Tag Archives: The Gaze

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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