reclaim the streets. They decide to step out in the world that ridicules them. So, they reverse roles. The man wears make-up and dresses like a woman. The woman sports a moustache on her face. This is their story.

There is then the story of Memis that takes place centuries ago – who decides to create a circus of people, and not animals – weird looking people to get others intrigued and curious to come and see them. At the same time, we see Memis’s loneliness and why he does what he does. In all of this, there is also the Dictionary of The Gazes that the dwarf is working on. It is based on incidents, and movies, and what does the gaze mean at the end of the day.

Shafak’s prose shines on every page. The writing is terrific and for me it was hard to believe (as always) that this was one of her earlier works. The translation by Brendan Freely is on point. At no point do you feel that you are reading a translated work. The book is suggestive. The book is all sorts of unique and perhaps even difficult to get into. The book isn’t linear in its narrative and I love that about it. Read The Gaze to get a sense of Shafak’s writing and the worlds she conjures, as an extension of the world we inhabit.

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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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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