“Honor” spelt the American way, is a book which revolves around an hono(u)r killing; a son (Iskender) killing his mother, in the UK. This novel is excellently crafted, we know from early in the book it will be about an hono(u)r killing, but the details are drip-fed to us, maintaining the suspense and making us anxious for the details. The writer remarkably shows sympathy both with the victim and the murderer. There are unpleasant characters in the novel, like the victim’s brother-in-law, Tariq, who goads the teenage Iskender to do the “right” thing, but later tries to wash his hands of the whole affair.
The novel begins with Esma, one of three children, she is the first person narrator but is quite a peripheral character. Her mother Pembe is a twin, born in a family of 8 girls and no boys, near the River Euphrates in Turkey. She marries Adem and goes to live in England. Adem is a feckless husband, a gambler, who leaves the family for an exotic dancer.
Pembe’s twin Jamila, remains in Turkey, a virgin midwife with a store of different herbs and potions. She is like a character from a Paulo Coelho novel with her simple wisdom. There is an element of magic realism in this novel with djinns and ghosts but they are peripheral to the core of the story.
The novel also highlights the clash of cultures, Elif Shafak, herself lives in both London and Istanbul and brings out glaring differences between the English and Turkish, for example:
In England things were topsy-turvy. The word couscous, though ordinary , was treated with reverence. Yet the word shame, though substantial, was taken quite lightly. When the English were disappointed with something, no matter how ephemeral or inconsequential, they exclaimed, “Oh, what a shame!”
Shame for Turks is a serious business, serious enough to kill for. This is the second book I have read by Elif Shafak, the first was The Bastard of Istanbul and I am very impressed. I want to read more.