Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Bastard of Istanbul

Here is an entertaining quote from Elif Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul, a novel about a Turkish family and an Armenian family and their intertwined pasts. Amanoush, the Armenian-American beauty with no friends, meditates on the subversive power of novel-reading and can't stop talking about books on dates. (Novels do seem to be disapproved of by people who read only history, science or biography--they're considered light-weight--and perhaps that's why so few novels get reviewed in The New York Times Book Review. And perhaps that's why Shafak includes a long chapter about Amanoush's reading ):

"Though books were potentially harmful, novels were all the more dangerous. The path of fiction could easily mislead you into the cosmos of stories where everything was fluid, quixotic, and as open to surprises as a moonless night in the desert. Before you knew it you could be so carried away that you could lose touch with reality--that stringent and solid truth from which no minority should ever veer too far from in order not to end up unguarded when the winds shifted and bad times arrived. It didn't help to be so naive to think things wouldn't get bad, as they always did. Imagination was a dangerously captivating magic for those compelled to be realistic in life, and words could be poisonous for those destined always to be silenced. If as a child of survivors you still wanted to read and ruminate, you should do so quietly, apprehensively, and introspectively, never turning youself into a vociferous reader. If you couldn't help harboring higher aspirations in life, you should at least harbor only simple desires, reduced in passion and ambition, as if you had been de-energized and now had only enough strength to be average. With a fate and family like this, Armanoush had to learn to downplay her talents and do her best not to glimmer too brightly...."

And later Amanoush tells her aunt:
"'You see, unlike in the movies, there is no THE END sign flashing at the end of books. When I've read a book, I don't feel like I've finished anything. So I start a new one.'"

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