The last thing I was expecting from a novel with a blurb introducing a Turkish housewife at a party, was a campus scandal plot worthy of The Secret History.
The novel has multiple narrative strands – almost all focalised around Peri, a bright Turkish woman, at three different points through out her life, as a young girl, as a student at Oxford, and finally as a woman with daughters of her own. Peri constantly battles with her religion, her identity and most crucially to the story, God.
Her parents are both foils and facilitators for the opposing views which tear her apart. If she thought she could escape this at Oxford, she was wrong – the two friends which the reclusive Peri makes serve to replicate this. More importantly however, is Peri’s involvement in the seminars of a Professor Azur – an exclusive club for which she is handpicked, centring on the exploration of ‘God’.
A conflicted Peri takes the opportunity to search for answers, at great costs. We see the incongruity between the different versions of Peri at 18, and in her 30s, only being able to piece together what could have changed her slowly as more and more of the narrative is revealed.
Shafak knows exactly how to get you hooked on a plot without over-egging it, her prose was beautiful, and the extent of literary and philosophical references allowed it to be literary and clever, without ever being inaccessible. You didn’t need to know Rumi to understand what was being referred to as it was always subtly laid out, allowing the reader to simply appreciate the beauty of the references. The novel doesn’t force you to think about the issues it deals with – you could very easily skim these and focus on the plot, but if you want to look deeper the debates it explores are fascinating musings on feminism, ethics, philosophy, politics and religion – not to mention how these all intersect.
A wonderful exploration of what it means to be a Muslim woman – this book absolutely captures the idea that identity politics is just not that simple. It was fascinating and wonderful, and a must-read for 2017.
I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own.
Image from Penguin Books