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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“Good, keep shouting,” Zeliha muttered to herself. She didn’t like silence. As a matter of fact, she abhorred silence. It was okay that people stared at her on the street, in the bazaar, at the doctor’s waiting room, here and there, day and night; it was all right that they watched and gawked, and eyeballed at length again as if seeing her for the first time. One way or another she could always fight back their gaze. What she could not possibly fight back was their silence.

“Tangerinist . . . Tangerinist . . . How much costs a kilo?” a woman yelled from an open window on the upper floor of a building across the street. It had always amused Zeliha to see how easily, almost effortlessly, the denizens of this city were capable of inventing unlikely names for ordinary professions. You could add an -ist to almost every single thing sold in the market, and the next thing you knew, you had yet another name to be included in the elongated list of urban professions. Thus, depending on what was put on sale, one could easily be called a “tangerinist,” “waterist,” or “bagelist,” or . . . “abortionist.”

By now Zeliha had no doubt. Not that she needed one to know what she already was sure about, but she had also had a test done at the newly opened clinic in their vicinity. On the day of the “grand opening” the people at the clinic had given a showy reception for a bunch of selected guests, and had lined up all the bouquets and garlands right outside at the entrance so that the passersby on the street could be informed about the occasion as well. When Zeliha had visited the clinic the very next day, most of these flowers had already faded, but the flyers were as colorful as before. free pregnancy test with each blood sugar test! it said in phosphorescent capital letters. The correlation between the two was unknown to Zeliha, but she had taken the test all the same. When the results arrived, her blood sugar turned out to be normal and she turned out to be pregnant.

“Miss, you can come in now!” called the receptionist as she stood in the doorway, fighting another r, this time one that was hard to avoid in her profession. “The doctor . . . he is waiting for you.”

Grabbing her box of tea glasses and the broken heel, Zeliha jumped to her feet. She felt all the heads in the room turn toward her, recording her every gesture. Normally, she would have walked as rapidly as she could. At the moment, however, her moves were visibly slow, almost languorous. Just when she was about to leave the room, she paused, and as if pushed by a button, she turned around, knowing exactly whom to look at. There, at the center of her gaze, was a most embittered face. The head-scarved woman grimaced, her brown eyes shadowed by resentment, her lips moving and cursing the doctor and this nineteen-year-old about to abort the child Allah should have bestowed not on a slapdash girl but on her.

The doctor was a burly man who communicated strength through his erect posture. Unlike his receptionist, there was no judgment in his stare, no unwise questions on his tongue. He seemed to welcome Zeliha in every way. He made her sign some papers, and then more papers in case anything went wrong either during or after the procedure. Next to him, Zeliha felt her nerve slacken and her skin thin out, which was too bad because whenever her nerves slackened and her skin thinned out, she became as fragile as a tea glass, and whenever she became as fragile as a tea glass, she couldn’t help but come close to tears. And that was one thing she truly hated. Harboring profound contempt for weepy women ever since she was a little girl, Zeliha had promised herself never to turn into one of those walking miseries who scattered tears and nitpicky complaints everywhere they went and of which there were far too many around her. She had forbidden herself to cry. To this day, she had on the whole managed pretty well to stick to her promise. When and if tears welled up in her eyes, she simply held her breath and remembered her promise. So on this first Friday of July she once again did what she had always done to stifle the tears: She took a deep breath and thrust her chin upward as an indication of strength. This time, however, something went awfully wrong and the breath she had held came out as a sob.

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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