Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak tackles many different topics including religion, or rather the meaning of God in one’s life, how cultural and political circumstances shape lives of the individuals and the position of women in Eastern and Western societies.
The story does provide an insight into Turkey’s turbulent past such as military coup in the 1980s and how life looked like during the rule of the military. There are descriptions of house search, torture, imprisonment of the individuals for holding different opinions to the ones accepted by the government and society. We also see what the years of torture, imprisonment and humiliation can do to the individual life.
All this is intertwined with the reflections on religious beliefs in the Muslim society. Elif Shafak as always shows a rather nuanced perspective and avoids stereotyping. It is a husband, a father who is secular and wants his daughter to get education and to be an independent woman. On the other hand, a wife, a mother is very religious, and thinks about her daughter’s future from the patriarchal perspective. The characters are never simplistic or shown in white and black shades. Each character outlined in the book is nuanced, with its good and bad traits
The portrayal of Peri’s parents offers a snapshot of a family life in its all complexity and ambiguity. The attitude of Peri’s father might appear the best for his daughter but he also was depicted as someone who had to fight his own demons such as alcoholism for most of his life. Then, Peri’s mum was very conservative in her views but she had to deal with so much in relation to her children who were either radicalised or were sentenced to years in prison, her alcoholic husband and her life as a woman in a very patriarchal society. Once can easily develop some sort of gentle fondness for Peri’s mother without feeling any affinity to her strict religious beliefs; it is worth remembering that religion can often bring solace and a certain type of comfort to people going through constant hardships.
We also observe how members of the same family might follow very different paths: one of extreme views on religion and national identity and another one of liberal values, secularism and idealism. This is reflected in Peri, the main protagonist of the book and her brothers who hold starkly different beliefs on life, religion and their homeland.
We witness the contemporary Istanbul and also the Western life, reflected in Peri’s life in Oxford where she experiences the life as an immigrant which challenges her identity. During her student years in England, she is exposed to conflicting views on God, religion and the meaning of life.
As a young woman while studying at Oxford University, Peri shares the house with two other young women: Shirin -`the Sinner’ who is non-religious British-Iranian whose views could often be considered anti-religious; and Mona ‘the Believer’, an Egyptian – American student who is a devoted Muslim proud of her cultural and religious heritage. Peri – ‘the Confused’ is the one who questions and doubts. She does not believe in any absolutisms and certainties – she is closer to what we can refer to as agnosticism.
Different opinions cause constant quarrelling between young women, similar to Peri’s parents who had very different views on religion. Despite all that we see people with opposing views developing close relationships such as friendship and even romantic relationships. Shafak shows us that finding similarities between each other rather than focusing on differences can lead to building a more stable and peaceful community.
Three Daughters of Eve offers a very interesting exploration of religion, women’s position in the society, cultural and national identity.