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
    Paperback:
    Feb 2008, 368 pages

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Pardon me, she would instantly apologize and then repeat again and again because whenever you apologized to Allah you had to do it thrice: Pardon me, pardon me, pardon me.

It was wrong, she knew. Allah could not and should not be personified. Allah did not have fingers, or blood for that matter. One had to refrain from attributing human qualities to him—that’s to say, Him—which was not easy since every one of his—that’s to say, His—ninety-nine names happened to be qualities also pertinent to human beings. He could see it all but had no eyes; He could hear it all but had no ears; He could reach out everywhere but had no hands. . . . Out of all this information an eight-year-old Zeliha had drawn the conclusion that Allah could resemble us, but we could not resemble Him. Or was it vice versa? Anyway, one had to learn to think about him—that’s to say, Him—without thinking of Him as him.

The chances are she would not have minded this as much if one afternoon she had not spotted a bloody bandage around her elder sister Feride’s index finger. It looked like the Kurdish girl made her a blood-sister too. Zeliha felt betrayed. Only then it dawned on her that her real objection to Allah was not his—that’s to say, His—not having any blood but rather having too many blood-sisters, too many to care for so as to end up not caring for anyone.

The episode of friendship had not lasted long after that. The konak being so big and dilapidated and Mom being so grumpy and mulish, the cleaning lady quit after a while, taking her daughter away. Having been left without a best friend, whose friendship, indeed, had been rather dubious, Zeliha felt a subtle resentment, but she hadn’t quite known toward whom—to the cleaning lady for quitting, to her mom for making her quit, to her best friend for playing two sides, to her elder sister for stealing her blood-sister, or to Allah. The others being utterly out of her reach, she chose Allah to be resentful toward. Having felt like an infidel at such an early age, she saw no reason why she shouldn’t do so as an adult.

Another call to prayer from another mosque joined in. The prayers multiplied in echoes, as if drawing circles within circles. Oddly enough, at this moment in the doctor’s office, she worried about being late for dinner. She wondered what would be served at the table this evening, and which one of her three sisters had done the cooking. Each of her sisters was good with a particular recipe, so depending on the cook of the day she could pray for a different dish. She craved stuffed green peppers—a particularly tricky dish since every one of her sisters made it so differently. Stuffed . . . -green . . . peppers . . . Her breathing slowed while the spider started to descend. Still trying to stare at the ceiling, Zeliha felt as if she and the people in the room were not occupying the same space. She stepped into the kingdom of Morpheus.

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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