Excerpt from The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Bastard of Istanbul

by Elif Shafak

The Bastard of Istanbul
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2007, 368 pages
    Feb 2008, 368 pages

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Whenever a glass broke or a mirror cracked, Petite-Ma heaved a sigh of relief. After all, given the fact that you could not completely wipe out wicked people from the surface of this madly spinning world, it was far better to have their evil eye ram into a frontier of glass than penetrate deep inside God’s innocent souls and ruin their lives.

Twenty minutes later when Zeliha rushed into a chic office in one of the most well-off quarters of the city, she had a broken heel in one hand and a new set of tea glasses in the other. Once inside the door, she was dismayed to remember that she had left the wrapped cinnamon sticks at the Grand Bazaar.

In the waiting room there were three women, each with terrible hair, and a man with almost none. Given the way they sat, Zeliha instantly noted and cynically deduced, the youngest was the least worried of all, languidly leafing through the pictures of a women’s magazine, too lazy to read the articles, probably here to renew her prescription for birth control pills; the plump blonde next to the window, who seemed to be in her early thirties and whose black roots begged to be dyed, was swaying on her feet nervously, her mind apparently elsewhere, probably here for a routine checkup and annual Pap smear. The third one, who was wearing a head scarf and had come along with her husband, seemed to be the least composed of them all, the corners of her mouth turned down, her eyebrows knit. Zeliha guessed she was having trouble getting pregnant. Now that, Zeliha assumed, could be bothersome, depending on one’s perspective. She personally did not see infertility as the worst thing that could happen to a woman.

“Hellooo you!” chirped the receptionist, forcing herself into a goofy, phony smile so well practiced it looked neither goofy nor phony. “Are you our three o’clock appointment?”

The receptionist seemed to be having a hard time pronouncing the letter r, and as if to compensate she went to extraordinary lengths by accentuating the sound, raising her voice, and offering an extra smile on top of that whenever her tongue bumped into that ominous letter. To save her the burden, Zeliha nodded instantly and perhaps too heartily.

“And what exactly are you here for, Miss Three-o’clock--Appointment?”

Zeliha managed to ignore the absurdity of the question. By now she knew too well that it was precisely this unconditional and all-embracing female cheerfulness that she sorely lacked in life. Some women were devoted smilers; they smiled with a Spartan sense of duty. How could one ever learn to do so naturally something so unnatural, Zeliha wondered. But leaving aside the question that tugged at the edges of her mind, she responded: “An abortion.”

The word hovered in the air, and they all waited for it to sink. The receptionist’s eyes grew small, then large, while the smile on her face disappeared. Zeliha couldn’t help feeling relieved. After all, unconditional and all-embracing female cheerfulness brought out a vindictive streak in her.

“I have an appointment. . . . ” Zeliha said, tucking a ringlet behind her ears while letting the rest of her hair fall around her face and over her shoulders like a thick, black burka. She lifted her chin, thus accentuating her aquiline nose, and felt the need to repeat, a notch louder than she had intended, or maybe not. “Because I need to have an abortion.”

Torn between impartially registering the new patient and giving a scolding eye to such intrepidness, the receptionist stood still, a huge, leather-covered notebook lying open in front of her. A few more seconds passed before she finally started scribbling. In the meantime Zeliha muttered:

“I’m sorry that I’m late.” The clock on the wall indicated that she was forty-six minutes late, and as her gaze rested on it, for a second, she looked as if she were drifting away. “It’s because of the rain. . . .”

Excerpted from The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak, © 2007 by Elif Shafak. Excerpted by permission of Viking Press, a division of Penguin Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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