‘Where do you start someone’s story when every life has more than one thread and what we call birth is not the only beginning, nor is death exactly an end?’
‘People on both sides of the island [Cyprus] suffered – and people on both sides would hate it if you said that aloud. Why? Because the past is dark, distorted mirror. You look at it, you only see your own pain. There is no room in there for someone else’s pain’.
The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak set in the 1970’s Cyprus and contemporary London of 2010’s is a tale narrated partly by a fig tree, partly by humans about the transgeneretional trauma, the burden of the past on the current and future generations when it comes to dealing with wars, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, enforced borders drawn on a piece of paper at one time in history and how it affects the lives of the future generations.
Elif Shafak has created a beautiful tale of wonder and nostalgia, pointing out to the connections between the past, present, and future as well as between the physical and the spiritual. It is also a profoundly moving ode to the natural world: world of non-human animals and plants.
‘The Architect’s Apprentice’ by a Turkish writer, Elif Shafak
Through a young apprentice, the Indian boy called Jahan, we travel to the 16th century Istanbul during the times of the Ottoman Empire under the reign of three sultans: Suleyman, Salim and Murad. We meet many historical figures including Mimar Sinan, the famed architect of that era responsible for construction of over 300 buildings such as the Suleymaniye Mosque, the Selimiye Mosque, Mehmed Pasha Mosque and the bridge on the River Drina in Bosnia and Herzegovina. With Jahan, we also travel to the 16th century Rome, Agra in India during the time of Taj Mahal building. We learn about the Ottoman Empire and Mughal India.
‘The Architect’s Apprentice’ resembles ‘Thousand and One Nights’ consisting of many vignettes. The language is poetic, elegant, sublime, imaginative and just delightful; and the mixture of historical facts and fiction is remarkable.
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.
“The possibility of an immediate and wholesale decimation of civilization was not half as frightening as the simple realization that our individual passing had no impact on the order of things, and life would go on just the same with or without us.”
“We must do what we can to mend our lives, we owe that to ourselves – but we need to be careful not to break others while achieving that.”